Language as cultural identity

Language as a promoter and a defender at the same time

A TORY town councillor hit the headlines recently with her claim that all expenditure on the Welsh language was a complete waste of money, as only 2% spoke the language in Wales.

Councillor Aldean Channon, of Llanrwst Town Council further claimed that English was the ‘only mother tongue‘ of these isles.

As a party, GWLAD, GWLAD are strong proponents of free speech, and believe that people’s opinions about all types of subjects should be allowed to be heard and aired. Freedom of expression is after all one of the very cornerstones of any democracy.

Even as a nationalist party, we have to accept that there are people here with a negative view of Welsh, the national language of Wales. That’s just a fact of life unfortunately.

Negative views need to be aired and heard

It’s always better that such negative views be aired openly and honestly so that they can be discussed, engaged with and challenged if necessary, rather than be allowed to fester under the radar, unseen and unrecognised.

But the quid pro quo with free speech is that it should be accompanied with a sense of personal accountability and responsibility.

In this particular case, one has to ask how accountable Ms Channon is to her own constituents in Llanrwst, where 60% are Welsh speakers?  (2011 census).

And one also has to question her sense of responsibility towards the facts, bearing in mind that the actual figure of Welsh speakers in Wales today is 20%  (2011 census again).

Accountability and responsibility with free speech

Presumably, she’s also unaware of the survey last year which showed that 83% of the people of Wales felt ‘proud‘ of the Welsh language, and that 63% backed measures to develop and promote Cymraeg, which vies with the Basque Language as the oldest living tongue in existence in Europe today.

But personal opinions aside, it could be argued that her comments also betray the type of supremacist and colonialist mindset  that has always existed within the  UK Conservative and Unionist Party. 

We have to face up to the possibility that this type of mindset could be turbo-charged once again following Brexit.

It’s not at all impossible to see renewed ire aimed towards Welsh and Scottish nationalism who dare to challenge the new Conservative and Unionist narrative now being prepared for us.

But, it’s as well to remember at the same time, that there does exist a strain of related conservative thought here in Wales, which is nevertheless a very different animal to the brutal Tory version so beloved of our ruling elites. 

A very different animal to the brutal Toryism of our ruling elites

This inherently Welsh  ‘small c’ conservatism could be defined as a love of family and community, a keen sense of place, a striving to better oneself and to achieve things in life, and a sense of personal agency.

As well as a very healthy scepticism towards politicians and their promises of utopia tomorrow.

This mindset also includes a strong emphasis on identity and tradition, which quite naturally in a Welsh context, would include support for the Welsh language,

This way of thinking will hopefully form a crucial part of the  renewed cultural identity that Wales will need in a post-Brexit landscape after October 31st.

This cultural identity, which has Welsh at its heart, for both Welsh speakers and English speakers alike in essence, is going to be a precious commodity in the stormy years ahead.

Perhaps, Wales can learn from the lessons afforded by our westerly neighbours Ireland in this respect. A recent book, railing against what its author perceives to be the loss of cultural identity in the Emerald Isle,  points the finger directly at the fact that the Irish language is so moribund in their national life today.

Cultural identity as a precious commodity

Calling Ireland ‘The Broken Harp‘, Tomas Mac Siomoin argues that Ireland is in effect helpless to resist the tide of globalisation and hyper-liberalism so strong in the Emerald Isle today-essentially since they do not have a viable national language to fall back on to help them resist this tide (only some 4% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis)

The author places the blame on both the Catholic church and the Irish national movement itself for allowing the Irish language to decline so monumentally over the years – although he also highlights the “generational trauma” precipitated by the Great Famine of 1845 which saw a million Irish speakers die and a further one million lost to emigration.

It’s an interesting argument and further evidence how the cultural identity afforded by a national language can be both a reinvigorator for a nation as well as a bulwark against unwanted changes at the same time.

The overwhelming good will that the people of Wales have towards the Welsh language can be an important part of all this, with perhaps an implicit understanding  built-in as well that different approaches are needed to nurture and promote the language in different parts of Wales at the same time.

Reinvigorator and bulwark at the same time

Learning from Ireland’s example, also shows how Wales can learn valuable lessons from the experiences of all our neighbours, including England and Scotland in planning the route ahead.

In effect, the three countries have all been showing over the years, in their own ways, what to do and what not to do in one’s national affairs.

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