Saturday, 7 April 2018

Why not Rename the Bridge after Dafydd ap Gwilym?

So, the Westminster Government, with the permission of her Majesty the Queen, have chosen to rename the Severn Bridge, linking Wales and England, after the Prince Charles, by naming it the ‘Prince of Wales Bridge.’ 

This decision is not one I see as a stand-alone decision, but rather as part of a trend of naming landmark after landmark in Wales after the Prince of Wales.  It was only two years back that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was renamed Principality Stadium. 

Now, in an article in Nation Cymru, I, Abraham, argued that Plaid Cymru should be less republican, and more like the SNP.  But the renaming of landmark after landmark in Wales after Wales’s Principality status, particularly when, this time, the Welsh people have not been asked, is something I oppose as much as any Republican does. 

This is no doubt an act that is designed to be provocative.  Alun Cairns himself admitted that he knew Welsh Republicans would not like it, and I believe he sees it as a win-win situation where he can anger the Welsh Nationalists up the wall and hope that latter in turn alienate the electorate through their angry republicanism. 

How Plaid Cymru responds is absolutely critical.  The argument they should be making is that Wales’s landmarks should be used to commemorate the people that Wales produced – and that the people of Wales should decide, in a poll, perhaps. 

And there are a great number of famous Welsh people to choose from – David Lloyd George, Owain Glyndwr, Dic Penderyn, Iolo Morgannwg, Llywelyn Fawr, and many more. 

But I would choose Dafydd ap Gwilym, and here’s why.  Dafydd ap Gwilym was perhaps one of Europe’s greatest poets in the fourteenth century – some of his most notable works include Merched Llanbadarn,   Trafferth mewn tafarn and Cywydd Y Gal, among many others, although the last one mentioned is considered very naughty.

He is arguably the Chaucer, if not the Shakespeare, of Welsh literature.  Yet unlike those two men, how many Europeans today will have even heard of him?  How many Welshmen even will have heard of him?  Not very many. 

I once read an anti-Welsh Language article by a Monmouthshire man, who seemed to believe that Welsh did not even have any historic literature at all – and I am sure many people in Wales, if not the majority, have that idea.

Chaucer and Shakespeare however, are names that are known throughout the world.  The only reason why Dafydd ap Gwilym isn’t a tenth of a hundredth as widely known as Shakespeare, even in Wales itself it seems, is not because Dafydd ap Gwilym was a bad poet – far from it – but because his language was not one that would be spread and glorified by Empire – but rather one that fell victim to it. 

Naming Wales’s greatest entry point after one of Wales’s greatest writers wouldn’t make Dafydd as widely known as Shakespeare on the global stage – but at least it will make his name more widely known amongst his own countrymen. 

It would also be sufficiently apolitical, and so could unite both nationalists and unionists, although the anti-Welsh Language brigade would probably scream and shout – and that, of course, would be no bad thing.    

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Mae’r Iaith Gymraeg yn dda I Loegr hefyd

Os dych chi’n edrych ar map y byd, wnewch chi weld fod y gwledydd Eingl-Sacsonaidd yn sefyllfa tipyn rhyfedd.  Er bod y mwyafrif gwledydd yn y byd gorllewin, ac yn Ewrop yn enwedig, rhannu gororau efo gwledydd eraill a iethioedd eraill, dydy hwn ddim yn wir am y gwledydd eingl-sacsonaidd. 

O’r gwledydd hwnna ei gyd, dim ond yr Unol Daleithiau America sy’n rhannu gororau efo gwledydd ieithoedd estronol – efo Mecsico yn y de a Canada Quebec yn y gog – a dydy’r berthynas rhwng America a Mecsico ddym yn gydraddol iawn fel y berthynas rhwng Ffrainc a’r Almaen. 

Ar y llaw arall, mae pob wladd yn tir mawr Ewrop yn rhannu goror efo gwlad iaith estronol – Ffrainc efo’r Almaen, Spaen efo’r Portiwgal a mae lot o siampl eraill.
Fel Sais fy hun, rwy i’n teimlo bod ein ynysu daearyddol iaithol wedi cael effaith arnon ni, ar agwedd ni ag ar ein weld ar y gweddill y byd, a hefyd ar ein agwedd am yr iethiodd estronol – dydy’r y mwafrif arnon ni ddim yn licio dysgu! 

