Why won't Labour make Welsh an official language?

The Conservatives, Plaid and the Lib Dems all agree: Welsh should be an official language. It's there in black and white in each manifesto.

As it stands, Welsh is already a 'Language of Government' in Wales, but it does not have official language status (even though Jane Davidson seems to think that it does).

This matters because Welsh, at present, doesn't really exist. Despite being spoken by a now sizable proportion of the nation, Welsh lags way behind other minority languages in Europe. Irish is an official European language, while Basque, Catalan and Galician are 'approved' European languages. This means that EU correspondence and speeches can be translated into these languages if notice is given.

Meanwhile, Welsh has no such recognition. It is possible for MEPs to make speeches in Welsh in the European parliament, but they won't be translated so what's the point? It may amuse the Italians to see the remnants of Glenys Kinnock's lunch spat out in a mouthful of complex consonants, but it will achieve very little.

The opposition parties argue that earning official language status would go some way to putting Welsh on a par with other minority languages in Europe. Labour's manifesto appears to disagree.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:27 am,

26 Comments:

At 9:55 am, Blogger Ordovicius said...

Labour's attitude towards the language is sickening. When I attended the Ta Ta Tori rally by Cymdeithas in Cardiff in 1996 I'm pretty sure Rhodri Morgan was there to make a speach telling us how much better things would be under Labour. He is an utter utter wanker, and the fact that he speaks Welsh makes his attitude towards the language more loathsome.

 
At 10:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're being disingneuous Blamerbells: you know as we all do that Labour are anti-Welsh, and that they have always been the first port of call for the anti-Welsh lobyy. Their politicians divide and rule by attacking Welsh, as a way of covering up their incompetence in their heartlands.
Anyone who askes questiosn about the futuire of Welsh or the right of Welsh-speakers or the situation of housing in Welsh-speaking areas is called a racist , xenophobe and a bigot (see last Assembly election, where a vicious anti-Welsh campaign was conducted with full Laboutr approval; see vicious anti-Welsh websites such as Natwatch, a Wwelsh Labour creation, etc etc).
On the day we discovere, yet again, that Merthyr is the unhealthiest place in the UK, after 10 years of Labour rule, a Labour MP and council for decades and an anti-Welsh AM who calls people like Plaid and Cymuned 'racists', we have to ask: is Labour's anti-Welsh dogwhistle strategy a way of divverting attention form catastrophic failure to help its own loyal constituents?
The question to ask is this: is it any coincidence that Labour's anti-Welsh lobby are AMs and MPs in deprived South Wales areas? No - when you're failing so misrebly to change things for the better, you find yourself an enemy within. Step forward Welsh-speakers and the Welsh language.

I'm off to get my name down for an Wlpan course, the bettter to differentiate myself from that tawdry bunch of incompetents.

Dave Rodway, English-speaking Cardiffian

 
At 10:55 am, Blogger Marcusian said...

I agree that Labour should have made the 'gesture' regarding the language being 'official' but to someone who despite speaking a bit of welsh (and hopefully getting fluent asap) in an area where welsh speaking is pretty non-existent it sums up many english speaking peoples ire regarding the language. We get forms that use twice as much paper because they have to offered in Welsh and English (why cant they just have a tick box stating which language you want) we had all signs redone to be bilingual and now the main argument is that welsh needs 'official language status' in Brussels. What im trying to get at is that the non-welsh speaking majority in Wales feel that it appears that the 'battle' over the language is often tokenistic and a waste of money. I now have to learn welsh if i want to work within welsh politics, i got an A* in Gcse welsh, i should pick it back up in no time, but i am no at a massive disadvantage with regards employablility in the public services merely because the area where i grew up. People who could have less ability then me would get a job merely because they grew up in a welsh speaking family in a welsh speaking area, is that a way to treat the majority of people in Wales? Should we be moving our attention and money to offering free classes in the workplace and in evening classes? We should be making Welsh more relevant to people who DONT speak welsh, not point scoring and whinging by the people who already do speak it. I bet the people complaining about Labour never had to learn welsh as an adult like i will have to (and want to). People who speak welsh must understand that not every grew up with welsh around them, it just wasnt a part of the areas makeup, that doesnt make them less welsh, it makes them a product of their environment, an environment that did not see welsh as anything but a nice tradition without any practical use, that doesnt look like changing when people want what appears to non-welsh speaking people as tokenistic. I know who people who are very annoyed that on their shop floor they have to have a welsh speaker who gets paid 20p and hour more than them, in ten years they have had TWO people ask could they use welsh!!! and one of them was the guy in charge of checking if they had a welsh speaker on the shop floor!.

