Friday, 28 October 2016

Welsh being under threat has nothing to do with Globalisation

Back in the spring of 2015, I was with two relatives in their car driving through the countryside of Ceredigion when one of them said that Welsh was a 'dying language' and that its demise was inevitable due to 'Globalization' and the fact that the world was getting 'better connected.'  She then used the example of how, in her native country in Continental Europe, knowledge of English as a second language had increased dramatically, to argue that because of 'globalization' and modernity, English was going to triumph and languages like Welsh were inevitably going to disappear.

For those who have read an earlier blog on the position of Welsh as a vernacular in the North Wales county of Gwynedd, it will be immediately obviousl that such remarks are, well, wrong.   In Gwynedd's county town and administrative centre, Caernarfon, more than 80% of primary school children come from Welsh speaking homes and Welsh is still the majority pupil home language in a majority of the county's urban areas while there are village schools where more than 90% of children speak Welsh at home.  Yes, 90%.  Since when can a language where this is the case be classified as 'dying'?

Yet the percentage of children across Wales as a whole speaking the language at home is now only 7%.  Even in Gwynedd there are areas where Welsh no longer the majority pupil mother tongue, such as Bangor, coastal Merionydd and enclaves elsewhere.  Welsh is still a language that is spoken as a vernacular and by all generations, but the area in which this is still true has shrunk hugely; in the 1960s and '70s, the Welsh heartland covered nearly half the country's surface area, forming a swathe of territory stretching from Anglesey, down the west coast to the Bristol channel, while in 1870, nearly the whole country was majority Welsh speaking.   Thus, it would be more appropriate to describe Welsh as a geographically 'Rump Language'; for example the Byzantine Empire was a rump of the larger Roman Empire.

The problem with saying that the decline of Welsh is an inevitable by-product, or even part of, 'globalization' or 'modernity' is that you soon run into problems.  You'd have to prove that today's Welsh speaking areas are somehow not modern and globalized and that anglophone areas are.  You'd have to prove that people in Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog  don't have smartphones, don't board planes to other countries and don't eat foreign cuisine or drink coca-cola but that people in Barmouth and Aberdyfi do.  And on that, I can assure you, you would be proven very wrong.  The truth is that Welsh speaking urban and rural areas are no less modern or globalized than other urban and rural areas that are the same size.  And if you went up to a native welsh speaker and told them that they had lacked the benefits of modernity and globalization, such remarks wouldn't do you any favors.

If you still think that languages spoken by small countries are inevitably doomed because of globalization, put it this way;  Estonia and Iceland have around a half and a tenth of Wales's population, respectively, and are highly globalized.  Since when are those countries' languages considered old fashioned and moribund in a twenty-first century globalized world? They're not.  The changing fortunes of Estonian during the last century had everything to do with Soviet occupation and the demographic changes imposed on the country by the Soviets; not globalization. Estonian has become more widely spoken, not less, percentage wise since Estonian independence in spite of globalization accelerating since 1991.  Globalization is therefore not the reason why the Welsh language lost most of its territory during the past 150 years.  Wales being part of the United Kingdom must have to do with it, don't you think?  It is also interesting to note that those areas in Gwynedd which are still Welsh speaking tend to have less than 1/3 of their population having been born in England, while those which have been anglicized have higher percentages being born outside Wales.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Leanne Wood's Experience on BBC's Question Time Makes my Blood Boil

Last night, on the BBC political discussion show, Question Time, a UKIP member of the audience had the gall to call Plaid Cymru a racist party.  He claimed that the party's name Plaid Cymru, meant 'Wales for the Welsh' (and it doesn't) before shouting 'What about the rest of us?'
            How dare he? At at time when thanks to Brexit and the rhetoric of UKIP and CO, foreign nationals across England are being told in the street to 'go home' while others have been assaulted, even fatally, simply for speaking their own languages in public places, to call Plaid Cymru anti-English racists when they have done nothing of the sort just makes my blood boil.  The truth is that Plaid Cymru has been very kind and politically correct and not gone for anti-English incomer bashing.  As an English incomer to Wales myself, I can say that I have never been given a hard time for being not Welsh or for speaking my English mother tongue in the street nor have I heard Plaid bang on about the numbers of us English incomers the way Farage has talked about Romanians.  Plaid Cymru has many English members and a third of its MPs are English so calling them anti-English racists really is like a black pot calling a white kettle black.
         In fact, perhaps with reason, some Welsh Nationalists argue that Plaid Cymru has been too politically correct and not bold enough in stating the fact that the amount of migration from England to until-then Welsh-speaking areas of Wales since the 1960s is why Welsh speaking areas have shrunk so disastrously, since , you guessed it, the 1960s. Those people, such as the organisation Cymuned, along with the notable blogger Jac O the North, perhaps do have a point.  After all, if you compare areas in the traditional Welsh-language Heartland which are still Welsh speaking with those which have been anglicized in the last 40-50 years, you will notice a pattern.  Areas, both urban and rural, which still have a large majority of their school children speaking Welsh at home, such as Pwllheli, Caernarfon, Blaeanau Ffestiniog etc tend to have less than 1/3 of their population born outside Wales.  Those which are no longer Welsh Speaking, such as Bangor, Llandudno and Barmouth etc tend to have more of their population born outside Wales.  In addition, there have been stories of many English incomers actually being hostile to the language of the place they have chosen to move to; a notable example is a Daily Post article from 2009 which reported that a Welsh speaker in Blaenau Ffestiniog (where 80% of children speak Welsh at home) was mimicked pejoratively by a non-Welsh checkout worker when she tried to ask for something in her mother tongue.  In addition,  it was reported on the BBC in 2015 that Ceredigion County council was trying to urge many English homeowners not to convert the Welsh names of their new houses to Anglo-Saxon sounding names.
          Plaid Cymru have avoided making a meal of the phenomenon of migration to Welsh speaking areas because they are a kind and pleasant party and we English incomers should be bloody grateful for that and not accuse them of anti-English racism.  Because even if Plaid Cymru were to adopt the policies that more extreme Welsh Nationalist organisations, like Cymuned (which by the way had English members such as Tim Webb,) were calling for 15 years ago, ie calling for control on migration into Welsh speaking areas and obliging incomers to learn Welsh, that would not make Plaid half as racist as the current Tory/UKIP rhetoric is towards immigrants to the UK.  Here me now; the Tories are now calling for policies such as naming and shaming  companies which hire non-British workers while also criticizing the number of foreigners working in our NHS.  This is  despite the fact that the vast majority of migrants to the UK do learn English and immigration poses no threat to the dominance of English in the UK, unlike, it seems, the situation in North and West Wales.   The rhetoric of UKIP, the Leave campaign and now the Tories has resulted in an elected MP and foreign nationals even being murdered and others assaulted while we haven't heard of English incomers, even in the most Welsh Nationalist areas, of receiving that kind of treatment.
         Thus, Plaid Cymru have deliberately avoided anything that resembles Anglophobia or opposition to incomers and so to be called racist by a member of UKIP, of all parties really is like a black pot calling a white kettle black.  But that didn't matter to that ukipper.  To him any nationalist who isn't an English/British Nationalist is an anti-English racist.  And that itself is racist against every other nationality on this Earth because it says that the English are so special that only they have the right to indulge in nationalism.  If there is one positive outcome to hope for in a post-Brexit crisis in Britain it is that UKIP and Tory supporters will learn the hard way to respect other nationalities like equals whether it be nations across the seas or the other nations of the British Isles.