Monday 14 January 2013

A Question of Identity

Next Saturday, 19 January beginning at 11 o'clock, a rally will be held outside County Hall in Carmarthen to bring together people who care about the future of the Welsh language in Carmarthenshire.

Lots of "celebs" will be there, along with many other people from all walks of life who were shocked by the recent census results. Please come along and show your support even if you feel your Welsh is not brilliant or you are learning the language. You will not be made to sit a mutation test or dragged in front of the microphones.

The ability to speak a language is not black and white. There are people, certainly a small minority in Carmarthenshire, who have no Welsh at all. Not even "diolch". Then there are lots of shades of grey, ranging from people who have a few words; those with a smattering of Welsh; people who don't actively speak Welsh but can understand it; people whose Welsh has become rusty; and then quite a big group who can actually speak and understand the language but who feel, for a variety of reasons, that their Welsh is not "good enough".

We've probably all come across people who say that their Welsh isn't "good enough" or who say they speak "Wenglish", but who can actually carry on a decent conversation with a bit of English thrown in. Last year I got talking to an elderly lady in Tesco's who began by saying,

"Sai'n siarad Cymra'g, achan, ond w i'n gallu swearo yn Gymra'g". [I don't speak Welsh, lad, but I can swear in Welsh].

The good news, then, is that if you scratch the surface, there is a lot more Welsh in Carmarthenshire than the census figures would suggest. The bad news is that there is a decline in the numbers who feel confident in asserting that they can speak Welsh.

There are things that can be done about that, and none of them involves pain. See the bottom of this post for some useful telephone numbers and websites.

Before anyone says, "With the economy the way it is, this is not a priority", consider this. Firstly, speaking Welsh does not damage the economy. Secondly, people have been speaking Welsh or something very much like it in Carmarthenshire and the rest of Wales for the best part of 2,000 years. During that long history, the Welsh have endured plagues, famines, wars, invasions, natural disasters and any number of economic downturns which make what we are experiencing today look like a picnic in the park.

Future generations would curse us if they thought we gave up because of a few years of recession.

There are people, including some of those running our county council, who feel that Welsh is somehow a luxury, and they must share part of the blame for the decline in the numbers speaking Welsh over the last ten years.

Welsh is not a luxury, but part of our identity and our birthright. Come along to County Hall next Saturday and send a loud and clear message that we want to keep it that way.


Useful telephone numbers and contact details

If you already have some Welsh but you do not feel confident in speaking it, or it has become rusty, a good place to start is Menter Iaith. They are a friendly bunch who run various activities for people like you.

Menter Iaith Cwm Gwendraeth 01269 871600

Menter Iaith Gorllewin Sir Gâr 01239 712934

Menter Bro Dinefwr  01558 825336

If you want to learn the language or brush up your Welsh, try one of the following. In Ceredigion there are also weekly conversation groups to give people a chance to chat about all sorts of topics, ranging from cooking, gardening and health to topics in the news, local businesses, history, etc. There are also classes run for parents with children in Welsh-medium schools (Cymraeg i'r Teulu). If there isn't one at your child's school, ask the school head to organise one.

Welsh for Adults/Cymraeg i Oedolion 01792 60 20 70 (Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire)

Welsh for Adults/Cymraeg i Oedolion 0800 876 6975 (Ceredigion)

A great online way of learning Welsh: Say Something in Welsh


Anonymous said...

No objections to the language itself. Just object to my taxes being used to support something that is important to some rather than useful to all.

Let those who want to live in 'Welsh Wales' pay for Welsh Wales. And the rest of 'non-Welsh Wales' can pay for itself.

Surely this is the only way for the language to survive.

Anonymous said...

People may not be made to sit a mutation test, but sadly there will be some 'activists' present who will either laugh or sneer if your Welsh is less than perfect. I have personal experience of it.

Sometimes I think that some language activists (not all!) encourage antipathy to Welsh through their attitude towards non-Welsh speaking Welsh people - English people moving usually get a free pass.

Of course there are others who don't want more people learning the language as that would lead to more competition for the cushy language jobs.

Welsh not British said...

We all know what the problem is but not of the politicians will dare say it. Either they are...

A. Scared of being called racist
B. Apathetic unionists

Wales had 150,000 non Welsh speakers move here in the last 10 years. Add that to the 20,000 Welsh speakers who have moved away, died or "forgotten" how to speak Welsh and you have 170,000 less Welsh speakers.

We can rally all we want, we can send our kids to Welsh schools and we can build as many bilingual signs as we want.

The reality is that unless we stop the mass dilution of Wales we are going to be wiped out. Culturally and politically.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @19.24 I'm sorry that you have had a bad experience. There are idiots in every walk of life, but they are the exception. I have worked several times with Bethan Williams, the former Chair of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith, helping learners, and she has always been fantastically supportive. The same is true of the vast majority of people in this part of Wales. In Cardigan alone there are nearly 100 local volunteers who give up their time to help learners without sneering or mocking.

Anonymous said...

The sad fact is that without a proper national economy the Welsh Language is likely to be in trouble in a recession. In County Hall Plaid and other nationalist leaning councillors have been effectively sidelined by being bought off by concessions in welsh education, much needed, but undermined themselves by supporting for the past decade a policy of building homes for incomers, commuters, second home owners and retirees, while not putting in the infrstructure for jobs for young people.
This has led to an unfortunate rise in english speakers [many deliberately imported] and loss of welsh speakers [discouraged from staying by no employment].

As long as we allow ourselves to be a marginal and unimportant area of the UK this will not change. Only real political change will save the language and there is no point in politely asking the puppets of the British state to save it, whether in County Council, Assembly or Westminster. They are all in it together, and not on our side, however profuse the crocodile tears.

Its not just about the ease or otherwise of learning welsh, irritating snooty welsh speakers and poor funding. Its about real nation building. A welsh speaker may or may not be committed to that and there have been many willing to take the easy life. Possibly, often the same irritating people who destroy the self confidence of learners efforts in welsh by correcting, rather than replying.

The language has been more difficult to destroy that the economy and infrastructure of the geographical nation of Wales,but can't survive for ever living on fresh air.

On Saturday I want to hear some real proposals for how we, ourselves can forge the changes, not just winging about how awful it is and asking someone else, somewhere else to save us.

Cllr Sian Caiach