October 24, 2006

Yr Iaith – The Language

The Welsh Not

For Ned Thomas, the language is an essential part of a campaign for Welsh culture and Welsh language. Thomas sees the English as ‘unselfconscious’ about their language (a huge assumption!) (34). Thomas continues:

Languages are very delicate networks of historically accumulated associations, and a thought in Welsh has innumerable and untraceable [?] connections with the thought of past centuries, with the environment with the scenery even, with one’s mother and father, with their mothers and fathers, with the moral and emotional terms in which the community has discussed its differences.

A different language does not assert one’s total difference from other groups of the human race, but it registers the degree of difference that in fact exists; it is from the recognition of this that all worthwhile efforts at understanding between groups must start.

Thomas notes that Welsh identity is not so much defined by politics or institutions, because there are no such institutions that properly represent the Welsh. Rather it has been defined by Cymraeg and the literature of Cymraeg . For Thomas, Welsh identity, ‘lacks the strain of militarism and imperialism which is there in the British identity’ (36). He continues: ‘The Welsh language was not part of that imperialism, and as Welsh speakers in their own country the Welsh themselves were victims of a kind of imperialism’ (36).

The history of Cymraeg though has been one of repression:
the Act of Union of 1536
the Welsh Not and the Blue Books
Interestingly, Thomas believes that the Welsh now have to fight against ‘the sense of inferiority which centuries of official and social contempt have given many Welsh speakers’ (38).

It is rather as if the English working class had acquired a wholly different language from the upper classes and that great writers had been born into their culture and spoken for it. Welsh literature is the literature of the people not in any self-conscious way, but because Welsh writers have had no other audience but the ordinary Welsh community. (38)

What Thomas fails to recognize here is that the working classes do have a language of their own, a new recycling of English. However he does make some interesting comments on the supposed faults of Cymraeg: its dialectical nature, its slovenliness, its use of English borrowings and its uncertainty about grammatical points. Cymraeg is the minor language of a minor culture and as a consequence of this, Thomas believes that it is, ‘more favourable to the mergence and flowering of all kinds of group identities hitherto suppressed—for example, women, and linguistic and racial minorities throughout the world’ (41).

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