I am pro-welsh, but im pro-welsh in the sense of actually making it a cultural and not institutional success, people on the M4 corridor dont see welsh as something that they can use outside of ticking boxes for a job. A Mandatory GCSE in welsh is useless if you have nowhere to speak it outside of school, lots of people get brilliant results in french and german, but without an outlet its just seen as another GCSE.

Anyway, before the fire reigns down on me, please understand i am trying to paint a picture of what peoples attitudes are in my area, they may not be correct, but they are a perspective i think is overlooked by many of the Welsh speaking minority.

 
At 11:32 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we should judge a langauge by its status or even how many people speak it. Irish has status as you said, and millions speak it - but almost no one ever does, so what's the point. I'd really rather a statusless, unrecognised welsh langauge be spoken by 5% of the population than all of wales being fluent but only wheeling it out and dusting it off like some fine china on special occasions.

-Ifan M Jones

 
At 11:44 am, Blogger Marcusian said...

Ifan,

I agree with your sentiments, albeit from a different perspective. I agree that as an assembly they should promote the language, but we need to use carrot and stick approaches and not demonise people because they didnt have the benefit of a welsh speaking background. The problem comes from although i may have to learn welsh and use it like 'china', because of the way the welsh language has been promoted i have to learn to progress in a career.

 
At 12:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there's a lack of oppertunities to use Welsh, if you know where to find them. The problem is that too many people learn Welsh without being taught the advantages beyond helping your career prospects. The welsh language culture of wales is completely unique to anything else on the British isles - in its ancient mythology to its present modern literature, the lyrics, the poetry, the art, the big events, and so on. If I couldn't speak Welsh I think I'd really be missing out. There's also a strong historical case to be made for keeping the language alive. The problem is that none of the advantages and reasons for learning Welsh are taught any more, its just 'give you a career leg up'.

I don't see any reason why Wales can't be a fully bilingual country. You get so much out of speaking another language bit lose nothing because you can still speak English. The next few decades will be crucial I think, its a test to see whether the schools that will teach all those kids welsh can also teach them why they speak welsh.

Ifan Jones

 
At 1:26 pm, Anonymous Matt said...

I agree with the post and am firmly in favour of official status for the Welsh language but this needs to be seriously thought through. Our Celtic cousins can show us the various pit falls. For example in Brittany 60 years ago over a million people spoke Breton (more people than have ever spoken Welsh) but today hardly anyone does. I lived there for a year and only ever heard it spontaneously in a tiny village in the mountains spoken by two elderly women as I passed their doorsteps and by some crazy old guy who came bounding up to me and spoke to me in Breton and said I had a Breton face (which made me quite proud of the Celtic connection). Being young myself I spoke to many young Bretons who had no interest in the language at all and the government are still firmly in favour of 'la republique, une et indivisible'. In the Republic of Ireland we see a situation where Irish has clear official status. In the constitution it is called the 'first official language' of the state. And indeed a large percentage of the population speak it. C. 40% if I remember correctly. Nevertheless, almost no-one speaks it as their natural language of communication, those areas where it is the first language (the gaeltachtai (excuse the spelling!)) are so small and sparsely populated that you can only see the language becoming a language of officialdom and education (though the requirement for officials to speak Irish is no longer in force). In Wales we really need to find a line between all-out abandonment of the language and a kind of educational recusitation where Welsh is simply the language of schoolkids and the crachach elite. It should be made a popular and social inclusive cause and if it succeed it could be an area where Wales really is a world-leader. The language issue has always been far too divisive in Wales than it really needs to be, and to an extent this has been encouraged by Labour in order to endsure its support amongst the Valleys lumpen officials who traditionally saw Welsh as an alien tongue and a barrier to a true socialist brotherhood. We need to enter a new relationship that takes in all in Wales.

 
At 1:35 pm, Blogger Ordovicius said...

I am pro-welsh, but im pro-welsh in the sense of actually making it a cultural and not institutional success

How very generous of you, you arsehole. We live in a bilingual country. Get used to it. Welsh speakers have the same linguistic rights as English speakers. We're not here for tourism. Your arguments about "paperwork" are not only pathetic but downright insulting. Perhaps you should have taken your face out of your beer while you were in Belgium long enough to see how a modern European bilingual country opperates, muppet.

