No one owns a language

Feb 19, 2022

No one owns a language. Language is our own or our way of treating it. That is why the Welsh language belongs to everyone in Wales from those who read and know place names to calling friends with their Welsh names. I remember a student telling me that she once shared a flat with an Englishman and heard her on the phone speak Welsh saying ‘Oh I thought Welsh was something you did on Sundays’!

This year celebrates Saunders Lewis’ seminal and shocking lecture ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (The Fate of the Language) and his prophecy that the language might disappear before the end of the twentieth century. We can rejoice that the language still lives across generations,  from the oldest to the most young. I hope to be at a Rally organized by Cymdeithas yr Iaith in Aberystwyth next Saturday and remember how much of a boost it was when people of an older age supported the Society in protests from the sixties onwards. By now, I belong to that older generation!

Mabli Siriol Jones, the Society’s Chair on a television program last Sunday, was inspirational in articulating the case of the language eloquently and confidently. One of the successes of the Welsh language campaign has been the transition from an organization to a movement: from signs to schools, to policies and now to tackling the problem of Welsh speaking ‘depopulation’ out of the Welsh-speaking areas – the biggest danger to date. I’ve just got a copy of Richard King’s  book ‘Brittle with Relics’ from Faber Press. An English-language title about the History of Wales 1962- 1997 is full of anecdotes from various people of what the language and nationality mean to them. They are blissful conversations as if they were long-standing social talks, or tales around the fire – ‘Tricky indeed and with relics. This is done orally in stark contrast to the artist Al Weiwei’s protest in an act of smashing a Chinese ceramic vessel in front of a crowd to show the destruction of his own heritage. But our heritage is a whole vessel with different shades of dealings with the surrounding nation. That’s the glory of our history, and it’s time to delete the non-Welsh word (DI-Gymraeg) for a warmer word. We are all Welsh.

In compiling this column, news came of the death of Aled Roberts, the Welsh Language Commissioner, who made a commendable contribution to Wales as a council leader, as a member of the Senedd for a time, and then culminating in his career leading the Welsh Language Commission. Hearing about his many contributions to culture and the tenacity of his involvement with his Rhos area demonstrated how vital his role was in so many areas. A liberal and a Welshman — and his family and Wales as a whole will miss him dearly.

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