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:
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.