Mae’r effaithiau gwleiddydol yn bob man dw i’n meddwl, ond mae hyn yn gryfach ar y de gwyleiddol – Brexit sydd canlyniadau o hyn. 

Yn fyr, mae’r diffyg o gororau tir efo gwleiddydd iethioedd estronol wedi rendro ni yn fwy ynysig ag ar wahan I’r ieithoedd a ddiwylliannau eraill a mae hwnna mor drist.

Pam ydy Canada yr wlad y fwya flaengar ohonon ni?  Rw i’n meddwl bod yr ddwyieithrwydd yn ateb y kestiwn hwnna.  Felly, dw i’n meddwl bod hi mor drist fod iaith gymraeg wedi cael ei syrthio – nid i Gymru yn unig, ond i Loegr hefyd. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Why aren’t there Three Languages in Wales?

Below are three verses from a poem, probably written in the 18th century.  What language do you think it is? How much of it can you understand?

Well, gosp, c'hull be zeid; mot thee fartoo, an fade;
Ha deight ouse var gabble, tell ee zin go t'glade.
Ch'am a stouk, an a donel; wou'll leigh out ee dey.
Th' valler w'speen here, th' lass ee chourch-hey.
Yerstey w'had a baree, gist ing oor hoane,
Aar gentrize ware bibbern, aamzil cou no stoane.
Yith Muzleare had ba hole, t'was mee Tommeen,
At by mizluck was ee-pit t'drive in.
Joud an moud vrem earchee ete was ee Lough.
Zitch vaperreen, an shimmereen, fan ee-daf ee aar scoth!
Zitch blakeen, an blayeen, fan ee ball was ee-drowe!
Chote well aar aim was t'yie ouz n'eer a blowe.

Now I don't know about you, but I would guess that you struggled quite a bit with that.  

Okay, Spoiler alert:  What you have just seen is a language called Yola, an offshoot of Middle English, spoken by the Yoles, an ethnic group who lived in a remote corner of County Wexford, Ireland.  This language was something they managed to hold on to down the centuries until into their eventual assimilation in the 19th century.   The other name for their language was 'Forth and Bargy', after the two adjacent baronies in which they lived. 

The two baronies of Forth and Bargy, in County
Wexford, Ireland, where the Yoles lived and spoke
their ancient offshoot of 12th Century English.
But who just who were the Yoles? To answer that question, you have to go back to 1169 and the Norman Invasion of Ireland.  In short, the Yoles were the descendants of English peasants brought over by their Norman lords to work their newly conquered land on the Emerald Isle. 

It was by no means only County Wexford that was affected by this forgotten 12th century plantation of Ireland.  In many of their newly acquired fiefdoms, Norman lords brought over their own peasants and merchants too, and settler communities of English, Welsh, Flemish and French descent sprang up in Ireland. 

Although, most of these settlers, and even their lords, were assimilated by the Gaelic Irish over the next few centuries, in at least two places, these old enclaves survived – one being at Fingal in County Dublin, and the other being our friends, the Yoles of County Wexford.

In both places, separation from mainstream English back in England is what made the local dialects evolve down such unique paths until they became de facto seperate languages in their own right.

So what about Wales?
Map of Wales from around the 12th century.
Areas ruled by the Marcher Lords are in orange while
areas ruled by the native Welsh Princes are in green.
Wales, just like Ireland, was invaded by the Normans – in Wales's case starting almost as soon as 1066 itself.  The invaders were a group of Norman Barons known as the Marcher Lords and this first invasion was them acting totally 'free-lance' - the King of England had little or nothing to do with these first invasions, as I understand it.

On the contrary, the Marcher Lords were acting purely for personal gain - they each wanted to create new territories for themselves where they, (and not the King of England) could each be their own boss.
Like in Ireland, the new invaders brought over peasants with them, mostly Flemish and English settlers, and the result was that scattered along the South Wales coast, permanent enclaves of English ethnicity and language were created, which survived down the centuries.  

On the right is a language map of Wales from around 1810, and as you can see, there were 'bubbles' of English that existed along the South Coast - in Southern Pembrokeshire, the Gower, and in the Vale of Glamorgan.  