 
At 1:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'Welsh costs us money' line is boring, as is the stuff about welsh speakers getting preferential treatment, expensive roadigns etc., etc. It's a myth. I was in Gwynedd for my hols and I sawe this: a county where the masive majority speak Welsh, but where businesses and companies have no obligation to respect that language. They've got 2nd class status even in their own areas for God's sake. As for the stuff about jobs in politics, you can perhaps explain to me why I have a job in the Assembly despite 1) not having welsh and 2) not actually being Welsh.
It's not very Marcusian of you to imbibe that guff about English-speakers being marginalised etc. That's rubbish.
The anti-Welsh lobby - and the ineffectually pro-Welsh lobby - have been in charge of this country for the best part of 100 years with no appreciable amelioration in Wales econony, culture, standing and self-confidence.
Equal rights - that's all. Your bottom line is basically this - there's fewer of them, so they should have fewer rights. Nice one. Join the BNP.
Crachach and middle-class? you're yet again showing youve swallowed the anti-Welsh Labour line: ever been to Caernarfon, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Swansea Valley? Just 'cos some Welsh spekares are well off in cardiff it does not translate into the lived experience of the organic Welsh communities.
Please - you'r eobviously not stupid, and it's taken an outsider like me less that 8 years here to work out how it works, so use the old brain!!

RW

 
At 2:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RW adds:

I forgot to add that my 2 kids speak Welsh and go to Welsh school. They do not grow up in a Welsh-speaking household. The reason we obviously need a new language Act is so that they can use their Welsh in the workplace, and enhance their employability with it, without being surrounded by imbeciles saying 'I'm more qualified than them but because they speak Welsh they've got the jobs etc etc ...'.

Why should kids bother to learn a language when they known their own country does not value it enough to give it equality? That;'s what happening now, a situation in which it's perceived as pointless because it has no status. Give it status, then people will aspire to it.

By the way: jobs for Welsh-speakers (who, in case anyone needs reminding, also speak English) apply to fewer than 2 per cent of public appointments. So much for the great wronged English speaking masses!

 
At 2:39 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

Christ on a bike, i knew i was going to get crucified for this...

For starters...

I WANT A BILINGUAL COUNTRY, I WANT WELSH TO BE SPOKEN JUST AS FREELY AS ENGLISH IN WALES...

I was merely stating that the introduction of Welsh into education in my area will fail because not enough is done to foster the language as part of our culture in areas where welsh is not spoken by many. I was so very keen to speak welsh in social circumstances but had no avenue to do so...As ANON stated

"The problem is that none of the advantages and reasons for learning Welsh are taught any more, its just 'give you a career leg up'." bingo, totally.

"How very generous of you, you arsehole. We live in a bilingual country. Get used to it. Welsh speakers have the same linguistic rights as English speakers. We're not here for tourism. Your arguments about "paperwork" are not only pathetic but downright insulting. Perhaps you should have taken your face out of your beer while you were in Belgium long enough to see how a modern European bilingual country opperates, muppet."

How very well put, didnt descend into personal insults at all, glad the 'debate' is so useful to you. I believe that welsh speakers should have the same rights as english speakers, i was just saying there isnt a one size fits all solution to the whole of Wales.

What is so insulting about having the CHOICE to have forms in either Welsh or English rather than just sending a form with both? Isnt that EQUAL rights? Just think the money that could be saved by ticking a box saying that 'i want to receive correspondence in english or welsh', you know like a cash machine does?

As far as belgium goes, you wasnt there and if you was then you wouldnt have made that comment.

"Equal rights - that's all. Your bottom line is basically this - there's fewer of them, so they should have fewer rights. Nice one. Join the BNP.
Crachach and middle-class? you're yet again showing youve swallowed the anti-Welsh Labour line: ever been to Caernarfon, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Swansea Valley? Just 'cos some Welsh spekares are well off in cardiff it does not translate into the lived experience of the organic Welsh communities.
Please - you'r eobviously not stupid, and it's taken an outsider like me less that 8 years here to work out how it works, so use the old brain!!"

No i didnt say 'less' rights, i think all minorities, no matter how small should be entitled to equal rights. And as much i havent been to an 'organic' welsh community (actual i did go to miri madog one year, does that count?) i am sure you must accept that in Torfaen we have a very organic english speaking community. What i am saying is that there is a huge diversity in Wales with regards the language, i think we need to prioritise to get the parts of Wales who arent bilingual up to speed, including them in our great and diverse culture. I am a proud welshman who speaks very little Welsh but is to keen learn more...we need to realise that to get Welsh on an even keel with english we need to involve EVERYONE in Wales, we need to increase the amount of Welsh speakers.

