October 24, 2006

The Welsh and the Anglo Welsh

Ned Thomas, The Welsh Extremist: Modern Welsh Politics, Literature and Society, repr. 1994 (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 1973).

This chapter made me the most angry. Thomas begins by examining, ‘the fluidity of the linguistic boundary here—both the geographical boundary and the line between individuals’ (103). He notes how many ‘Anglo-Welsh’ have learned Cymraeg, but he then suggests that writers of Cymraeg are far more ‘articulate and culturally active’ than the Anglo-Welsh (104). He suggests that English speakers do not work so often at universities in Wales and he states: ‘The English-speaking Welsh, unless they have access in some way to the Welsh culture, cannot feel the same about the place’ (104). These are huge assumptions and belying this claim is the complecent notion that the only Welsh culture is that of Cymraeg .

Assumptions

• That English speakers cannot understand Welsh culture;

If the English-speaking Welsh find serious discussion of their problems, ways of looking at themselves, expression of their aspirations, then they must find these in the press, the institutions, the literature of the centre. But do they? They will find very little about Wales, as one would expect. This forces us back on another question, which is the fundamental one: how far to they feel themselves to be Welsh at all? (105)

Who can say that the feeling of being Welsh is played out in these parts of South Wales…? (107)

• That English speakers of South Wales are complicit with capitalism;

the mystery of the new,. relatively affluent [?] working class of Western Europe, living what seems to be a life of passive alienation [!!]’ (105)

A more participant and egalitarian Britain might offer the condition in which South Wales workers could emerge from their alienation, just as they might in a Wales that had taken responsibility for its own future. (107).

• That English speakers are inferior to those who speak Cymraeg .

It seems to me that industrial South Wales has suffered a double wound—the sheer hardship of industrial life with the humiliation of the years of unemployment; and added to this the loss of the language and all that is contained in the way of spiritual resources with which to meet that suffering. There is a humiliation in losing your language as there is in the indignity of the means test, and though it may seem a secondary kind of humiliation, it can leave a mark that lasts a long time. (112)

As the educated Welsh-speakers look at the new affluent working-class of South Wales they are bound to see people who have lost a culture and gained only a higher standard of living [?!], people made particularly vulnerable to commercially fostered pseudo-values by their own rootlessness, people who have lost the dignity of a language and acquired a despised and comic dialect. (116)

This last comment makes me laugh the most because it reveals Thomas’ folly. He really believes that purity of language can shore up the problems of Welsh identity. However, for him, there is only one Welsh identity – his own: that of the speaker of Cymraeg . As far as he is concerned, the lack of Cymraeg in the South Wales Valleys brought about by the
Industrial Revolution is a terrible tragedy. Not once does he consider the gifts that were brought to Wales as result of immigration by Irish, Scots, Dutch, French and yes, even English workers! Thomas has some dubious notions about racial purity; the South Waleans are tainted and cannot possibly represent Wales. He also shows some foolish ideas about linguistic purity. The ‘Anglo-Welsh’ are left to speak “a despised and comic dialect”, yet it is exactly that dialect that makes a real intervention into the politics of Wales. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari state, to create a minor literature, one has to deterritorialize a major, vehicular, dominant language and this is what ‘Anglo-Welsh’ writers are doing and what they have been doing for years.


- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Your entry here backs up my experience of working in Rhydyfelin. One of my colleagues (an English-speaking Welsh person) complained that since all of the road names had been changed to Welsh, he couldn’t pronounce the place where he lived and had grown up in. English people moving in to the area who were more able to learn, or more committed to learning, Welsh, were getting job opportunities that were being denied to him because he only spoke English. He saw it really as a class issue, working class Welsh people, who weren’t as comfortable with the educational system, were being discriminated against in favour of the English middle-classes who were learning Welsh.

    03 Nov 2006, 17:25

  2. This is a very good point and it is something that really annoys me. Like for example, when an English speaking Welsh person was made chair of the Arts Council in Wales, such a fuss was made about the fact that he didn’t speak Welsh. I thought that it was a storm in a teacup to be honest.

    06 Nov 2006, 09:09

  3. Derek

    Some good points raised here. I am English-speaking Welsh born and raised in Cardiff. My family history is all Welsh and I am proud of it. But because I don’t speak Welsh and don’t agree with blind nationalism I am made to feel that I am somehow not Welsh. If I am allowed no bond to the place that I was born and raised, and no admittance to my own culture, then I am left in a no-mans land. The English-speaking Welsh need to be more vocal in Wales and not allow the Welsh speakers to claim the cultural high ground while demeaning those that are a fundamental part of the same country and of equal, or even greater importance, to the Welsh culture than those fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to be bilingual. For those of us that are English-speaking Welsh, and proud of it, we should stand up for our culture and not allow it to be undermined by those that have a separatist agenda and are unable to be part of the UK – those, like Plaid Cymru, that use Wales in the EU as an example of integration are carefully masking their anti-English sentiments. The Welsh should be confident of their culture and welcome intergration with English, Scottish and Irish, and all nationalities. It often seems that the people of Wales have a lack of confidence in their regional culture. I wish to have no such lack of confidence, but because I do not speak Welsh I do not feel that I have the support of my own birth culture. The Welsh natonalists are fighing for something that does not need to be fought for, but in the process are destoying the culture that makes Wales such a fantastic place to live.

    The fight to put back the balance should start here.

    17 Nov 2006, 00:45

  4. You can see what my feelings are in the comment above. Your views however become rather extreme: anti-English sentiment etc.

    21 Nov 2006, 12:40


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