These 'Englisheries' were there because they dated back to Norman times.  

An Interesting Side Note
What is worth noting is that when, 200 years after the first Norman Invasions, Edward I launched his much more famous conquest of North and West Wales, very little changed in terms of language borders.  

Although Edward I did bring English settlers over to Wales, unlike with the Norman barons two centuries earlier, these colonists were almost exclusively urban - they settled in the new English-built castle-towns, and not in the countryside.  That is significant.

Although these new settlements began their lives as English-speaking enclaves, events such as the Black Death, which disproportionately affected towns and cities, ravaged their Anglophone populations, and the subsequent resettlement of them by the native Welsh made them solidly Welsh-speaking again.  

The town of Caernarfon is perhaps the greatest example of this - the town and its castle were founded to be the centre of English power in Wales and began its life as an enclave of English ethnicity and language par excellence, and yet today it is the most Welsh-speaking town in 21st century Wales.

So although the Edwardian Conquest is seen by Welsh Nationalists as the ultimate disaster in Welsh history, with myths of King Edward slaughtering the bards (something which has inspired poetry as far away as Hungary,)  I would argue that it was the first of the two invasions which did far much damage to the Welsh Language. 

 But I Digress
So the question that I pose is this - Why didn't the English spoken in it's medieval enclaves in South Wales diverge into something separate, as did Yola and Fingallian in Ireland?

Because, as far as I know, Pembrokeshire English and Gower English is pretty much the same as English as in England, with the exception of the accent, of course, although I may be wrong?

So the title of this blog perhaps shouldn't be 'Why aren't there Three Languages in Wales?' but Why aren't there four or five - one for each South Wales enclave?

Just imagine it - a separate Germanic Language called 'Pembroke-ish' or 'Gowerish.'

Monday, 26 March 2018

MPs Need to Change Party Allegiance More

It is now four years this year since Tory MP Douglas Carswell switched to UKIP and won the subsequent by-election which he chose to trigger.  This was then followed by fellow Tory MP Mark Reckless making the same move. 

This, of course, is not the only time at all that this has happened.  'Crossing the floor' from one party to another is of course what Sir Winston Churchill did in 1904, albeit without choosing to trigger a by-election.  However, ever since Carswell and Reckless made that move, I has occurred to me that such changes of allegiances are quite uncommon.  And that is not a good thing. 

Changing allegiances to stick to your principles shows that you have, well, principles, and that these principles are more important to you than mere party allegiance.  Thus, if it were to happen more often in British Politics, it would greatly reassure the public that individual principles did matter in politics. 

It would also give that public more opportunities to express their opinion at the ballot box - by-elections are awesome for precisely that reason. 

It would also facilitate the creation of new political parties.  If you were to create a new political party tomorrow, a killer factor in it's success would be if it gains the support of at least one MP who's already in Parliament - if not, then your party will either take 'forever' to get anywhere, or not take off at all.

It's for that reason that the SDP in the 1980s immediately became a 'major' party in British elections, whereas other new parties, such as the Greens or Plaid Cymru took decades from their original founding to even enter Parliament with a single MP.  Having existing politicians join up, is, quite frankly, the best way for a new party to even be heard about. 

And of course, all this would help keep party leaders in line too - them knowing that they don't have the unconditional loyalty of all their MPs. 

And of course, having MPs change allegiance more often would make British Politics way more exciting. 

So I appeal to British MPs, and in fact, the US Congressmen too, to not hesitate to change political party when they feel that isn't working with their current bosses. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

No, it is not the Welsh Language that's holding Wales back.

It seems that it is quite fashionable in some corners to argue that the Welsh Language is holding Wales back.  Go to any article on Wales’s Pisa Rankings, for example, and you will see hordes of Jacques Protiques lookalikes saying that it’s all the Welsh Language’s fault. 

I was once in a car journey with someone when they argued that the Welsh Language was discouraging businesses from investing in Wales, and last month, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan argued that it was good that the Irish Language Revival had been a failure:

“Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.”

Now, sure, if you only compared Wales to other parts of the United Kingdom, nearly everywhere else being monolingually English-speaking, you might think that the Welsh Language was to blame for Wales’s poor economy and low PISA rankings. 

But compare Wales to the rest of the world, and you will see that that's nonsense. 

