Monday, 26 November 2012

Welcome to the Daily Hate

Good morning everybody. Or it will be until you finish reading this. 

I don't normally draw your attention to the Daily Mail mostly because we all know what it's like: racist, bigoted, impervious to evidence yada yada yada. But sometimes it's good to be reminded what 4 million people think is a reasonable newspaper. I read these pieces so you don't have to. 

Two articles came to my attention this week. One was on the Leveson Report, which is released on Thursday. The Mail doesn't like it because the Mail and the Mail on Sunday were the biggest customers of Steve Whittamore, the go-to guy for illegal activities, and because the Mail's stock in trade is pictures of pubescent girls in bikinis with paedophilic straplines like 'all grown up'. 

This particular report was notable for its retro qualities. Yes, it's back to the Mail's 1930s heyday:

Mr Boles, who came under fire in the press earlier this year after he claimed expenses for lessons to learn his male partner’s native Hebrew. 
Brian Leveson PC [Privy Council] QC is a Liverpool-born, Oxford-educated Orthodox Jewish lawyer and judge
Poor Nick Boles. Yes, he's corrupt Tory scum, but the Mail's editor must have orgasmed at the chance to combine homophobia and anti-semitism. And of course Mr Leveson's religious identity is completely relevant to his report. 'Not one of us, don't you know'.

The second piece was today's effort by Roger Lewis, 'Tyranny of the Welsh Taliban… the Nutty Welsh Language Society'. Agreed, Wales is a hilly country and one that's been frequently invaded by the English, but most of us would think that there the similarity ends. Unlike Afghanistan under the Taliban, the Welsh women I know are rarely genitally mutilated and often enjoy a foaming pint of Brains (they're not zombies, overseas readers: it's a local beer). British helicopters are rarely shot down over the Brecon Beacons and Heddlu Cymraeg (the Welsh Police) tend not to shoot their English colleagues in 'blue-on-blue' attacks. 

No, Mr Lewis is upset that some Welsh people still speak Welsh, and that they finally have a limited legal right to access some services in Welsh. 

He's not big on consistency or logic, is Mr Lewis:
In South Wales, where I am from, there was never any tradition of Welsh speaking. And at the turn of the last century, though my great-grandparents spoke Welsh to each other.
So nobody spoke Welsh there ever. Except for his great-grandparents. 
English was seen as the language of the future, Welsh as the sign of regional backwardness. In some respects, I rather fancy knowing more Welsh. It would appeal to my hankering after lost things, like steam trains or gas chandeliers.

Ah yes. The Matthew Arnold Manoeuvre. He said this in 1867 in 'On the Study of Celtic Literature'. It should be a nice hobby, he said, but for the Welsh to get on in the world, they needed to speak English, like the rest of the world was being made to. At the point of a bayonet. It's a utilitarian position, and one enunciated usually by a dominant hegemony and its converts. It existed on the left too: socialists in Wales saw the language as dividing them from the global proletariat. Notions of cultural value and autonomy were not then - and in the Mail now - considered worthy of attention. 

Back to Mr Lewis:
Welsh has become a political and divisive weapon in the principality

He doesn't find time to mention the 400 years in which Welsh was banned in education, public service and the law. If any language was a 'political weapon', it was of course English. 

Now, we learn that at one school in  Ceredigion - which used to be quite happily  Cardiganshire when I was a lad - the children are not allowed to use  the toilet unless they ask the teacher in Welsh.
Obviously there's no link or evidence offered here, but my guess is that it's either a Welsh-language school, or a Welsh-language class. But at least these evil Welsh fascists aren't using the 'Welsh Not': the board hung round the neck of anyone caught using Welsh. The last one to wear it by the end of the day got an entirely utilitarian beating.
Some children are, it seems, too frightened to speak English, even at home. This sort of thing would have done the Warsaw Pact proud. It is despicable.

At least he's dropped the Afghanistan reference. Evidence? None. Warsaw Pact? Eh? Polish seems to be thriving. So are Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. In fact the Soviet Union seems to have more regard for its minority languages than the UK.
But what can be done about a place that now states, on job applications, 'Welsh speaker preferred'? Unless you are willing to go to classes and learn Welsh, what such xenophobia means in practice is that third-rate local people get the posts - as doctors, teachers, psychologists, architects, and so forth.
That's right. Anyone who speaks another language is third class in Mail world. Especially if it's Welsh. Because obviously speaking two languages (all Welsh-speakers can speak English as a second language) is a sign of mental imbecility. Even if you've managed to qualify as a doctor… in your second language because there are currently no Welsh-language medical degrees available: you're a loser. And obviously the same applies to all the other professions: being taught in Welsh makes them intrinsically inferior. 

But Roger's got academia on his side!
I asked a former colleague of mine at Oxford, whose speciality was changing speech habits in the United Kingdom from 1800 to 1914. He explained that an analysis of the late 19th-century census data revealed that Welsh-speaking was in steep decline and that, left to its own devices, the language would have 'died of inanition because Welsh people themselves were casting it off as a mark of backwardness'.  
Actually, he doesn't. Lewis doesn't exactly claim his friend is an Oxford University academic. He was 'at Oxford' with Roger and his 'speciality' may well have been an undergraduate one. He's wrong, anyway. Current scholarship says that industrialism saved the Welsh language. With plenty of jobs in the mines and steelworks, Welsh people could stay in Wales rather than emigrate to Anglophone places. The proportion of Welsh-speakers dropped until recent decades, but the number of Welsh-speakers has risen consistently since the mid-19th century. 

