Wednesday 31 July 2013

Is Welsh difficult?


There has been some confusion in the comments section about what Rhys David looks like. So to clear matters up, here is a handy guide:


Meri Huws

Rhys David

In what seems to becoming an annual ritual around this time of year, the Institute for Welsh Affairs has published another article peddling the myth that the Welsh language is inherently difficult and needs to become more like English. It's a bit like Rex Harrison singing "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" in "My Fair Lady".

The author this time is Rhys David, a former journalist and executive with the Financial Times. Last year it was Colin Miles, another retired businessman (see Cneifiwr's reaction and link here).

Rhys David has some interesting things to say in what is quite a wide-ranging article, but he devotes a lot of space to explaining why in his view Welsh is a difficult, stuck-in-the-mud, geriatric sort of language.

The Welsh language faces many challenges, and it is fair to say that the perpetuation of this myth is one of them.

It is very common to hear Welsh speakers say to learners, "Welsh is a very difficult language, isn't it?" They invariably say this with good intentions, but the correct, if somewhat rude, response should be, "If it's that bloody difficult, how come you can speak it?"

Unlike Colin Miles, Rhys David is certainly familiar with the language, and from what he writes, he most likely speaks it. The trouble is that he looks at Welsh through the prism of English.

After some preliminary thoughts, Rhys gets into his stride by comparing Welsh to software. Although it's been around for a long time, "we only have the beta version at present and it needs some reworking to make it fit for purpose".

Let's take a deep breath and move on to the substance.

All languages have their quirks and irregularities. English has around 200 irregular verbs in common use (I see, I saw, I have seen). Modern spoken Welsh has five. Yes, five (bod, mynd, cael, dod, gwneud).

English has two or arguably three present tenses (I go, I am going, I do go). Modern spoken Welsh has just one.

To make a present tense in Welsh, all you need to know is the forms of the verb bod ("to be") and some vocabulary:

Mae e'n mynd.  He goes/he is going/he does go.

Replace the 'n with the word wedi and you've got:

Mae e wedi mynd   He has gone.

Now compare the four English permutations, including the forms "go, goes, going, gone" with the two Welsh sentences. Which of these languages is making a meal out of things?

Rhys goes on to talk about "archaic declensions". In grammar "declension" is a term used to describe how nouns, pronouns and adjectives change depending on what is going on around them. Welsh nouns and pronouns do not decline execpt to show plural forms. Ever. Nhw in Welsh can be either "they" or "them" depending on whether the English pronoun is a subject or an object (direct or indirect). In English you add 's to show possession (genitive case). Jac's car. Welsh: Car Jac.

True, there are a small number of feminine adjectives in Welsh in regular use, but they have never caused anyone to have a nervous breakdown, and people happily sing Gafr wen, wen, wen, ie finwen, finwen, finwen....  As far as I know, nobody has ever objected to the use of wen and insisted on singing gwyn ("white" in English).

Rhys is not very happy that Welsh has masculine and feminine grammatical gender, forgetting that among European languages English is very unusual in not having grammatical gender. Quite a lot of European languages have three genders, but that has not threatened the existence of German, Polish or Russian.

Welsh has multiple plural forms, he complains. But so too do German, Italian, Swedish, Greek and Russian. English also has a few oddities in this department (children, mice, men....).

Rhys finds that using peidio to make negative commands is also unsatisfactory. In English you say "run!", but if you want to make that negative you have to say "don't run!" You see, Rhys, in English you have to use the word "do" as well as the word "not" to make a negative command. In Welsh you can just stick the word paid in front of the verb. Paid siarad rwtsh. Or if you prefer, paid â siarad rwtsh.

Staying with negatives, Rhys thinks Welsh is too complex here as well. Compare and contrast:

Aeth e     He went

Aeth e ddim  He did not go.

Which language is making life difficult?

Of course mutations make an appearance on the charge sheet as well. Most people who speak Welsh as a first language have not got a clue about the rules for mutations. They do mutate, without thinking about it, and very often not according to the rules set down in the books. Mae Dylan yn mynd i Llanelli, people say, but mae Eirlys yn mynd i G'fyrddin.

In fact the rules for using mutations in written Welsh are pretty easy to learn. Much more difficult, in fact impossible, is to formulate clear rules for how mutations are used in spoken Welsh. Very often spoken Welsh avoids mutations which are standard in the written language, but sometimes spoken Welsh introduces mutations where the written language has none (after the word os for example).

Recently I saw someone who is one of the most prolific Welsh tweeters on Twitter worrying that he did not know the rules for mutations, and yet he consistently writes good Welsh and has interesting things to say.  

