New Welsh Language Act: Teeth, Turkeys and Tantrums

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It was good to see the Welsh Language Board baring its teeth (however so rotten and loose they maybe at this present moment in time) on Thursday by publishing their "Position Statement on the Legislative Position of the Welsh Language" (click here to download the full statement). It's worth reading, and its content is very encouraging, even if it only puts some institutional pressure on the Welsh Assembly Government on the matter. It's good to have someone other than protest or pressure groups putting down clearly, on paper, some of the steps that need to be taken in order to normalise the use of the Welsh language.

It was disappointing, though not unexpected, to hear the abrasive and dismissive response by Alun Pugh's spokeswoman on the matter:

"No Labour government now or in the future would support the idea of new primary legislation focused only on the rights of people who already speak Welsh."
Source: BBC News Wales

It appears that it was Cathy Owens, Mr Pugh's "special adviser", who made the remarks which sum up the disgraceful attitude of a large proportion of the Welsh Labour Party towards an intelligent contribution to the discussion on linguistic rights for Welsh speakers.

But following on from this I read an article in Saturday's WM (where the Tories, of all people, complain about the inflammatory nature of her remarks!) that she went yet further than the above by saying:

"It's for elected politicians to agree the way forward for public policy in Wales. We are talking about a situation where English speakers have rights too. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas but no one voted for the Language Board either."


English speakers have rights too? Yes, near enough the whole fucking lot at present. They have the right to go into a post office and not feel like a twat because they start speaking Welsh and get "uh?" for an answer. They have the right not to feel inferior when taking a driving theory test which is completely unintelligible due to a nonsensical translation, knowing that this situation would never crop up for anybody else within that same room. They have the right not to have to go out of their way each fucking time they want a service in their own language. Why should I feel in the wrong for wanting to use my own language in my own country, just as they do?

"No-one voted for the Language Board?" I've got news for you Cathy, no-one voted for you either.

Who does she think she is, voicing her opinion so presumptuously about a contribution to a discussion which is so important to so many people and which is (supposedly) a part of her boss's core brief (although, it does look like it's her that wears the cycling shorts in that office) - namely sport, culture and the Welsh Language. Yes, the language, and when the Welsh Language Board, a body appointed as experts in the field, publish a paper such as this, Mr Pugh and his minions should take heed and make a concerted attempt to understand what is going on.

But alas Labour is Labour, and this, as well as the scandalous attempt to get their dirty mits on the arts is just additional ammunition to shoot them down from their crows nest some day. I hope.

Let's hear a little more about our dear Cathy: according to this article in the WM 30/07/03 which discusses her appointment, it was said "It's an attempt to improve communications".

Hmmm, improve communication? Communicating what exactly? That this government is never going to support the Welsh language and Welsh speaking communities? That a sneering attitude like this towards the Welsh language can exist within the department that should be protecting it? That we need to fight harder than ever to secure fairness for Welsh speakers?

And whilst I'm on the subject, here's another interesting article from the Mule (February 2004) reporting how the Assembly Government had to apologise to the civil service union, Prospect, after they put in a formal complaint regarding the "hectoring" and "abrasive" way in which they were treated by our lovable Cathy. (More on this one Aberdare Online.)

And yet more news just in! "All journalists are bastards" says she of the silver tongue!...in a mistaken call to Martin Shipton's voice mail. Yes, that's right, only the chief reporter of the Western Mail!

Time for Cathy's annual job review I believe Mr Pugh...

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Squirrel Politics

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"I'm a red squirrel but I don't live in a tree. Once we had a forest and enough trees to share with everybody. In it we hunted, buried and gnawed nuts and looked for more. A typical healthy red squirrel's life. When the grays came we asked if we could keep some of the trees rather than lose them all. But that was racist, the grays said. They said we didn't have the right. I'm just a red squirrel without a tree."

That's my pretty crappy translation of one of Robin Llywelyn's oddments of micro-fiction. It seems the gray squirrel may now be culled to save the endangered native red population. This cull is necessary because you can't reason with the gray squirrel; it doesn't know the harm it's doing, wiping out all those red squirrels .

But you can reason with people. If we're concerned enough to cull thousands of squirrels in the name of variety, surely we can find it in our hearts to save a thousand year old language and culture that doesn't need any culling to survive, just a change in attitudes. That way, I suppose, no squirrel is without a tree.

(Note: I'm moving home at the moment so, yes, a patronisingly simplistic tale about squirrels is the best I could muster. The Welsh word for squirrel is 'wiwer', btw.)

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I’d Rather Be English than British

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Today Gordon Brown made a speech about the importance of embracing our shared Britishness and saluting the Union Flag. He proposed that Remembrance Sunday should be made a national day of patriotism to celebrate British history, achievements and culture. After the July 7 bombing many were left furiously scratching their heads. “What does it mean to be British?” they asked, jolted out of their stupor to find themselves in an unfamiliar nation where fellow Brits wanted us exploded. Gordon Brown aims to answer that question.

Unfortunately, Gordon Brown has taken a step backwards on the path to solve this conundrum. Britishness is the cause of our identity crisis rather than the cure for it. Britain is all about placing Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, four different countries all with their own individual sense of identity, under one uniform umbrella. My question is, is this umbrella really necessary? The answer is no.

