Thursday, 21 December 2017

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda


Rwy i'n ysgryfenni yr erthygl hon i ddymuno i chi gyd Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.    Dw i'n gobeithio bod chi gyd yn gallu teimlo yr ysbryd nadolig - Fi, yn bendant ac ers yr eira yn Lundain ychydig wythnosau yn ol.  

Mae hi wedi bod yn flwyddyn grêt i mi ac i'r blog yma.  Yn y dechrau 2017, Roedd gen y blog llai na 4,000 views.  Rwan, ym mis hydref, mae gen ni yn fwy na 94,000 views.  

Hefyd, mae 2017 wedi bod y flwyddyn lle wnes i raddio o'r Bryfysgol Aberystwyth gan 2:1 mewn Hanes ym mis Gorffenaf.  Roedd y dair flwyddyn yna yn amser lyfli a dw i'n methu fo'n iawn yn barod.  Gobeithio galla i ail-fynd yna.  

Rhwng rwan ac yr amser yna yn y ddyfodol, bydd i'n Tsieina i fod yn athro y saesneg i'r plant.  Wna i hedfan ym mis Ionawr y seithfed.  Bydd hi'n bennod mor gynhyrfus mewn bywyd ac bydd i yna yn ystod 15 mis.  Tipyn scary, ydw i'n cyfaddef.  

Mae hi wedi bod yn flwyddyn gynhyrfus i Gymru hefyd.  2017 - Y flwyddyn y dechrau Nation.Cymru gan Ifan Morgan Jones.   2017 - y flwyddyn y fuddugoliaeth Ben Lake yn Geredigion.  Rw i'n gobeithio bydd 2018 y flwyddyn lle gallwn ni adeiladu ar ben y llwyddiant 2017 a chreu llwyddiant yn yr ardaleodd newydd hefyd.  

Yn y Cyfamser, rwy'n ddymuno i chi gyd Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, a rwan hefyd, mae rhaid i fi ymddiheuro am y ffaith bod Fy Nghymraeg fi ddim yn dda.  

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I hope that you are feeling the Christmas spirit – I certainly have felt it since the snow in London earlier this month. 

It’s been a great year for Politics by Rebuttal.  At the beginning of 2017, this blog had only had less than 4,000 page views.  Now, that figure has jumped to over 94,000 page views.  

2017 has also been a very significant for me personally – it was the year in which I graduated with a 2:1 in history from Aberystwyth, exactly five months ago to the day; the 21st of July.  The three years there were a wonderful experience, and I can’t say I don’t miss it already.  Le’ts hope that I can go back one day.

Meanwhile, however, I will be starting my new job in China and I fly out on the seventh of January.  It’s an English-teaching job with classes of children under the age of 14.  It will certainly be a new chapter in my life, and I admit that it is not like anything that I have ever done before.

Either way, 2017 has certainly been an exciting year for Wales.  It was the year in which Ben Lake won Ceredigion, the year that Nation.Cymru was founded, but it was also the year in which rail electrification was cancelled between Cardiff and Swansea by a Westminster government who would rather spend the money on bribing the DUP and extending the Northern Line.  I just hope that 2018 will be a year in which the successes of 2017 will be built on, and a year in which new successes will arise.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and apologise for the fact that there will undoubtedly be mistakes in my Welsh above.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Stop Blaming the Welsh Language for the Language Divide in Wales

Having just watched the video of a non-Welsh-speaking Anglesey Councillor arguing that Welsh Language Policy has created an ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Wales, I thought that it would be high time to try to debunk the anti-Welsh-Language-campaigners’ favourite argument – namely that the survival and promotion of the Welsh Language is responsible for the language divides that exist in Wales.

First of all, what language did Wales speak when there last wasn’t a Language Divide in the country? Answer: Welsh - and it was the entry of the English Language into Wales that created the split.

Now, having two languages is no bad thing; on the contrary, Finland, Belgium and Switzerland are all either bilingual or multilingual, and they are better because of it.  I, myself a native English-Speaker, love learning languages, and am actively trying to become more multi-lingual, not less. 

But when the anti-Welsh-Language folk blame the Welsh language for dividing a country, and its communities, I think that it’s important that we respond to that argument, and not let Welsh get criticised merely for existing within its own country.  Welsh has done nothing wrong, so to speak. 

On the contrary, I would argue that the universality of English is what’s to blame for a divided Wales.  Far from uniting Wales, the universality of English is the reason why Wales today is a land divided between those who do still speak Welsh, and those who don’t.  And this divide does indeed exist both at a national level and at community level. 

Think about it.  In England, where I’m from, there is no universal, or even widely spoken, second language, and that is a good thing.  It means that if you are an immigrant or an ‘expat’, you pretty much have no choice but to learn the local language, English.  In England, there is no divide between those who do speak the local language, and those who don’t, since everyone has to speak it.

