Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Defnyddio Cymraeg - Using Welsh

Attended a Powys County Council meeting today (Montgomeryshire Committee) comprising all the Councillors representing wards in Montgomeryshire (North Powys). There are 33 of them. The excellent Chair, Cllr. Eldredd Jones had invited me to inform the Committee about the new Kidney Wales Foundation - Powys Branch which was launched yesterday. I stayed on for the next item,which was a presentation from Menter Maldwyn outlining progress and promotion of the Welsh Language. The presentation by Craig Duggan (ex BBC) and Rhiannon (I think) was in Welsh, and as I would have expected, there were translation facilities available. What surprised me was what happened when the meeting moved on to the next item.

As Craig and Rhiannon were clearing up their presentation equipment, all the translation facilities were collected up and put away - perhaps until Menter Maldwyn is on the agenda again in a year's time. If any Councillor wishes to speak in Welsh, it has to be to a Committee where around 80% of members cannot understand, or there's a break to distribute earphones, and track down a translator. The reality is that Welsh is never spoken. I wonder if this satisfies the Council's Welsh Language Scheme.


Rhys Wynne said...

I'm sure may will disagree with me here (and I'm not sure if I agree with myself!), but I'd say in a situation where 80% don't speak Welsh, it's probably 'best' to conduct the meeting in English with no translation facilities.

Simultaneous translation works best where there is a minority who don't understand Welsh. In that situation it would be sad if the minority 'forced' everyone to speak English, and also it feels more natural for the Welsh speakers to speak in Welsh.

Regardng the council's language policy, I'm guessing it differs for a closed meeting to an open (public) one.

Glyn Davies said...

Rhys - I agreee with you. If I was making a speech to the Council now, or if I was a Councillor now, I would not ask for the facility to be provided. I would cut the contribution I inteded to make by a half, and deliver it in both Welsh and English. I reckon the resentment that would be felt by those who could see the cost would do more harm than good. Yesterday, one Councillor publicly criticised another, who could not understand Welsh, for not wearing earphones when Craig was speaking. It was his choice, and criticising him made me feel resentful, and I'm a bilingualism enthusiast.

Rhys Wynne said...

I personally wouldn't have publicly criticised the other person for not wearing a headset, BUT if it's known that he does not understand Welsh (at all), it was basically the same as him sticking has hands over his ears when someone was speaking English - giving the message that he didn't want to hear what the other person said.

His choice, sure, but completely disrespectful to the Menter Iaith staff, who I presume were invited to give the presentation.

Anyway, this (relatively insignificant) meeting has raised a few interesting points, and shows that both 'sides' (unfortunate wording, sorry) have to play their part. The councilors who can/want to speak Welsh have compromised by contributing in English at meetings, to save time, cost and others the 'indignity' of having to wear headphones! A little give-and-take is needed.

Although simultaneous translation (ST) has become more and more common in Wales over the last ten years, it's still not being utilised as well as it could.

Welsh speakers don't use it (i.e they don't take the opportunity to speak use Welsh, even though it will be translated through ST), as they've had it instilled in them it's rude to speak Welsh when non-Welsh speakers are present (incorrectly IMHO), although, hopefully this attitude will change in the future as people have more confidence.

In my old job (as a Menter Iaith officer in Caerphilly county) I did the odd ST session. I was asked to do it for one event but wasn't told how many would be attending. There were nearly 150 there, but I didn't have that many headsets with me. The organiser didn't understand my concern,a s she thought the headset were for the Welsh speakers!

This is a common misconception I think, partly borne out of the fact that many don't realize that historically Welsh speakers have always been switching to English, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the non-Welsh speaker.

Anyway, thanks for this post, it will hopefully inspire me to write one on the subject of ST which I've long thought of doing.

Hwyl am y tro.

Glyn Davies said...

Rhys - I agree it might have been better if he'd left the room altogether - but it must be his choice. I thought the exchange in the chamber did more damage than good for the Welsh Language, which is what matters to me. And an argument about cost, while the Council is deciding which services to cut would also damage the language.

When I listen to speeches in debates, whether in the Assembly or Councils, I am disappointed that more Welsh isn't used - especially where similtaneous translation is available. Even where its not, I think that any fluent Welsh speaker should use some Welsh. But I always look for a way to use Welsh in a way that doesn't offend the non-Welsh apeaker. This may well be 'weak' but im my opinion, a successful future for the Welsh Language depends on the goodwill and support of those who do not speak it. They are the majority, and we live in a democracy.

Anonymous said...

I heard in the council offices this being talked about. Apparently the councillor who didn't have earphones - a certain Newtown councillor if its the same one - is actually learning welsh and so wanted to use the opportunity to bring on his skills. I was surprised to hear this particular councillor was learning welsh but very impressed. Perhaps you should check if this is true with the councillor involved otherwise it seems unfair for others to criticise him.

Anonymous said...

It does seem unfair to attack this Councillor if he is learning to speak Welsh, but even if he wasn't - he's entitled to his opinions and felt that his actions were fair. It is a very worrying state if people are to be forced into accepting a particular viewpoint pushed by 'the powers that be'. I am totally in agreement with Glyn that the best way to preserve, nurture and encourage the use of our wonderful ancient language is through consensus and positive means. Using a big stick to chastise people who don't follow the 'accepted' stance is NOT the way forward. It will only end in tears....

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I don't know whether he's learning to speak Welsh. But I don't think that is the issue. Even if one councillor simply refusing to listen because it was Welsh, its his or her choice - and by making an issue of it, the antipathy which is the usual human response to bullying damages the language.

Roman - Agreed

Rhys Wynne said...

I'm getting confused now. Let's ignore the particular councilor in the meeting above for a minute.

Glyn, you say:
"a successful future for the Welsh Language depends on the goodwill and support of those who do not speak it. They are the majority, and we live in a democracy."

Certainly it's a democracy, but one one hand you wonder why Welsh speakers don't use Welsh when there are ST facilities available, but on the other hand you think it's perfectly acceptable for someone to choose not use the headsets or walk out of the room when someone speaks Welsh.

A bilingual society has to be somewhere where someone can choose to speak whichever language they want without feeling intimidated, or treated differently.

Someone deciding to stay in a meeting when English is spoken, but leaves the room when and because Welsh is spoken (and ST is provided) is surely discriminating against the speaker on the grounds of what language he/she chooses to speak -do you not agree?

I'm not suggesting that anyone should be chained to the chair BTW, but where is the goodwill?

Anonymous said...

Goodwill is all well and good, but it can only come from the individual in question feeling that way, goodwill can NEVER be enforced or coerced, even by peer pressure. Do the politically-correct brigade never learn?

Glyn Davies said...

Rhys - I don't know whether we disagree about things or not! I thiunk Welsh speakers should use Welsh when ever there are translation facilities available - and use some Welsh in their speeches when there isn't. But I also believe (and strongly) that seeking to publicly criticise people who tur their backs is self defeating. I would be offended if someone walked out to avoid listening to Welsh, but its their choice - and their loss. Itsd never happened to me, but my inclination would be to say something that the person would have wanted to hear.
To return to the specific, I'm gong to suggest that the Council tries engaging a translator for the firsy hour of every meeting, to see whether the Welsh speakers make use of it. If they did, it would not be long until everyone wanted to listen.