Ddim yn wneud hyn yn aml (unwaith o’r blaen, os dw i’n cofio’n iawn), ond dw i newydd bostio hyn ar Basecamp XR Cymru, ac yn meddwl falle byddai’n werth cael copi ohono fe fan hyn.
The importance of bilingualism (in XR Cymru)
Second attempt at making this shorter, and now into my third hour, so I’m going to pretend it’s a poem, rather than what has turned out to be a blog post, and just abandon it as it is. Please bear the bold bit of first sentence below in mind if it seems like I’m one of those Rude Welsh Speakers you’ve heard about. This obviously goes much deeper than XR for me. I hope it sparks a conversation, but I realise that it might read as a rant, so apologies in advance.
Let’s start with the good news: XR is far better at this stuff than other UK-wide or global movements I’ve been involved with in the past, but there’s still a way to go before bilingualism is normalised here, and I know, from experience, how difficult it is for someone who doesn’t speak Welsh (me, until my late-20s) to identify with the experience of someone who to all practical purposes, rarely speaks anything but Welsh (me, since my early-30s).
And before you ask, I’m 52 now, so I’ve had a good 20 years of living in “Welsh Wales” to internalise all this, and for it to become something I take for granted. In my childhood in Anglicised and industrialised Wrexham, and my youth in ditto Cardiff, none of this stuff had occurred to me, and I learnt it the hard way, via a string of more or less embarassing faux pas. (Bit of French there. Just showing off.)
So, here’s the thing…
If you’re holding an event in Wales, and especially in “y Fro Gymraeg” (roughly speaking Gwynedd, Môn, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, north Pembs and west Cardiff 😉) and you don’t include the Welsh language from the very beginning of your advertising for that event, you’re ensuring that a significant proportion of the Welsh-speaking population will not attend that event. If it’s an event you’re advertising on Facebook, those people won’t share the event either. They just won’t. I probably won’t, and I love you.
Wales is officially a bilingual country: the statistics are irrelevant, it just is. The official status of the Welsh language was won by, wait for it, people who blocked bridges (amongst other forms of NVDA), got arrested, went to prison. The fact that XR is advocating these very same tactics is the reason I started going to XR events, even though they were only being advertised in a language I rarely speak anymore! I know NVDA works, because I’ve been a member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith for 30 years and know some of the people who went to prison to win the rights that I now take for granted. This stuff works!
But… any event in Wales that advertises itself in just one (or, rarely, the other) of Wales’s two official langauges, is by definition, not an “official” event. If a public body does this, they risk prosecution under the various Welsh Language Acts. If it’s a community event, there’s no legal issue, but there may be an ethical one, and there’s almost certainly a practical one. If you want, or expect, members of the two main linguistic communities to attend your event, you have to advertise it bilingually.
There may be a practical reason why you would want to give the impression that the event is only for people who mostly identify with one of those two communities: an evening of strict-metre Welsh-language poetry has a pretty good excuse, for instance. But if you think that since “everybody speaks English anyway” your English-only poster is inclusive I’m afraid you’ve just made a mistake.
An English-only poster/Facebook/whatever gives one of three, possibly overlapping impressions:
- There isn’t a significant Welsh-speaking population in this community
- Even if there is, they won’t be interested in this event
- Even if there are, they can all read English, can’t they? It’s not anyone’s going to be actually speaking Welsh, once we’ve got the formalities out of the way.
(The first impression might well be true, but your definition of “significant” is likely to differ from mine.)
I should stress again, that XR has been far better at this than, say… no, that’s not fair, but suffice it to say that I once had to correct the spelling of the Welsh version of one organisation’s name on a poster, and I was assured that “hardly anyone in Cardigan will have noticed” – in a town with about 60% Welsh speakers at that time, the vast majority first language.
Ok, this is already too long, and I’ve spent far too long on it. I’ll copy it to my blog, where I can get into more detail later, if there’s time. For some of you, yn amlwg, none of this will be news as you know this stuff far better than I’ll ever know it, having been brought up bilingually. I’ve already had private chats with some others on related topics, and I’ve always been met with good faith and understanding. The only slightly uncomfortable experiences I’ve had have been down to, shall we say, an innocence about the socio-linguistic reality of south-west Wales, which as a Welsh tutor, come as no surprise.
So once last time: XR is doing really well on this, and it has been noticed in the Welsh-language community. But as we say: Nid da lle gellir gwell / Don’t settle for “good enough”.
(I know everyone’s too busy to even read this, never mind respond to it! Don’t feel you have to respond, I just wanted to explain how I feel, and maybe spark a conversation. Ping me if there’s anything you’d rather discuss in private. Dioch am fod yn amyneddgar / thanks for your patience.)