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Choosing your words

Betsan Powys | 11:19 UK time, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

_44854345_alunffredjones203x300.jpgWhat's the Welsh word for laconic?

Yes, I'm stumped too. Perhaps bilingual readers of my colleague Vaughan Roderick's blog can help me out here. If they want a prompt, they could always take a look at this morning's session of the legislative committee that's scrutinising the propsed measure on the Welsh language and keep an eye on the Heritage Minister.

Alun Ffred Jones is not a man who lets his feathers get ruffled very often. In fact Mr Jones guards them pretty carefully. If he has ever felt like whooping and punching the air, or holding his head in his hands, he has somehow managed to resist the urge.

The pattern of the questioning this morning seemed to be this.

Catch him out with a question he hadn't seen coming and he'd pause, looks pensive then say, slowly ... no rush .. that the point raised by the committee wasn't something he'd considered in quite that way. Persist and he'd look to his left, where his adviser, the Head of the Welsh Language Unit and Media Policy Unit, was charged with trying to answer the point raised in exactly the way the committee wanted.

Take Rhodri Morgan's point. The ex-First Minister speaks Welsh. I think it's fair to say he's regarded by language campaigners as having a blind spot where the language is concerned. They argue he's bent over backwards over the years not to appear too pro-the-language and has now found his joints have stiffened - in a position where he has, perhaps, gone further the other way than he'd ever intended.

He would argue that's the paranoid nonsense of a noisy few. He has simply done his job and has always considered all sides of the argument that still lives on, if not rages on, around the language.

This morning he was doing that job: scrutinising the proposed Welsh language measure. He was interested in the role of the Welsh language Commissioner. If his or her duty is, partly, to promote equality between the English and Welsh language in Wales then did that mean in some areas like the Lleyn Peninsula, where Welsh is the majority language, that the Commissioner would be expected to intervene to ensure the English language was on an equal footing with Welsh?

Surely that should be 'some parts of' the Lleyn Peninsula? A reminder that Mr Morgan takes his Summer holiday in Mwnt, not further up the coast in Abersoch.

The laconic look, the pause. This was not the way in which the Heritage Minister had considered the Commissioner's role. In general terms the whole thrust of the proposed measure is in the other direction, in promoting the Welsh language so that it is treated equally with the English language. After all the Welsh language is the minority language by quite some distance in Wales.

Yes, yes, Mr Morgan knew that. In general that was, of course, perfectly true. But in areas where English speakers are in a minority, did the Heritage Minister see the Commissioner's role as coming to the aid of English speaking families who feel their language is not being treated equally with the majority language on their doorstep: Welsh?

And Mr Morgan wasn't giving up. He put it another way: was the duty to promote equality between the two languages, as it is laid out in the current measure, going to "place the Commissioner in a difficult position?" In other words if the point of the exercise is to promote the Welsh language - not give English language speakers an opportunity to turn to this new Welsh law to argue their own case in their own, specific and rare communities - shouldn't those who've drafted the measure have chosen their words more carefully?

The Heritage Minister had not thought of the Commissioner's role "in the way you describe it" but if there is an amiguity, "we'll look at it".

And tomorrow morning Alun Ffred Jones will look in the paper and see a letter from a dozen or so distinguished barristers and lawyers condemning the proposed Welsh language measure in some detail as inadequate.

The message? You asked for proper scrutiny. You asked the people of Wales to comment on this proposed Measure.

Guess what Mr Jones, you got it.

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