Welsh isn't dying of 'inanition'. It's struggled in the face of official censure, but in the streets it's thriving, especially in the North. A language survives when it's used to work and play: my last visit to Bangor certainly demonstrated that it's in – literally – rude health. Hordes of lads and ladettes were drinking, fighting and shagging in slangy Welsh. If you can do that, you've nothing to worry about. Where Welsh is struggling is those areas in which English second-home owners drive up property prices and drive out working-class Welsh-speakers. 'Twas always thus. 

But never mind that. We get to the heart of the matter: Roger Lewis's self-hating racism.
This is what those teachers in  Ceredigion - and those who support them - can't accept: what my friend at Oxford called 'the evident cultural superiority of English', i.e. that  English has, for example, a richer  literature, going right across  the world, from Irish writers such  as Shaw or Wilde to everyone  in America.
Firstly, English doesn't have a 'richer literature'. It has a bigger literature - as you'd expect from a larger English and English-speaking diaspora, one which colonised empty places and displaced or subjugated the populations of un-empty ones. Why did Wilde and Shaw speak English? Because the Irish language was banned and burned too. But Roger is desperate not to mention the link between culture and military or economic power. No, it's all about essential qualities. I wonder who else he thinks is 'inferior'? The French? Jews? Black people?

He makes the astonishing assertion. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but as of yet there isn't a Welsh Shakespeare.
This of course misunderstands Shakespeare as much as it displays his ignorance of Welsh culture. Shakespeare was largely unperformed for 200 years after his death, and the Victorians liked to tack happy endings onto the tragedies. Furthermore, while there are world-class Welsh authors, the literary culture was different: many of the greatest texts are accumulations of the work of anonymous writers because authorship is a function of a capitalist and individualist culture which didn't reach Wales until later. Drama wasn't a feature of Welsh literature until recently for religious reasons, and because Welsh economic and social development didn't provide space for the form. Poetry was the thing, and what magnificent poetry there was. 

I'd point him in the direction of the Mabinogion, Dafydd ap Gwilym, Kate Roberts, Williams Pantycelyn, Ann Griffiths, Ceiriog, Wiliam Owen Roberts (amazing, postmodern) amongst a host of others. 

So how did Welsh survive, according to Roger?
the Liberal Government in 1907 created a  Welsh Department of the Board of Education, which 'captured state resources' i.e. taxpayers' loot, and allowed Welsh to be taught in the schools and artificially revived.
Right. Because Welsh-speakers aren't taxpayers, are they (and never mind that Welsh? And what damage they did!
Tenby was always Tenby, for example, until a few years ago when it suddenly became  Dynbych-y-Pysgod - a bit of nonsense about 'bay of the little fishes'.
OK… so you'd rather have a misheard translation of a name with a specific meaning than the actual name? Let's all call London 'Londres', shall we Roger?

Most depressingly, Roger seems to place no value on any kind of cultural diversity. Let's get rid of Welsh, he says. Flemish next? Then Dutch? Perhaps we might then dispose of German and the Scandinavian languages. Who needs them? We can then get rid of Spanish and Russian, and before long, we're left with the Queen's English, proud medium of the Daily Mail and all who sail in her. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you a good retort to that piece of comedy written by the self-loathing Roger Lewis. One of my favourite Welsh writers is Daniel Owen. I think he may have been translated into English too.

Robert said...

I don't disagree with your arguments at all, and Lewis is a terrible writer. But I'd like to raise a couple of points of information:
1) "Why did Wilde and Shaw speak English? Because the Irish language was banned and burned too." Shaw and Wilde spoke English because their families were part of the Anglo-Irish establishment (though Wilde's mother was Catholic, and he was baptised into the Catholic church when he was five or six, I think). 2) "Shakespeare was largely unperformed for 200 years after his death, and the Victorians liked to tack happy endings onto the tragedies." No, Shakespeare went a little out of fashion in the late 17th century, but the plays were extremely popular from quite early in the 18th – Garrick was making his reputation in Shakespeare around 1740. And the habit of tacking on happy endings originated in the Restoration – Nahum Tate's Lear is the famous example; the Victorians restored the original miserable endings.

Siônnyn said...

My father actually learned Welsh at Oxford, during WWII while studying for a medical degree. His parents had declined to pass on their native language too him, persuading him that it wax effectively a dead language, but at Oxford he found a vibrant Welsh speaking society, and was taught Welsh by immersion.

I understand that Welsh is still alive and well at Oxford Universit. If Lewis is unaware of the vibrancy of the language, then it is by ignorant choice, not by lack of opportunity.

The Plashing Vole said...

Fair enough Robert, all good points. I actually teach the Nahum Tate Lear so I should have remembered that. I was reading something recently that gave a much later date for the return of WS to the popular theatre. But you sound like a well-informed chap so I defer to your knowledge.

Sionnyn, Gwyn Thomas (the English-language author not the Welsh-language poet) who was quite hostile to Welsh said 'the death of English ran through my family like a fault-line'. His parents taught the first 6 children Welsh but not the second 6. It's a familiar post-colonial situation - the same with my early 20thC Irish ancestors. said...

One day all this nonsense will stop. One day the brainless prejudice will cease because the 'English' who hate the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, the European Union and anyone who they think might be from Asia or Africa will wake up. Wake up to the fact that they have been taken for a long walk off a short pier by the robber barons of all political parties and whoever is manipulating them. Whereas we in Wales will still be sticking to our principles, discussing them in our own language and getting on with our lives. Why should we worry about these ignorant fools when we live in Heaven?

Owz said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this, you're my hero.

Anonymous said...

If you're so keen on protecting the Welsh language and culture and curbing the 'tyranny' of the English language, why are you conversing in the language of the 'oppressor'.

Miles said...

A good deconstruction of institutionalised racism. Da iawn!