Saturday, January 07, 2012

Defending the Welsh Language.

The single special characteristic that makes Wales unique is her own Welsh Language. It is economically, socially and culturally valuable (priceless even). It should unite the people who live in Wales. But it doesn't, though it is a far less contentious issue than it has been in the past. There have been bitter arguments over the last 100 years as Yr Iaith Cymraeg followed gradually the path to oblivion trodden by probably thousands of other minority languages across the world - and then as it 'stabilised' and achieved a limited recovery more recently. This was largely a result of actions taken by Conservative Governments at Westminster, while they were being shouted at, and given no credit by the language 'protest movement' in Wales.

Debate about the protection and promotion of 'minority' languages has always taken place inside and outside statutory authorities. In Wales, the noisiest voice of protest for 50 years has been Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society). The catalyst for the formation of Cymdeithas was a speech by a right wing Nationalist named Saunders Lewis, and ever since, Cymdeithas have protested and thrown the crockery around a bit, and very importantly been noticed. Must admit this sort of behaviour has never been my scene (until 'government' decided that Mid Wales was to sacrificed at the altar of wind farm madness), but I always had a sneaking support for Cymdeithas (better add for safety sake "when conducted within the law"). Actually, family members of mine have been involved. During the last 50 years, there has also been development of 'mainstream' opinion in support of the Welsh Language. Its difficult to know what influence any protest movement has when there is a much wider support for its objectives. Often its difficult for 'authority' to act as it wants to, when a violent protest movement is calling for action.

I thought a lot about this issue as MPs debated new funding and governance arrangements for S4C through 2011. I felt the changes was a real threat to an independent future for S4C, and resolved to become closely involved in the debate (considered by colleagues to be a 'brave' decision) - which involved being a member of committee which examined the Public Bodies Bill. What I found was that a huge number of people wanted to instuct me about what I should do(had over 1000 emails) but almost no-one wanted to actually discuss the most effective way forward. I met Cymdeithas representatives, but never really got around to any discussion about a realistic way forward. It was almost as if I was expected to become the political wing of Cymdeithas - which would have reduced my influence to nil. I acted always in the interests of the Language (S4C) as I saw it, and in the end a pretty satisfactory outcome was achieved. There were others who were great (notably Elan Clos Stephens) and my Conservative Welsh MP colleagues. And there were some who were bl***** awful (notably the S4C Board). When reflecting afterwards, I concluded that despite all the huffing and puffing, Cymdeithas yr Iaith had no discernible impact whatsoever on the outcome.

Reason I comment on this issue now is that I've been reading about the thoughts of Cardiff academic, Dr Simon Brooks, and reported comments of Prof Laura McAllister about the need for a non-statutory 'Welsh Language body which can act as a think tank about the future, and engage with politicians in Cardiff Bay and Westminster - a sort of IWA for the Language I suppose. This is an interesting thought. Personally, I do not believe that a body which is built on 'protest' can do that - and that's not meant to be negative about Cymdeithas at all. I think I need to talk to Dr Simon Brooks, because if the progress we have made over recent years is to continue, there must be constant vigilance. Luckily I don't think huge numbers read my blog these days, or I could have a few more emails winging my way.

1 comment:

mairede thomas said...

Timely blog this. Any modern language must evolve. In Welsh the 'land' and the 'people' share a root -share a concept. But are the 'people' and the 'language' so connected?