The richest country in the world by GDP per Capita, in 2017, was Luxembourg.  Luxembourg has three official languages, French, German and Luxembourgish, with, a fourth language, English also widely spoken. 

After Luxembourg, number two for GDP per Capita is Switzerland with its four official languages. Of the top ten countries by GDP Per Capita, four have at least two official languages, and many of the remainder, such as Denmark, have widespread multilingualism.   Within Spain, the richest region is the Basque country, which counts both Basque and Castillian Spanish as its official languages.

So to the lady who made that comment in that car journey, I say this.  Are businesses shying away from Switzerland and Luxembourg because of their multiple official languages? Quite the opposite – those are countries that companies chose to move to.

Moving on to education, the picture is the same.  According to the 2015 PISA rankings, the top five countries and dependencies for reading ability were Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland and Ireland.  What do they all have in common? They each have more than two official languages.

So when people say that the Welsh Language is to blame for Wales’s poor education system and depressed economy, now you know whether or not to take them seriously

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

William Hague: The ‘Moderate Left’ is Dying in Europe - My Own Thoughts

Yesterday, the Telegraph published a very insightful article by William Hague (British Conservative Politician) about the recent ‘death’ of the ‘Moderate Left’ in Europe.  (Click here for it) In it he observed that:
·       As of this week, parties on the ‘moderate left’ neither head the governments nor lead the opposition in either the UK, Germany, Italy or France – something that has not happened in peacetime for 100 years.
·       In Italy, in two and a half years, the Italian Democratic Party has gone from being the party of government to a party with perhaps less than 20% of the vote while in France, the moderate Socialist Party in 2017 went from holding the Presidency to winning less than 7% of the vote in the Presidential Election that year.
·       In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party lost 80% of their parliamentary seats in their parliamentary election, and in Spain, support for their centre-left party had fallen by half in the last 10 years.  In Germany, the opposition is now the hard-right AFD. 
·       In Britain, our opposition Labour Party was no longer a ‘moderate left’ party as it was being led by ‘Corbyn extremists’ and that the moderates within the party would have no easy task winning over the party again 

Hague thus argues that this constitutes the ‘death of the moderate left in Europe’ and that the radicals on both the left and right are the beneficiaries of all this, which of course they are. 

But perhaps most interestingly of all, is how he views and explains this development.  His argument is that the leading cause was that its leaders became too far detached from their core support, particularly on issues such as immigration, support for closer political union and their response to the Recession, which he argues differed little from the Centre-Right.

He also points to other, more long-term changes, such as the decline of trade-unions, of ‘class-based loyalty’, the welfare state getting to big, along with the end of the Cold War giving the hard left more respectability.

But most interesting of all, perhaps, is that, even as a conservative, he views this all as very bad news - with likely outcomes either being that centre-right parties stagnate in never-ending power, or that nationalist and populist parties will come to power and introduce abrupt changes to national policy.
He thus argues that it is up to the moderate left to get back in tune with the people, by, for example, rejecting uncontrolled immigration, arguing that otherwise, either Centre-right parties and ‘Macron look-alikes’ will get there first, or populists and nationalists will continue to ‘march all over them.’

My own thoughts

Certainly, there is no doubt that politically, we are living in ‘interesting times’, what with Brexit and Trump and the rise of nationalism across the west.  And certainly, the current collapse of traditional Centre-left parties in Europe has been quite spectacular. 

But is it without precedent? On this scale, quite possibly, but at all in history? No.  In the past 100 years, there have been many examples of centre-left politics being pushed out of the picture. 
The history of the Weimar Republic was essentially that of the ‘Weimar Coalition’ of the three Centre-Left parties losing ground to the extremes.  Another example, although no comparison of course, is that of the collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland over the past decade. 

In Poland, the centre-left party whose predecessor held the Presidency in the 1990s, now has no seats in the Sejm, while in Ireland, both major parties are vaguely right-of-centre, with the Irish Labour Party having only once been the second largest party in the Dail.

But even in countries with strong centre-left traditions like the UK or Germany, you will notice that the centre-left is much more often in opposition than in power.  Just count the number of Conservative PMs against Labour PMs in twentieth century Britain and you will see what I mean.  The same is true for Post-WW2 Germany. 

