Colonial attitudes live on

I read this blog post – The Curious Case of An English Historian – yesterday and it really reflected the way I feel about the Welsh language.

I love the Welsh language. I love its history, its expressiveness, its connection to the country, the culture and the people, and yes, I even love its mutations! Time and time again I learn a new word or phrase and delight in its aptness and logic. It’s just so right to speak Welsh here.

So why do so many English speakers have a problem with Welsh? I’m lucky to know many people from outside Wales that share my love of the language and either speak it already or are learning it, but there are so many that seem to think they are somehow entitled to run it into the ground. They wouldn’t do the same about French in France or German in Germany, so why?

And why – for that matter – are there Welsh speakers that feel that if there is a single person within a 100 metre radius that just possibly might not understand Welsh, they’d had better speak English just in case? It’s NOT RUDE to speak your own language in your own country!

If you are dealing with customers, and one comes along that doesn’t speak Welsh, fine – speak to them in English, or French, or Polish, or whatever language that you might have in common. The idea of customer service is to respect the customer and give them the best service you can, isn’t it? And if they speak Welsh, then Welsh it is! Too bad if the customer standing behind them in the line doesn’t understand. What business is it of theirs anyway?

I’ve had Welsh speakers tell me that they couldn’t speak Welsh to me in the workplace because there were English speakers there – not visitors to Wales, but people who were born and bred in Wales, or had lived here for many years. My attitude to that is simple. If they are living in Wales and they have chosen not to learn Welsh, then they have chosen to exclude themselves from an important part of Welsh society. If they’re happy with that, fine. I would be the last person to force someone else to learn a language, but they must understand the consequences of their choice.

THEY have chosen to exclude themselves. THEY have chosen to remain outside the wonderful cultural experiences that open themselves to people that can speak the language. And having made that choice, they can’t insist that other people change their way of speaking just for them!

5 thoughts on “Colonial attitudes live on

  1. Steffi

    OMG, Dee, you are so right! Funnily, I had similar experiences back home with English speakers (usually Americans): if I spoke German to my friend at the pub, having come there with her, invariably someone would come up and ask if we were talking about them. At first I thought they were kidding, but a lot of people actually got quite indignant.

    Oddly, people in Tallinn thought nothing of speaking Estonian with you until you identified yourself as a foreigner…

    Reply
  2. Dianne Cullen Smith

    OMG did this ring a bell! I so agree with you.
    On a slightly different level, I live in NZ and frequently experience being ‘dissed’, as the young people say, purely on the basis that I am a colonial. (I’m a third generation Kiwi.) The most recent, and I’m still spitting about it, is that a story I wrote for a writing group attracted this comment from a fellow member:

    ​[there was] ​something “so” colonial about it which I found distasteful… ​

    I challenged her on her rudeness, and she has no idea what I was making a fuss about!

    Reply
    1. Dee Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Dianne. I can’t believe someone would actually say that at a writing group!

      As a child in New Zealand I could never quite figure out where I fit in as I was actually born in England. We moved to New Zealand when I was very young, so I spoke with a Kiwi accent and thought of myself as just as much a Kiwi as any of my peers; however, my parents – especially my father – used to talk about “home” and they meant England so I always felt just a little different. I really understand how migrant children feel – one foot in each culture.

      In the end I decided I could either be someone who felt they didn’t really belong anywhere, or someone who felt the whole world was their home – and despite Theresa May’s recent statement that “Citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere!”, I consider the whole world my home and I enjoy wherever I am.

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  3. Laura R

    This post has made me think, but unfortunately it has reminded me of the times where I’ve come up against a certain type of Welsh person, which is where I suspect some of this animosity towards the language comes from:

    – An ex-bf’s mother was chatting away in Welsh to him and his dad (and I’d been in the room the whole time), turned to me and said in English “Oh, sorry, you don’t speak Welsh, do you?” and then continued her conversation in Welsh, in an attempt to exclude me

    – A singer/songwriter friend was told (by a more famous and respected writer) that as she was ‘ail iath’ then she would never really be respected as a writer in Wales

    – I think the moment when I decided to no longer care about the language was when I was in an RE lesson and the teacher kept mixing up the language she was using. I went to an English speaking school, and all of my lessons were meant to be in English (excluding language classes, of course!). The teacher would ask pupils who she knew spoke Welsh questions in Welsh, get them to answer in Welsh, and not translate them. There was a Welsh language school in our area that we could all attend, but these pupils and the teacher had opted to attend the English school.

    The thing is – I love my country, culture and language. I am learning the language again now (badly) but I likely would’ve done it sooner had I not had such terrible experiences from some very mean people. I suppose that now I would stand up to these sorts of people a lot better, and I do know that most Welsh speakers are supportive and inclusive. But my belief is that if the language is to survive then attitudes need to change on both sides.

    Reply
    1. Dee Post author

      I do hope the attitudes that you experienced are changing. I was at a friend’s house once when he was flicking through TV channels and paused for a moment on S4C. His elderly mother, born and raised in the Valleys said, “What do you want that gibberish for?” with a look of disgust on her face. I felt sorry for her – sorry to think that probably only the generation before, her family would have all been Welsh speakers, but she was so brainwashed by the attitudes of the time she grew up in that she could see no value in Welsh at all. She couldn’t understand why I was learning it.
      I’m glad to hear you’re learning Welsh again. Good luck and dal ati! It’s so worthwhile.

      Reply

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