In Wales’s Welsh-speaking communities, however, everyone can also speak English, which is why most incomers in such areas don’t speak Welsh, even after living there for a long time.  And it’s that phenomenon that has created the division and even social tensions, within said communities.

The 1989 A Study of Language Contact And Social Networks in Ynys Môn, by Delyth Morris, which looked at the Welsh-speaking community of Brynwran, showed exactly that.  Indeed, the results showed that a number of the incomers were actually angry that the locals spoke to each other in a language that they didn’t understand and didn’t like the fact that Welsh was the language of many of the village’s clubs and societies. 

 Of course, in a fair and just situation, those incomers would have been forced to learn the local language and not think anything of it, yet, the universality of English as a second language prevented this ‘normal’ process of integration and assimilation from happening, and is therefore a direct cause of the social malaise.

But of course, in most of Wales, this phenomenon has not stopped there, and has instead resulted in the collapse of Welsh as the local vernacular all together.
That was why, when I was in Aberystwyth, I met so many locals who either couldn’t, or didn’t, speak Welsh.  And it was always for the same reason -  that one of their parents or grandparents had been an incomer, which meant that English had to be the language spoken at home from then on, and that therefore English was the first language of everyone in the family from that point onwards.

In a fair and normal situation, any such incomer would have had to learn the local language to communicate with the locals, and not the other way around, and the local language would have been the common language.  The universality of English is what prevented this, and is therefore a direct cause of the collapse of Welsh as the community language in Aberystwyth, in the South Wales coalfield, in Dolgellau, across most of Wales, in fact. 

Thus, if I had to blame one language for the language divide in Wales, I wouldn’t pick Welsh.  Rather, it is the universality of English that has led directly to a Wales that is a) divided into Welsh-Speaking and non-Welsh-speaking areas, and b) a Wales in which there is division within it’s remaining Welsh-Speaking communities, since the universality of English prevents the absorption of non-Welsh-speakers into the local Language and culture. 

Not only that, but a non-Welsh-Speaking Wales would have far more reason to be internally divided than a Welsh-Speaking one.  When Wales was majority Welsh-Speaking, north Walians, Mid-Walians and South-Walians had something obvious that united them, their language.  

Now, however, that most Welsh people no longer speak Welsh, that unifying influence is no longer there, and many in North-East Wales, for example, feel that they have more in common with people from the geographically closer Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester, than with people from Cardiff.   
Thus, the collapse of the Welsh Language has greatly strengthened the divide between north, mid and south Wales. 

So, when somebody accuses the promotion or survival of the Welsh Language of being something that divides Wales, tell them that they, if anything, are accusing the wrong language.  

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Stop Blaming Retirees for the Decline of the Welsh Language

How the percentage of people able to speak Welsh in 
traditionally Welsh-speaking communities has fallen 
significantly since the 1960s.                                         
It seems that the factor most blamed for the decline of the Welsh Language is the in-migration of English retirees.  I, however, would argue that the effect of retiree in-migration on the survival of Welsh-speaking communities has been significantly overstated and indeed I would argue that it cannot possible be given the most blame for the language's demise.

Who are the non-Welsh-Speakers?
In a hypothetical situation where retirement migration is indeed the leading cause, you would sure see a drop in the percentage of Welsh-Speakers in the community.  But that drop would, logically, be concentrated among the over-65s, with younger age groups continuing to speak Welsh just as before, since, by definition, the under-65s are not going to be the retirees.

Is this scenario what has actually happened?  There are a handful of communities that genuinely do fit this pattern.  Take the Llyn Peninsula village of Tudweiliog, for example.  There, in 2013, 94.3% of children in the village primary school were from Welsh-speaking homes, while at the 2011 Census, only 73.9% of residents could speak Welsh.  Clearly, the school stats showed that that those residents of school-attending and parenting age were nearly all Welsh-Speaking, which suggests that the 2011 Census figure genuinely was brought down by non-Welsh retirees, and indeed, in 2011, 31.3% of the village's population was born outside Wales.

Thus, there are indeed communities, like Tudweiliog, where the percentage of Welsh-Speakers has fallen due to the in-migration of retirees; and where it has genuinely had nothing to do with any shift to English amongst the younger residents.  But the communities that follow this pattern are not very many.  They are also all rural, all in North West Wales, and all very Welsh-Speaking.  And yes that's right; wherever retirement in-migration has been the leading factor for the decline of Welsh, not much of a decline has actually happened at all, since the younger age groups, by definition, have not been affected.

But that is not what's happened in most areas that Welsh-Speaking half a century ago - instead it has largely been the percentage of children speaking Welsh at Home, a statistic given by School Data, that has plummeted, and it would be difficult to blame retirees for that.

The table below shows how the percentage of primary school children from Welsh-Speaking homes in the three counties of Dyfed has more than halved since the 1950s.

