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Culture Vulture

Betsan Powys | 22:14 UK time, Monday, 4 August 2008

Where to you go to spot a trio of Culture Ministers in one day?

To the National Eisteddfod, where Alun Ffred Jones was getting on with a job his predecessors, Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Alun Pugh, found rather hard to make a go of. I'm moonlighting for a week as ... well, as a bit of everything. The day-job bits I'll tell you about; the singing and reciting I'll spare you.

A morning in the studio debating the roots and aspirations of two organisations who, along the years, would have welcomed visiting Ministers to their stands - the Welsh Language Board and the voluntary organisation that provides nursery education, Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin.

The latter was formed to "turn out little Welsh speaking children" as one of its supporters in the early days put it, to turn the tide on the decline of the language, to campaign for dedicated Welsh medium schools. This was not about childcare. It was part of the 'language movement'.

The former was used to taking the flak in the late eighties and early nineties as Welsh Language Society protesters descended to daub, to chant and paste posters. Eisteddfod week back then was character building, a week of taking it on the chin said Professor Elan Closs Stephens, a member of the original non-statutory Board who recalled the vitriolic letters she received when her membership was announced in 1988.

She still seemed taken aback, twenty years later, that people she met on the streets of her home-town of Aberystwyth, people she knew, people who knew she'd just lost her husband, were prepared to put their names to such vitriol. "There were some dark times".

That was then. This is now and the present Culture Minister, Plaid Cymru's Alun Ffred Jones, was spotted in the crowd outside the Welsh Language Society stand at the launch of a book examining the way forward for Welsh language legislation. No jostling, no haranguing of the Minister, not a megaphone in sight but then neither at the moment is there an LCO on the Welsh Language in sight. Perhaps when there is and it turns out to provide the private sector with more wriggle room than those standing along side the Minister today will accept, things may be different next year.

More comment on the Welsh Language LCO, this time from the man who is:

a. still seen as the First Minister's likely successor
b. Welsh-speaking
c. fully aware by now that loose talk about the language can get you into serious trouble with some in the Labour party.

Given 'a' he's in no hurry to foul of 'c' again. So today, one presumes, he chose his words carefully. Listen to this :

"The agenda for the language tends to be dominated by a small group of confident and very fluent Welsh speakers who are untypical of the body of speakers as a whole. Their views are important, but we must also ensure that we listen to those at the heart of the community, those who use the language every day on the street".

He pointed to the Aman Valley from where his parents come, an area where Welsh was dominant but that can no longer, in his view, be considered a stronghold.

Two of his theories are these: that the role of the language as a factor in Welshness has declined since the advent of devolution ("Look at Ireland. Independence there did nothing for the vitality of the Irish language") and that while Welsh medium schools have added to the numbers of Welsh speakers and are needed in areas where the language is weak, they're counter-productive in areas where the language is strong. (Does he include the Aman Valley in that?) In other words in an area where English is increasingly seen as the language of the people, a dedicated Welsh medium school = posh.

And there was a "but" worth noticing too.

"I'm not suggesting that the present thrust of Government policy (on the language) is wrong, far from it. But we need to look more deeply at the situation of the language in the working class communities of Wales ... Those communities would see little benefit from the LCO, because most people wouldn't use a service in Welsh. They have little use for a daily newspaper in Welsh because most of them won't read it".

Not a megaphone maybe but a bit of a tank on the Eisteddfod lawn?


or register to comment.

  • 1. At 12:00pm on 05 Aug 2008, -Drachenfyre- wrote:

    He is right in that it is the "working class", but also the youth snd under-thirties, who need to find value in speaking Welsh. The way forward with this is legislation which encourages businesses to have a committed Welsh language service business plan; and to have relevant, smart, and trendy Welsh-language entertainment for the under-thirty demographic, both blue and white-coller. Now is not the hour to question the committment towards the language, because what happened in Ireland will happen in Wales.

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  • 2. At 2:44pm on 05 Aug 2008, Tremorfa1969 wrote:

    I have nothing against the Welsh language - it is a truly beautiful language and we should all have the opportunity to learn it....if we want to. I do not see it however as some sort of cultural glue that binds us together as a nation - far too many of us do not speak Welsh for that to be the case, (and are those of us who do not speak Welsh any less Welsh? It sometimes feels like there is a snobishness from certain sections of the Welsh cultural clique as they seek to spend our taxes to ram the Welsh language down our throats). We are Welsh because we were born here, because we live here and because we love the land and the communities we live in.

    I think we need to be very careful about how we spend our scarce resources - and spending it on promoting the Welsh language to me is self indulgent profligacy on the "chosen few".

    Where I live we recently had a new Welsh language school built. My children stand outside the gates and look in enviously at the 6 tennis courts, 2 five a side football pitches and billiard table smooth rugby and soccer pitches. We can only imagine the wonders that lie inside the stunning glittering buildings. I then take them to their school - it's falling down, the toilets and heating are on the blink, they don't have a flat bit of yard in the entire school, and the yard they do have is dangerous as the surface is breaking up. There is a field (not flat) that can be used in summer but which is waterlogged in winter. The only sport they can do is "keep fit" and some basic athletics. Only 50% of classrooms have interactive whiteboards. As a result of this blatant iniquity my children and many other children in their school are hostile to the "posh" Welshies who go to the new Welsh school. How does this strategy do anything to make us more Welsh as a community? How can spending such vast sums on a very small part of our community be considered fair?

    If anyone who has any influence reads this my plea is this - please think very carefully about how you are going to spend my hard earned taxes. My non-welsh speaking children deserve a decent education too.