So there certainly have always been some long-term weaknesses, but one weakness that I feel has grown over time is this:

Populists vs Technocrats and the Centre-Left
On his website, The State of Wales, Welsh political analyst, Owen Donovan, has argued that political parties and movements can be largely grouped into two characteristics: Populist and Technocratic.
If you’re a populist, you appeal more to the raw emotions of the people, whereas if you are a technocrat, you are more intellectually inclined.

My theory is this - that originally, it was the traditional centre-left parties that were firmly on the populist side, being working-class parties and all, and with the centre-right parties being of the elite, but that over time, the tables have turned, and the centre-left has become increasingly ‘intellectual’ seeming and technocratic.

Now, in some ways, the right has always had the populist advantage – particularly when it comes to nationalism, for example, – it has, by definition, been more jingoistic than the left, and thus has appealed to popular passion in that particular area. 

However, over time, the traditional left-wing parties have lost their populist/emotional advantage in other areas, such as in class-based politics and themselves become seen as ‘out-of-touch intellectual middle class’ while their traditional weaknesses, such as seeming economically illiterate, or worse, unpatriotic, have not gone away, or in fact been exacerbated.

Whether the European centre-left will recover, and what the consequences will be if they don’t, however remain to be seen, and I certainly won’t try to speculate now.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Tory MEP says Ireland not Speaking Irish a good thing: My Response.

The other day, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, while writing about Northern Ireland and the Irish Language dispute in the Daily Telegraph, appears to have argued that it was a good thing that the Irish Language revival movement in the Republic of Ireland had been a failure.  Here is what he said:

"Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.

Readers in Great Britain might struggle to understand why the parties in Northern Ireland have fallen out over an issue as abstruse as the status of Irish – a language spoken at home by less than a quarter of one per cent of the population."

To be fair to him though, he did go on to describe it as ‘that beautiful tongue’ but all while arguing how useless and pointless he thinks it is, and of course, as expressed in paragraph one, he is thankful that Ireland does not speak its native tongue. 

Now, I happen to agree with Daniel Hannan on a lot other issues – on maintaining a strong private sector and economic liberalisation, on decentralisation and proportional representation.  However, his recent comments on the Irish Language are, to me, just so outrageous that I feel compelled to write in opposition to them.

Would an Irish-speaking Ireland have really been such a disaster?

What Daniel Hannan seemed to be arguing therefore, was that speaking English as your sole mother tongue was a prerequisite for success in the 21st century.

True? Of course not - of the 10 richest countries in the world by nominal GDP Per Capita in 2017, as listed by the IMF, only three, Ireland, Australia and the US, had more than half their inhabitants speak English as their first language.  The other seven are all content with merely speaking it as their second language, and in Luxembourg and Switzerland’s case – as their fourth or fifth language, perhaps. 
An Irish-speaking Ireland (with English merely as its second language) would therefore not have to be a single cent poorer than the Anglophone Ireland that we know in our timeline – Daniel Hannan was talking nonsense.
However, the word ‘nonsense’ is perhaps being too kind - for that kind of talk is certainly not the nonsense of the cute and cuddly variety that you’d expect a baby to speak – but rather the signs of an attitude that has the potential to offend the billions of people who aren’t native English-speakers and embarrass the hundreds of millions of us who are. 

That attitude, which believes that due to English being the preeminent international Lingua Franca, all other languages are therefore a waste of space and should be liquidated, is one that I have come across unfortunately all too often. 

When I was on a Baltic tour with some Uni friends, we came across this thuggish American tourist in Latvia who was telling the locals around him in a café to stop speaking Latvian in his presence because English was the language that everyone was 'supposed to speak' while in Welsh-speaking Wales, you’ve had English tourists and incomers telling locals to stop speaking Welsh to each other in public.

Likewise, when I was at an Anglo German wedding  back in 2014, I met someone who said that the fact that ‘everyone speaks English’ meant that German was ‘useless,’ while in 2016, BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman made similar remarks about French.

I however, should have expected better from Daniel Hannan.  He himself speaks French and Spanish,  and so surely he, in spite of his Anglo-British nationalism, ought to believe that having other languages on this planet is no bad thing. 

PS: Just for the record, I happen to myself be an English teacher as well as a language enthusiast who has learnt French and Welsh and is learning Chinese.