Your point on Working in the Assembly is a good one, i am sat in an office right now with a guy who works for an AM but is english and doesnt speak a word of Welsh. My point is that exclusion of non-welsh speakers means i cannot apply for certain jobs where 95% of the work will be conducted in english. Theres no middle ground of 'well you will be expected to learn welsh' its just 'dont bother, you dont speak welsh' You dont see jobs in Wales where you are told that 'welsh speakers need not apply' do you?

Not enough is done to make english speakers learn welsh, of course there is an ignorance by some english speakers towards welsh, but you must not just burn them because they have been brought up with a totally different perspective on what being 'welsh' is...Welsh needs to become something to bring us together, not divide us. It would appear learning welsh and supporting it is not enough for some people, can you at least accept that people whos native tongue is english and have never had the opportunity to speak welsh are going to be less likely to be a flat-out supportive of bi lingualism...Its a case of 'if you dont want to learn welsh than you dont deserve to speak about the language', thats the sidelining im talking about.

And before everyone starts getting offensive, then ask yourself exactly what more can i do then learn the language? Please tell me because im all ears.

 
At 2:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcusian, I think you're an intelligent bloke and I see what you're saying. I also sympathise, havign tried, not as hard as I shoudl, with Welsh. My hope is that my kids will replace that lack, but my fear is that so long as it's not equal, they will not manage.
As for the idea that there are no jobs where welsh speakers are dosocuraged, I can only assume that that's because they all speak English...
Go and visit North Wales, look at what;s happening there in the poor Welsh-speaking areas, not so diferent from Torfaen etc. -
It will do 3 things:
1- radicalise you to the extent of wonderting why it is that even in its heartlands the language has no real official status
2 - make you sick at teh exclusion fo locals from housing markets, and the way that slowly destroys organic communities
3 - help you practice the language with people who are not crachach, not middle class, just ordinary people who speak a language of their own, and which has, in their own country, in their own town and street, no equality with English.
Our real problem here is ther Noth South divide. I reckon each town in North Wales shoudl be twinned with a town in South, East and West and so on... with school visits etc.

RW

 
At 3:15 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

RW,

You speak a vast amount of sense, its very much a misconception of different communities by people from different backgrounds.

I am very keen to learn about the things you mentioned, it has never been my intention to dismiss those communities just merely to point that similar ones exist in english speaking Wales.

 
At 4:36 pm, Anonymous Ifan M Jones said...

Sanddef, I don't see how screaming at Marcusian is going to help things at all?

To tell the truth if I didn't speak Welsh I don't know if I'd see any point to it. I'm just lucky my mum, who was born in England, did. It's only when you speak it that you see the benifits and are glad you learnt it - what we have to do is try to seduce people who aren't keen to get learning.

 
At 4:49 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

Ifan M Jones...

Thank you, me and sandeff have a good ding-dong once in a while, its good to see passionate debate in politics in Wales...i got respect for him.

You hit the nail on the head, to many of my friends, particularly those who arent in the professional/student class, they dont see any postitive reason to learn welsh. That doesnt mean that arent lots of reasons for learning welsh...

 
At 4:52 pm, Anonymous der said...

"Marcusian said...
I am very keen to learn about the things you mentioned, it has never been my intention to dismiss those communities just merely to point that similar ones exist in english speaking Wales."

What? You go into job centres, banks, post offices, shops etc etc etc in English speaking Wales where nobody speaks English....

 
At 4:57 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

What? You go into job centres, banks, post offices, shops etc etc etc in English speaking Wales where nobody speaks English....

What i meant is that communities in my area who exist without giving welsh a second thought and have no intention of promoting it.

 
At 5:13 pm, Anonymous der said...

"What i meant is that communities in my area who exist without giving welsh a second thought and have no intention of promoting it."

But there are people in those communities that you talk about who do give Welsh a second thought or we wouldn't have seen the growth in Welsh language education such areas. That needs to be built upone. When you have people like the English-man Brunstrom learning the language....and others too, then I would feel embarrased in this day and age to not give the language a second thought....But then again....this is Wales....:-(

 
At 5:20 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

Its not a question of embarassment, its a question of priorities. Do you think many people searching for jobs in Torfaen are worried about they cannot speak welsh, or that they are not truly living out a truly welsh existence? I would argue they dont.

Of course they is a heightened sense of the desire to learn the language in many places, and as i stated right at the start of this post, we should be pooling our resources and energies into increasing peoples desires and opportunities to speak welsh, not squabbling about whether Glennys can speak welsh in brussels.