And similarly, on Anglesey, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home has fallen from around three quarters mid-century, to just under 40% today, although the drop has slowed down significantly there.  This leaves Gwynedd as the only local authority area where a majority of children still speak Welsh at Home.

Yet are such Misconceptions Really that Unfounded?
Nevertheless, there clearly is a link between in-migration and the disappearance of Welsh-Speaking areas, and for me, as an English learner of Welsh who has lived in Aberystwyth, that is a great tragedy.  

Generally, the traditionally Welsh-speaking areas that are still Welsh-speaking now,  in terms of language spoken by children at home, are the very same areas where less than 30% of the population was born outside Wales, with places like Tudweiliog being the exception.

The link is particularly striking in Gwynedd, where all the areas where Welsh has collapsed are also areas of higher levels of in-migration.  Indeed, throughout the traditional Fro Gymraeg generally, it appears to be the case that when non-Welsh migration into a particular community increases, then the percentage of children from non-Welsh-speaking homes will skyrocket much faster.

The table below shows how this trend has played out by comparing three example communities not far from each other in southern Gwynedd.
Clearly in Dolgellau and Barmouth, in-migration has indeed been what's caused the percentage of children from Welsh-Speaking homes to drop, but it's not the over-65s who are the incomers bringing about the decline of Welsh; instead it's mainly school-aged children and their parents who are the non-Welsh-Speakers.  Similarly, the 2012 Estyn report on Ysgol Ardudwy, the secondary school in Harlech, a town where half the population was born outside Wales, stated that only 40% of children were from homes where at least one parent could speak Welsh.

Blaming the Wrong Kind of Migration
Clearly, where in-migration has actually led to the collapse of the Welsh Language, ie, in places like Harlech, Barmouth and Dolgellau, it has not been retirees who are to blame.  In places where retiree in-migration has been the cause of the decline of Welsh, like in Tudweiliog, Welsh has not actually died out at all, since there the younger age groups have continued speaking Welsh at Home just like before, while in Barmouth and Harlech, they have not.

Clearly then, retiree in-migration is the least harmful kind of in-migration with regards to the Welsh language since it does not affect the speech of younger age groups in the area in question.  And that begs the question, why do we blame retirees for the disappearance of Welsh-Speaking areas?

Whatever people's reasoning is, blaming the wrong people for anything is something that needs to stop.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

London-Aberystwyth direct trains should be re-instated with the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line

Aberystwyth Station before the Beeching Cuts - it had as many
as five platforms at its height.                                                     
With Plaid Cymru managing to get the Welsh Labour government to agree to a feasibility study on the re-opening of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line, perhaps this is a great opportunity to begin discussing the reinstatement of direct rail services between Aberystwyth and London.

You might think that having direct trains run between London and Aberystwyth would be quite far-fetched, but actually, such services did actually run until 1991.  More recently than that, Arriva Trains Wales tried to reinstate such a service, but the proposals were turned down by the Office of Rail Regulation in 2010. 

Those services, were of course, like the pre-1991 services, to run on the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, as, since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, the Cambrian Line has been the only line linking the University town.  

But with proposals to reopen the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line nearing reality for the first time since its closure in 1965, for me the obvious question is, why only have 'local' trains run on such a route?  Why not reinstate direct London-Aberystwyth services via the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line and South Wales, once the line is there to do it?

Such a service would be a Welsh Nationalist's dream - it would link Aberystywth not only to London, but also, of course, to the Wales's capital, Cardiff, while Newport and Swansea would also be en route.  Wales would therefore have an intercity-level service connecting the 'capital of Mid-Wales' to the cities of South Wales, and wouldn't it be a bit insulting to Wales if the only trains doing that route were 'local' style trains?

Travelling from London to Aberystwyth via South Wales is not something without historical precedent.  When listening to online oral testimony of an evacuee who was moved from London to Aberystwyth during the Second World War, I noticed that she talked about travelling to Aberystwyth from Paddington station, suggesting that the default London-Aberystwyth journey back then was via the Great Western Main Line and South Wales.

If anything, that makes sense, doesn't it? After all, travelling by train from London to Aberystwyth via South Wales would have been more geographically direct than travelling via Shrewsbury and Machynlleth - the latter route is a tad circuitous since the section across Mid-Wales is actually further north than Aberystwyth itself.

There would be other benefits too.  At the moment, there is no competition on the Great Western Main Line (unlike on other main lines, such as the East Coast); GWR is the only company to run intercity trains out of London Paddington.  Assuming that the London-Aberystwyth trains were to be run by Arriva Trains Wales, as the alternate 2010 proposals envisaged, then that would, for the first time, result in customers on the London-Swansea corridor having a choice of company.

Thus I feel that with discussions on the re-opening of the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line in the air at the moment, it is high time that we also discuss reinstating direct services between Aberystwyth and London, and if possible, via the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen route itself.