This is an example of the ‘Welsh Not’. Not the ‘Welsh Knot’ as one might imagine but a rather grammatically incorrect way of saying ‘Do Not Speak Welsh’. In Wales. Don’t speak Welsh in Wales. Really?
When I hear people say ‘..but everyone speaks English so why bother?’ I wonder how they might have felt if another country had invaded and taken over England. How would the parents of those children, flogged to within an inch of their lives for speaking English in school, have felt when their son or daughter came home, sporting red welts across their hands or legs? For nothing other than speaking the language of their home, the language of their parents, grandparents, siblings and neighbours? Do you think they would have said ‘Oh well, there you go! The foreigners have landed and now, we all have to speak their language so we may as well just get on with it’?
Today, an old school friend sent me a message on Facebook. It contained a blog post by another Word Press blogger called Y Gwladgarwr (The Patriot) and it highlighted some of the worst bigotry I’ve witnessed on a public website in a while. The person in question, Lucy Inglis, claims to be a historian and a novelist. She also lists TV and Radio – nothing in particular but maybe she’s hoping someone will invite her on to share her pearls of wisdom. I do hope she is never invited to speak on BBC Radio Wales or any other station on the other side of the Severn Bridges because I’m not sure how kindly she would be welcomed given her revolting tirade on Twitter recently.
Ms Inglis claims to have spent childhood holidays in Wales and here are some of her comments:
“Wales is very beautiful but I’ve never experienced anything but rudeness there, as a child or as an adult”
“AND THEN, we had the S4C campaign, about preserving the Welsh language. Get royally f*****”
“They would switch from English to Welsh in order to exclude you, as they were buckling you up for abseiling”
“Nothing like keeping a nation in poverty by encouraging them to speak a completely intelligible (sic) language” (I think the poor lady means ‘unintelligible’, bless her…)
“Aren’t they truly horrible? I’m not sure deleting it will help. Some idiot has storified the lot and that’s what (sic) gone mad” (and now, she’s making up her own words…)
Well, what on earth did we Welsh do to upset Ms Inglis do you think? Or, maybe she was having a quiet day, not able to think of anything interesting with which to entertain her Twitter followers? Either way, if you replace every ‘Wales’ with ‘Germany’ or ‘Welsh’ with ‘Israeli’, I do wonder whether she mightn’t have had a tap at the door, asking her to come down to the police station for a little chat? Why not? Why should ignorance such as this be overlooked just because she’s taking a pop at Wales and the Welsh?
Back in the 19th century and well into the 20th century, the Welsh Not was used to oppress those whose first language was Welsh. If a teacher heard a child speaking Welsh, they would be forced to wear a piece of wood, carved with the initials ‘W N’ around their neck. If the first child heard another child speaking Welsh, they had to hand the Welsh Not to them and so on, throughout the day. The last unlucky child wearing the Welsh Not was punished at the end of the school day, often with a caning. Susan Jones, Member of Parliament for Clwyd South, claimed in 2010 that the use of the Welsh Not, including caning as the punishment, persisted in some schools in her constituency until “as recently as the 1930s and 1940s”. So, just seventy years ago, children were still smacked with a cane for speaking a language which came more naturally to them than drinking their mother’s milk.
Imagine sending your precious child into school and begging them NOT to speak the language they had spoken since birth. The language by which they lived their daily lives unless, of course, they were in school and being bullied mercilessly by teachers who were too frightened of losing their jobs to stand up to the ‘powers that be’ by taking a stand for their own mother tongue. The purpose of the “not” was to discourage pupils from speaking Welsh, at a time when English was considered by some to be the only suitable ‘medium of instruction’. Suitable medium of instruction? Oh, purleez! I’m guessing those in charge felt undermined because they did not understand what the people were saying? Telling them speaking Welsh was wrong and hitting their children if they transgressed was the most appalling form of control. Terrified children, worrying themselves stupid all day long, in case they blurted out a word of Welsh. Now then, people who’ve told me to get over myself, have a think about that and let me know how you’d feel had they been your children.
So, if a child was in danger of hurting themselves (falling over or running into a wall) and the children around them, couldn’t quite find the correct English words in order to warn and help them so blurted out the warning in Welsh, they would be punished. Does that sound fair and right to you? Of course it doesn’t! Does this woman not realise that, in speaking Welsh to one another whilst strapping her up for her abseiling adventure, they might just have been checking with one another (in their own, everyday language), that all the safety rules had been adhered to, in order to keep her safe? Her arrogance stuns me. She says they changed to Welsh in order to upset and alienate her. Had things gone differently and we hadn’t had the language beaten out of us, maybe all people living in Wales might still be fluent and she would be the one in a ‘foreign’ country, having to speak pidgin Welsh to make herself understood. Would she think Portuguese people rude if they spoke Portuguese to one another in Portugal? No? Of course not. Why should it be ‘rude’ for Welsh people to speak Welsh to one another in Wales?
I was told, by several Facebook friends, to ignore this stupid woman, to ‘let it go’ and all would be well. Sadly, her ignorant rant really angered me and I felt compelled to write this blog post. Wales is not England and just because most people in Wales speak English does not mean we don’t value our language, our traditions and our heritage. We are a nation of poets, of musicians, of writers and I am proud to have learned Welsh as my second language (my parents are Irish), proud to have studied my O and A levels through the medium of Welsh and proud that, to this very day, I am able to speak Welsh, despite having migrated, for work purposes, over the bridge in 1987. Please don’t pat us on the head and please, have a little respect for a nation which has fought, tooth and nail, to keep its precious language alive.
Ms Inglis has deleted her thread of hateful, racist Tweets and I’m sure she’s wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, let me tell you Lucy, wars have started from insults and hatred such as yours so in future, take a deep breath and THINK about what you are writing before putting it out on Twitter for the rest of the world to read.
Cymru am byth!