 
At 5:28 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"we should be pooling our resources and energies into increasing peoples desires and opportunities to speak welsh, not squabbling about whether Glennys can speak welsh in brussels."

I think the argument the opposition parties would make is that the two go hand in hand. If I remember correctly (having read some dull EU minutes or other) Welsh actually missed out on EU funding to promote minority languages because it didn't have official status.

So if you want to increase opportunities to speak Welsh, I'm afraid it does matter whether or not Glenys can deliver a speech in Welsh as an official (or approved) Eureopean language or not.

 
At 6:06 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

Not to people who live in english speaking areas of Wales it doesnt. Many people first real taste of the 'promotion' of the Language is bi lingual roadsigns they cant actually read and oversized forms that have a language they dont understand.

I accept your funding argument, i can see why that is important. I would be interested to see what it would be used for, i mean what is the point of promoting the language to people who can actually speak it, the eistedfodd in newport was an example. They missed out on promoting the language by not allowing the GLC to perform there because they perform in english. Surely it better to get a massive bumper crowd of young english speaking kids through the gates in the hope SOME are persuaded to learn the language.

But the promotion of Welsh needs to actually consider that there are many in Wales who dont agree with its promotion, they see it as insular, going against the grain of a 'global' world. Its the case of the chicken or the egg, the problem with pushing welsh in the wrong way is that you will insulate it from the ability to convert people to its cause because those people ultimately something that 'politically correct' penpushers have done. You must consider that many consider that this promotion is merely ticking boxes and tokenistic, i mean its hard enough to get people to vote, let alone learn a new language to promote our culture. I just think that we need to help english speaking Wales catch up further...Sometimes the promotion of welsh inflames anti-welsh attitudes in some areas.



I dont take that anti-welsh view at all, i am merely reflecting a view of many in english speaking Wales. Many people see rugby as their national language. not cymraeg.

Dwi'n meddwl mae dysgu cymraeg yn bwysig iawn achos dwi'n byw y nghmru...

 
At 6:25 pm, Blogger Ordovicius said...

But the promotion of Welsh needs to actually consider that there are many in Wales who dont agree with its promotion, they see it as insular, going against the grain of a 'global' world.

This is a non-argument. To deny people their legitimate linguistic rights on the basis that it is not a "world language" is not only in itself utterly insular -it is racist. Wales is a bilingual country, and the kind of people that are against the promotion of our native national language are essentially as narrow minded and as petty as the people who support the BNP. Majority ignorance is no excuse whatsoever for discrimination, and don't you dare tell me that English speakers are being discriminated against because that is utterly false. So signs and paperwork are bilingual, and you need to speak Welsh to work for S4C, well big fucking deal.

 
At 6:48 pm, Anonymous der said...

I think that you raise many good points marcusian. But what I am unhappy about it that Welsh Labour seem to play on the unfounded fear and prejudices of the anit-Welsh brigade. I despise them for that.

 
At 10:09 pm, Blogger Marcusian said...

Sandeff,

it appears we cant find any common ground, i can assure that the jobs i was referring to didnt involve S4C. Wales is a bilingual country, Wales is not a bilingual society, certainly there are vast areas of wales that arent anyway. I am not denying anyone anything, i am fully committed to wales becoming a bi-lingual society, i am merely pointing out that there is actually an alternative view with regards the langauge to you...by ignoring that view or comparing them to the BNP then Welsh will be spoken by a minority in this country.

Der- thank you, although i think you got me confused as some sort of spokesman for Welsh Labour. I am a student who supports Labour...

 
At 10:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...beacause there is no such thing as an "official" language (including English) in this country

 
At 12:01 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"...beacause there is no such thing as an "official" language (including English) in this country"

And why is that? Doh!

Mr. MacNeil: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the Government will implement the EU linguistic regime, agreed at the General Affairs Council of 13 June, with respect to any of the UK's languages in addition to English. [6979]

Mr. Douglas Alexander [holding answer 27 June 2005]: The General Affairs and External Relations Council of 13 June adopted conclusions, on a proposal from Spain, for a degree of official recognition in the EU of all languages that have official status in member states, either through their constitutions or national law. This means that member states may enter into administrative arrangements with the EU institutions over which languages may be used in relations with them, with the member state meeting all the direct or indirect costs incurred. Member states have agreed that any such arrangement should not have any effect on the otherwise efficient functioning of the institutions or on the legal status of the existing official languages of the Union. At the moment, Spain is the only country to have requested such arrangements for its regional languages. The Government have no current plans to make similar provisions for UK languages.

 

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