Paid â phoeni, Hedd.

The point is, Rhys, that mutations are not something anyone should lose sleep over. If you are a learner, go with the flow. Copy what you hear other people saying. If you want to write and cannot get to grips with the rules, there are handy mutation checkers available.

Welsh is no harder and no easier than any other European language, Rhys, so please stop perpetuating this depressing and destructive myth.

Finally, Rhys David reckons we need something like the Academie Francaise to regulate and standardise the language. He also thinks that Welsh is somehow not strong enough to evolve naturally as other languages do.

The truth is that Welsh is evolving and changing naturally, and it always has. All languages do. That is why you hear people saying things like fi'n mynd or car fi. Judging from what he says about the sort of Welsh to be found on Facebook, Rhys David is not too keen on this sort of thing.

So what would an academy do? Which forms would it give its seal of approval to? Yr wyf yn mynd? Rwyf yn mynd? Dw i'n mynd? Dwi'n mynd? Or one of the several other possibilities?

A number of countries have tried to legislate on language, and they have nearly all come a cropper. The German speaking world tried to introduce a series of spelling reforms back in 2006, and the arguments are still raging.

Norway tried over a long period to merge the two distinct forms of Norwegian, with penalties for children who used the "wrong" word for seven at school. It simply upset everyone.

One of the few examples of successful legislated language change in Europe was the simplification in Sweden of the rules for using the words for "you". Now you say "du" to one person or "ni" if you are addressing more than one person. The reason why that reform took hold had a lot to do with the insanely complex system which preceded it, where if you wanted to be polite to someone you had to refer to them in the third person.

Did Mr Eriksson have a nice holiday? Did his son enjoy it too? And has he stopped wetting the bed yet?

But who wet the bed? Mr Eriksson or his son?

There are lots of things which need to be done to promote the Welsh language and encourage its use, but fiddling with the language itself is not one of them. The one sure way of killing the language would be to strip it bare to make it conform to English rules.

And no, Rhys, Welsh is not a piece of dodgy beta software.

Sunday 28 July 2013

What you won't be reading on the beach this summer

In the small but incest-free world of Welsh blogs Oggy Bloggy Ogwr is the place to go if you want to read about the legislative output of the Senedd. Fortunately he writes about other things as well because, let's face it, there really is more excitement in watching paint dry than the turgid and distinctly unambitious stuff churned out in Cardiff Bay.

In fact one of the specialities of the Welsh Government and its civil servants is measures, laws, technical advice notes and all the rest of it which sound vaguely interesting, but which turn out to be utterly pointless and of no use whatsoever. However they do enable Carwyn & Co to put a tick in the box, claim that they have acted on sustainability/the Welsh language/climate change/local democracy/child poverty, etc., etc. before moving on to the next topic, safe in the knowledge that nobody much will bother to look at what they have actually done.

Take the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, enacted by the Senedd. Section 5 of this piece of legislation deals with the production of annual reports by councillors. What it says in plain language is that councils must make provision to allow councillors to produce annual reports detailing their activities during the previous year, and that councils will publish reports produced by councillors or members of the council executive.

The full, and rather dry text of this part of the Measure can be read at the end of this post, but the one thing it does not say is that councillors or members of the council executive must produce an annual report. This rather glaring loophole was picked up earlier this year by Vale of Glamorgan County Council (report here).

Councils are also supposed to publish details for the arrangements for publication of annual reports.

The subject of councillor annual reports came up in a council committee in Carmarthen in March of this year (agenda here). The report contains the following underlined warning:

The Assembly Government expects that the first annual reports will be published no later than the end of June 2013.

The report also warns councillors that they may only mention activities undertaken in their role as councillor. This will come as a disappointment to all those who were looking forward to hearing accounts of Ivor Jackson's cruises or Meryl Gravell's holidays, and it may leave some councillors with precious little to say.

Here we are at the end of July 2013 and not a single report has been published; the council has not published its arrangements for publishing reports either, but since there is no requirement for councillors to publish a report, there seems little point in the council telling us about its arrangements for non-publication of non-existent reports.

Actually there is one exception to this lack of activity. If you bury deep enough, you will find three previous "annual reports" on the profile for Kevin Madge, the most recent document being for 2010/11.

Kev's annual reports (here's one) contain large splashes of red (presumably a reference to his professed socialism), and quite an amount of yellow (you can make your own minds up about what that alludes to...taking the **** perhaps?). Otherwise they are the sort of electoral junk mail that normally gets stuffed through your letter box a few weeks before polling day.