I’ve been called narrow minded for wanting a Britain made up on independent nations. But I say that it is those who cannot tolerate cultural difference and want us all to be identical that are truly narrow-minded. Is it really a problem for the English if the Welsh speak their own language and go to the Eisteddfod? Is it really a problem for the Welsh if the English take such pride in the Royal Family and their sweet chariot? Ireland is not part of Britain; are you on less friendly terms with them because of it? Trying to show an united front when you’re different is a tricky business.

There are plenty of arguments for unity however. Difference creates conflict. If we were all the same, all had the same culture, and all spoke the same language, conflict would surely be avoided. But history tells us that conflict is created not by those who wish to preserve their way of life, but by those who seek to push their way of life on others. Countless empires and stillborn attempts at empires have all believed themselves to be culturally superior and all others to be inferior and savage. Much of the conflict in the Middle East today arises from the fact that some radical Muslims want the whole world to be Muslim like them, while some radical Westerners want the whole world to submit to their western culture. It is in seeking to unite people against their will that conflict is created. Real unity comes through a mutual respect for each other’s differences.

The question of unity has been raised often in the wake of the July 7th bombings. It is clear that many segments of the Muslim population in Britain do not feel part of the whole. Immigration can only work if there is compromise on both sides. They must attempt to integrate into the culture they are moving into, learn the language, and so on. However, the country that welcomes the immigrants must do so with open arms – they won’t bother integrating if you shun them – and, most importantly, be open to what new influences they bring to your culture. There’s no contradiction between Welsh culture and being a Muslim, or English culture and being a Muslim. The Welsh culture has managed to absorb new influences over thousands of years without losing any of its unique perspective and colour. It’s when people move in with no intention of integrating that conflict is created. The problem is compounded further when the country they move into has no intention of tolerating their point of view.

I’m moving to Newcastle this month, to live outside Wales for the first time in my life. England has a lovely culture with a long and interesting history. The country has lost much of its identity to Britishness, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have. Unfortunately, while nationalism is acceptable in all other parts of the UK, English nationalism is associated with racism, and skinhead hooligans. The English need to take pride in their history and culture, not be embarrased by it. I wouldn’t want England to be more like Wales at all. I love it for what it is.

As Gordon Brown said, it is time for us to think about what our nation stand for. The Welsh flag stands for Welsh history and culture, the English flag stands for English history and culture, and so on. The British flag stands for the belief that you should sweep culture aside in the name of unity. Are the cultural differences between our different countries and peoples so great that we must tear them down to be united? Or can we respect and enjoy each other’s cultures and allow them to endure?

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Quized?

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Right, suppose I better post something as well then.

What does it mean to live in a bi-lingual country? To me, being bi-lingual means using the two languages how and when I want. There are people in Wales who prefer using English and there are others who prefer using Welsh. I use Welsh at every opportunity, and it's the langugae I socialise in (yes, I do socialise now and again!). You'd think what language I socialise in is my business, but in Wales things are never that simple.

This post is going to be about the politics of pub quizes.

I go to the Cayo Arms every sunday to take part in the pub quiz. The team comprises of myself, my girfriend and our two friends who are a couple. Both my girfriend and I can speak Welsh but our friends do not, even though both have attempted to learn - so we converse in English. The quiz is also in English, although the quizmaster is a fluent Welsh speaker and some weeks almost half the teams are made up of Welsh speakers. A nice touch is that all teams call their scores out in Welsh between rounds.

There are about 90 pubs in cardiff that hold quiz nights (you can count them here). All these quizes are in English I assume. As far as I know there are two pubs who hold a monthly pub quiz in Welsh, the Mochyn Du and the Goat Major. To be honest, I'm no good at quizes but turn up for the beer. Last night I went to the monthly quiz which my friends Geraint and Dwlwen have been organising for 16 months. It was bound to happen I suppose, and it's only a surprise that it's taken this long but as Geraint started reading out the questions, a guy at the bar started shouting things like:
The Welsh language has got a lot of catching up to do with the English, doesn't it?

fairly harmless I suppose, then his mate joins in with
Why don't you do it in a language English speakers can understand?

Right, 90 English pub quizes a week aren't enough for him, the only 2 quizes a month which are in Welsh also have to be in English as well. Linguistic intolerance is alive and well in the capital of Wales.

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Sleifar calling Orange, Come in Orange

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Sorry I haven't posted anything here yet. Here's a copy of a letter which has just dropped into my inbox.

I am writing on behalf of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) to inform you
that the Cardiff branch is currently waging a direct action campaign against your company's
advertisement campaign for "Bonus Top-ups".

Since last week we have been actively targeting your advertisements in Bus Stops and other spaces
across Cardiff with stickers asking "Ble Mae'r Gymraeg?" - "Where is the Welsh?" to draw the publics
attention to your total lack of Welsh language provisions. To date, 12 of your advertisements have
been plastered with our stickers.

We demand that Orange provide the following services in Welsh:

• Billing
• Correspondence
• Customer care.
• Comprehensive signage in your shops in Wales
• General literature.