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  • 3. At 6:25pm on 05 Aug 2008, alfsplace1986 wrote:

    Hey Tremorfa1969
    Welcome to what the Welsh or bilingual schools have had to put up with for decades. What does it feel like.
    There are many Welsh schools today who have to share a school and facilities with English schools, is that fair on either.
    I can even remember under the old Glamorgan County Council a Labour County Councilor saying they wouldn't put on school bus services for budding Welsh Nationalists going to Welsh schools, they introduced. The children had to travel at least 5 miles each way to school on their own transport, payed for by the parents.
    You are right enough there should be equality of school sevices for both Welsh and English.
    Don't forget it isn't Welsh cultural cliques that are spending our taxes on the Welsh language. It was a Conservative Government and followed by a Labour Government in London who gave the Welsh language it's official status and we are still fighting to get it fully recognised

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  • 4. At 12:03pm on 06 Aug 2008, osian wrote:

    To respond to trmorfa's comment speaking Welsh does help integration and promote the feeling of 'Welshness'. I was talking to two people from England yesterday who said that one of the things that was different in Wales was the feeling of communtiy which was due to the Welsh language and the familiarity that it bred between Welsh speakers.

    On the matter of the school I can assure you that Welsh schools aren't priviliged compared to english medium schools. My school for example is falling to bits, along with every other school in the county - English or Welsh. If the Welsh medium school is nicer it's probably because it's a new school and was built possibly because there wasn't a Welsh medium school in the area? You're trying to turn education system absurdity and inefficiency into a class war which is racially based.

    The Welsh language isn't being rammmed fown your throat. Far from it. The huge significant overwhelming majority of services etc in Wales are in English. There is a very small minority which offer biligual services of equal stature. All we want is equal rights for Welsh and English. And if you're still convinced that it's being rammed down your throat then remeber that you are in Wales.

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  • 5. At 12:03pm on 06 Aug 2008, osian wrote:

    oh and by the way saw you on telly this morning betsan!

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  • 6. At 1:08pm on 06 Aug 2008, Dewi_H wrote:

    Much of what Carwyn says makes sense.
    You have to start with an objective however.
    If that objective is to create a bilingual Wales then a pile of things need to happen.

    1) Compulsory bilingualism in wide areas of the private sector (Corn Flake packaging etc)

    2) Rights for Welsh speakers to work through the medium of Welsh.

    3) Compulsory bilingual education in all schools in Wales.

    I appreciate that thiose measures might not meet with (hmm) universal acclaim but they would be required to meet that objective.

    If these measures are politically im[possible to meet then it's necessary to change the objective.

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  • 7. At 9:10pm on 06 Aug 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:


    I hope you had a nice vacation....

    I do not know where you would go for
    a holiday.

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  • 8. At 10:48am on 08 Aug 2008, BLUESNIK wrote:

    "...and to have relevant, smart, and trendy Welsh-language entertainment for the under-thirty demographic, both blue and white-coller"

    Hey, sounds like JUST the time for a big Catatonia re-union big in the Pontcanna Bay..maybe Charlie Church could co-host?

    Or...Bring back Max Boyce?

    Ricky Valance?

    "Tell Helen-Mary I love her (Independence)" (Classic)

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  • 9. At 12:01pm on 08 Aug 2008, evansthesweep wrote:

    It is upsetting to be made to feel not really welsh because I don't speak a language that is, quite frankly, a middle class language in South Wales where I'm from.
    I have friends in Gwynedd - welsh speakers, one of them is a bin man.
    I told him if he spoke welsh (cymraeg) and lived in south wales he wouldn't be doing the bins!
    He'd be earning a considerable amount more for doing the same job as someone who can't speak cymraeg.
    whenever I have to ring a dreaded call centre I always press 1 for cymraeg because you get through quicker. I've got friends who also work in call centres and the cymraeg don't work half as hard the english speakers.
    Growing up in South Wales (neath)in the 70's and 80's Cymraeg is always going to be the language of a certain type of authority: Teachers, church goers etc...
    its used today to determine a cultural heirarchy within wales - its a minority practice for a priveliged minority - a bit like opera in england.
    I long to get out of wales because of this new lifestyle attitude to a language that I have no feelings towards except feelings of exclusion.

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  • 10. At 2:20pm on 08 Aug 2008, alfsplace1986 wrote:

    It is sad to know that you find it upsetting and made to feel you are not realy Welsh because you can't speak the language.
    Sadly it is the attitude of many in Wales today, which is probably down to an inferiority complex being inbred in us for generations
    In your world you may perceive it as a middle class language because these, in your life, are the type of people you see or hear about in the media.
    I can assure you Welsh is a working class language, if that is how you want to portray society, as diferent classes, though I believe that is a very outdated outlook. At the end of the day we all work for a living. I have learned the language and I worked on an assembly line in a factory in the same area you are from. Our children went through the Welsh school system and have done realy well for themselves, not because of the language but through hard work. I also go to Chapel and I certainly don't see myself as anyone of Authority. Before I started to learn Welsh I was a very patriotic Welshman, even though I was brought up in an English speaking home.
    Instead of belittling yourself and wanting to move to a soulless England where the people often don't know that their neighbours have died. Why don't you overcome your prejudices and learn a bit about the culture and history of the beautiful and wonderful country that is Wales . You will be surprised with the outcome

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  • 11. At 4:37pm on 11 Aug 2008, Valleysmam wrote:

    Why does the language have to be a football licked between Welsh and Non Welsh Speakers.
    I am from a part of Wales where English is the first language of use, I do not berate any one who speaks Welsh I envy their bi-ligualism. Although I do speak French.
    Its true that the lanuage in North Wales is the domain of ordinary people, but then arent the crach in the south mostly from ordinary parentage.
    Celebrate those who can siarad Cymraeg, but those who can ,please do not judge those of us who cannot too harshly
    PS I am learning

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