And now for the bit you have all been waiting for: Section (5) of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011:

 5. Annual reports by members of a local authority
(1) A local authority must make arrangements for—
(a) each person who is a member of the authority to make an annual report about the person's activities as a member of the authority during the year to which the report relates,
(b) each person who is a member of the authority's executive to make an annual report about the person's activities as a member of the executive during the year to which the report relates, and
(c) the authority to publish all annual reports produced by its members and by the members of its executive.
(2) The arrangements may include conditions as to the content of a report that must be satisfied by the person making it.
(3) A local authority must publicise its arrangements.
(4) In exercising its functions under this section a local authority must have regard to guidance given by the Welsh Ministers.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Remembering the 1911 Llanelli Railway Strike and Riot

Wednesday  14th  August
Poems and Pintsat ‘The Club’  Queen Victoria Road
7.30 ‘til late   FREE

Thursday  15th  August
FORUM ‘From the Great Unrest of 1911 to the Global Rebellions of 2013’  with
John Edwards, Robert Griffiths, Jonathan Edwards MP, Tim Evans
at Llanelli Rural Council Offices, Vauxhall  5pm  FREE
Tickets are limited. Tel Tim Evans to reserve them 07962804452

Saturday  17th  August
Commemoration March assemble at Llanelli Railway Station, 11.30 for 12. Rally in town centre, wreath laying ceremony at Box Cemetery. Côr Cochion Caerdydd.
Meet in Stamps public house, Station Road, after march.

Cofio Streic Rheilffordd a Gwrthryfel Llanelli 1911


Nos Fercher 14eg o Awst
Barddoniaeth a Barlys  - yn ‘Y Clwb’, Heol y Fenhines Victoria
7.30 y.h. tan hwyr  MYNEDIAD AM DDIM

Dydd Iau 15fed o Awst
FFORWM ‘O’r Afreolaeth Fawr 1911 hyd at y Gwrthryfeloedd Byd-Eang 2013’ gyda
John Edwards, Robert Griffiths, Jonathan Edwards AS, Tim Evans
yn Swyddfeydd Cyngor Gwledig Llanelli, Vauxhall   5pm  MYNEDIAD AM DDIM
Tocanau cyfyngedig ffon Tim Evans 07962804452

Dydd Sadwrn 17eg o Awst
Gorymdaith a Rali Goffa i ddechrau o orsaf reilffordd Llanelli am 12 y.p.  Rali yng nghanol y dre, seremoni i osod plethdorch yn Fynwent y Bocs. Côr Cochion Caerdydd.
Cwrdd wedyn yn nhafarn Stamps, Heol yr Orsaf.

Stradey Park - the lawyers roll up their sleeves [Updated]

As Caebrwyn reported the other day, Cllr Sian Caiach recently wrote to Carl Sargeant, Minister for Housing and Regeneration, to ask what the Welsh Government's position now is in regard to the development of the former Stradey Park site in Llanelli by Taylor Wimpey, especially since the company has begun work there.

Work has now progressed beyond piling, and construction has started in earnest in the middle of the old pitch. Huge quantities of earth are being brought in to raise the level of other parts of the site, and Taylor Wimpey has announced that the public right of way through Stradey Park will be closed for 6 months from 1st August.

The Minister has since replied that his officials have asked Carmarthenshire County Council whether, in its view, there has been a lawful commencement of development of the site.

He goes on to say that once a reply has been received from the council, the Government will begin consideration of the call-in requests. In the meantime, he says, an order preventing the council from granting planning permission remains in force.

What will happen if the council does not get around to replying to Mr Sargeant is not clear, but it may be wise for the minister to send a few of his officials on a day trip to Llanelli armed with cameras to see for themselves how lack of planning consent does not appear to be an obstacle preventing the construction of houses.

The news of more ministerial meddling will not go down well in County Hall which is desperate to see the development go ahead so that it can try to recoup some £4.6 million of Section 106 money which the council advanced to the Scarlets. Even more important than the dosh for some of the council's top brass is the political capital involved.

Whatever the outcome of this latest twist in the Stradey saga, the affair highlights a fundamental weakness in the planning system which allows councils to determine planning applications in which they have an overwhelming financial and political interest, often to the detriment of ordinary people.