Until these services are provided we will continue to deliberately sabotage your advertisement
campaigns in Wales.

Orange profits for it's business operations in Wales but shows utter contempt towards the Welsh
language by not providing services in Welsh. It is not unreasonable to expect major companies to use
the Welsh language - If British Telecom can provides Customer Services, billing, correspondence and
general literature in Welsh why can't you?

PLEASE DO NOT IGNORE THIS MESSAGE.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yn gywir

Steffan Cravos
Chairman, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg


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Welsh F.S.G.

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An F.S.G. is a bit like a F.A.Q., but in fact stands for ‘Frequently Stated Gibberish’. Unfortunately when it comes to other cultures people are quicker to assume things than they are to ask about them. We all do it; my stereotypical views about the quaint practices of other cultures have often landed me in hot water (my attempt to walk like an Egyptian didn’t impress the guards at Luxor airport). Here are some of the most common frequently stated nuggets of gibberish about the Welsh people, their culture, and their language. Enjoy!

The Welsh are All Sheep Shaggers

There are an abundance of sheep in Wales. It’s a mountainous country with little arable land so our fluffy friends are essential to farmers. But no, we don’t engage in sexual intercourse with them. Since 24 hour drinking came into effect it’s easier to bag some drunken minger down the pub than trudge up into the mountains in a raincoat and a heavy set of wellingtons, anyway.

It Always Rains in Wales

The grass of home wouldn’t be so green if we didn’t water it so often. It’s no worse than the rest of Britain, especially up north.

Everyone Has the Surname ‘Jones’

I’d try to convince you otherwise, but since my surname is Jones I don’t think I’d have much success.

The Welsh Language is a Dialect of English

This is incorrect. It is a member of the Brythonic branch of Celtic spoken in Wales and parts of Argentina. The word Brythonic comes from the Welsh word Brython, for an indigenous Briton (i.e. those that were here before the pesky Saxons invaded). The language is all Greek to any other non-Brythonic language speakers, including the Greeks.

The Welsh and Breton Can Understand Each Other Perfectly Well

The two languages are closely related, but the Welsh can only understand Breton as well as the English can understand French or German. Cornish, another Celtic language, can be understood in part by a Welsh speaker.

Welsh is Dead as a Doornail Carved From a Dodo’s Skull

Incorrect. Over six hundred thousand people speak Welsh; twenty percent of the Welsh population. The 2001 census saw a rise, not a decline, in the numbers that spoke the language.

Everyone Who Speaks Welsh is Over 75

Forty percent of Welsh speakers are under the age of fifteen.

They Only Start Speaking Welsh When I Walk In the Pub

My good friend Dylan Llyr has already posted a hefty article regarding this subject on the BBC website. Here’s a sample from it:

1) Why does the listener assume that they were speaking English beforehand if he's only just entered the room?

2) Perhaps they are part of a group comprised of a mix of Welsh and English speakers? When I find myself in such company, when including the English speakers in the dialogue I use English (even if it feels rather uncomfortable to speak English with Welsh friends), but if speaking merely to the Welsh speakers directly then naturally I will use Welsh.

3) Much colloquial Welsh contains a smattering of lazy English borrowings (usually when perfectly fine Welsh equivalents are available) so the listener may mishear and only realise they're actually speaking Welsh as (s)he gets closer.

4) How on earth would they know you could not speak Welsh? Do you wear a large fluorescent "English-only" sign?

They Don’t Actually Use the Language From Day to Day

Of course we do, it’s a living language. At home I talk to my family in Welsh, down the pub I chat to my friends in Welsh, and so too with any strangers or co-workers I come across who know the language. It is not a language that is dusted off for special occasions, but one that is spoken day in day out just as you would use yours.

There’s No Point Speaking Welsh

The Welsh language culture is thousands of years old, full of prose, poetry and song, unique to Europe, and continues strongly today. The highlight of the year is the National Eisteddfod, a druidic festival dating back to the 12 Century, which attracts thousands of visitors. There really is something for everyone, all part of the same thriving community. Culture, be it literature, song, acting, sport, or rock music, is very important to the Welsh. Speaking the Welsh language opens up a whole new world, and plenty of interesting new words.

If, on the other hand, people stopped speaking it, that whole culture would go down the toilet. Imagine everything in English, such as Shakespeare, Miller, Spears, everything you’ve ever enjoyed in that language, being erased for ever. A bit of a waste, eh?

Of course, all Welsh speakers have their own reasons for speaking the language. These are just mine.

The Welsh Are Missing Out On a World of English Culture

Since we can speak both Welsh and English, we have both worlds of culture to enjoy.

Why Are Your Words So Long?

They aren’t. The longest Welsh word, gwrthddatgysylltiadaeth, is shorter than it's English translation antidisestablishmentarianism. We’d say such ignorant remarks are useless, but that would be floccinaucinihilipilification.

Say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!

No, we’re not performing monkeys. We wouldn’t ask you to pronounce Leominster for our amusement. Llanfairpwll is a humorous invention made up to attract tourists, like the Royal Family.

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