Note [added on 28 July]

As many readers will be aware, the Stradey Park saga has been rumbling on for years, and must surely qualify as one of the most complex planning disputes in Wales. Here is where the matter currently stands:

The Scarlets got outline planning in June 2007 which expired 5 years later in June 2012
Taylor Wimpey secured Reserved Matters planning in Jan 2011 which expired 2 years later in Jan 2013
Taylor Wimpey applied to extend the time of the Outline permission in 2012 so that they could resubmit the reserved matters as late as 2015.
The Minister has put an article 18 stopper notice on the extension of time of Outline permission due to the query about the C2 flood plain (which has now increased to 63% of the site).
Despite this, TW has gone ahead and begun development under the Reserved Matters permission. They did some things prior to Jan 2013 which they and the county council claim constituted a start on site prior to the Reserved matters expiring, and now they are continuing under that. Objectors believe that TW failed to comply to the conditions prior to starting, but unsurprisingly the county council does not agree.
It is probably true to say that TW would not get outline planning permission on the site and would not be allowed to raise the land by up to 8 feet in places as part of the Reserved Matters if they were starting out from scratch now. However, because they had Outline Planning based on the site not being a flood plain, TW were able to get Reserved Matters because their legal team successfully argued that the Welsh Government could not reconsider the flooding details even though the facts had changed.
Invariably in planning outline permission comes before the Reserved Matters stage, but here we have a situation in which outline planning permission no longer exists, with development taking place on the basis of a disputed implementation of Reserved Matters.

Whatever opinions anyone holds about the Stradey Park dispute, one thing is clear: the planning system was never supposed to work this way.

Friday 26 July 2013

Utter Tosh-gate: The mystery deepens

Cneifiwr reported last week on Carmarthenshire County Council's ballistic reaction to concerns expressed by Unison over the council's plans for Pembrey Country Park. Suggestions that the council was planning to privatise the park or flog it off were "utter tosh and a cheap-shot lie", an anonymous council spokesperson thundered, adding for good measure that the union was scaremongering.

It all began rather innocently, with the Llanelli Star asking for the council's reaction to this press release from Unison:

Unison Carmarthenshire is growing increasingly concerned by Carmarthenshire County Council’s plans for Pembrey Country Park and the Llanelli coastline (Millennium Coastal path).

In an open invitation to private companies and investors the Council proposes that they could “Take on and improve existing facilities”, “Add holiday accommodation” and offer alternative use for areas – this is not an exhaustive list of proposals, but it does give a clear indication that the Council seeks to privatise the area and turn over a valuable and appreciated local resource to investors, whose sole intention would be to develop the area for their own profit.

While we do not disagree in principle with the development of the area, we do not understand why the council would seek outside investment when it could borrow the money itself and any profits from the area could be distributed back into the local community instead of lining the pockets of big businesses. There is a very real risk of developers being given the land for a pittance, applying for and receiving planning rights, which would boost the value of the land and simply cashing in.

We intend to ask Llanelli Trades Council, Trades unions, community and environmental groups, local councillors and AM’s and MP’s, anti-cuts and action groups, to come together to oppose this sell off and force Carmarthenshire County Council to reverse its decision to turn over vast swathes of our coastline to private developers whose last interest would be the people of Llanelli and Carmarthenshire.

We will be holding Public Meetings after the summer holidays to discuss the current proposals and formulate a strategy to defeat them. We invite all the above and the general public to attend these meetings and to get involved in a campaign to keep Pembrey County park  and our coastline in the public sector -where councillors are democratically accountable for the stewardship of our assets. We urge everyone to get involved to safe our services. [ends]

The Press Office asked the council's Head of Leisure, Ian Jones, for his comments, or as those masters of English prose put it, "need a response like".

Mr Jones duly provided a "response like" in the following measured terms:

The authority has no intention of selling off the PCP or the MCP, and neither could it.

The purpose of the EOI document is to look for private sector partnership, including locally employing businesses potentially, to come along and provide investment and activity that the local authority is not in a position to provide or is not set up to do so as a public funded body.

Leisure service in Carmarthenshire (and across Wales) are facing huge financial pressures over the next few years as the funding for local authorities are slashed. To continue to operate as we are is not an option and would inevitably lead to the closure of many facilities such as Country parks. The authority is taking a pro active approach in looking for income generating opportunities that provide a better offer to the end user, whilst retaining the control of the park.

Mr Jones wisely took the precaution of covering his backside by copying the e-mail to Eirian W James (Countryside Recreation and Access Manager), Dave Gilbert (Director of Regeneration), Mark James (Chief Executive) and Debbie Williams (Press Office Manager). Notice that no elected councillors were copied in on this.

It seems that one of these VIPs felt that Ian Jones's response was far too wishy-washy, and the dossier was, to borrow a phrase, "sexed up" and turned into an overtly political attack.

Readers looking for clues as to the identity of the real "spokesperson" may want to consider which of the four VIP cc's would be most likely to use the pompous phrase "utter tosh", which of them has an axe to grind against Unison and which of them feels secure enough in their job to launch a scathing attack on the union, albeit behind a cloak of anonimity.