Friday, 2 July 2010

Welsh-Language Courts? Ngwrthddadl!*

Unionist Lite recently covered a story about the final rejection by the government of proposals to implement bilingual juries in Wales, and Plaid Cymru's subsequent tantrum. So, ever one to run with someone else's story, I looked into it.

The move was part of the Welsh Assembly Government's plan to resurrect Welsh. Taken from the above-linked PDF:

"Results from the 2001 census show that some 21% of the population in Wales said they were able to speak Welsh, compared with 19% in 1991.These results come in the wake of the launch of the Welsh Assembly Government’s National Action Plan for a Bilingual Wales, Iaith Pawb (A Language for All), which sets out a policy of supporting and promoting the language.The scheme, which received cross party support within the Assembly, sets out the vision for Wales “to be a truly bilingual nation… where people can choose to live their lives through the medium of Welsh or English…”."

For the strong-stomached amongst you who enjoy following Nationalists down the rabbit hole, the full text of this particular plan can be found here.

Unionist Lite already covered the legal aspects of this, and I do not intend to repeat him. But outside of the purely legal context, the special treatment of the Welsh language - and this court's idea provides only one example - is deeply lamentable.

For a start, look at the numbers. Even now, after decades of nationalist agitation to resurrect what divisions they can between the peoples of the UK, Welsh speakers amount to 21% of the population. Even this number can't be taken straight - what exactly does being able to 'speak Welsh' entail? It has been taught (universally) in schools up to the age of 16 as a compulsory language - does this figure span those with GCSE level competence, or those taught it but who never use it?

Even when taken at face value, 21% is not a lot of the population, but if a fifth of the Welsh population couldn't interact with the rest of the United Kingdom that would be a serious problem (and a Plaid wet dream). Thankfully, this isn't so - the number of monoglot Welsh speakers is infinitesimal. The vast bulk can speak English - the tiny minority who can't aren't nearly numerous enough to warrant purpose-designed, Welsh-language trials, certainly given that there are probably immigrant communities who don't speak English larger than the Welsh-monoglot constituency and they have to make do. The only justification for Welsh-language courts is nationalist ideology, and I'm relieved the government has rejected it.

In my research** for this piece, I was reminded again how bizarrely the principal political parties (the word unionist is a tad redundant in the Welsh context) have acted with regards to the language. Plaid Cymru striving to resurrect a venerated division is understandable, but why on earth have Labour and the Liberal Democrats (and probably the Tories, not that we've been relevant in Wales until recently) have thought it was a worthy goal? Why is a bilingual Wales something non-Welsh nationalist parties would want? I honestly don't know.

Bilingual roadsigns are a fantasic waste of time and money. If you don't speak English at all, then you are far more likely to hail from some distant land than from the valleys - Welsh-language road signs are completely redundant. Likewise the fantastic extravagance of producing ALL Welsh Assembly material in Welsh. Hopefully, this nationalist indulgence will be cut soon - a way for the Welsh Assembly to cut public spending with the absolute minimum of harm.

The European Union has played its own role in this sorry saga. The European project is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) and most ambitious unionist projects going. Its advocates consider themselves rational, cosmopolitan human beings who wish to overcome the bitter divisions of Europe's past - or so I thought. But then something like this comes along. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which aims to "to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe." Why on earth is the resurrection and maintenance of even pettier nationalisms than those that currently plague them on the agenda of European unionists? That isn't rhetorical, answers welcome.

I fear that this is another manifestation of the unionist ideological malaise that I wrote of earlier. I would hope that the Conservative & Unionist Party in Wales would vote to make Welsh a non-compulsory school choice. I would hope that supporting some form of common (second?) language would be considered a vital step in creating a lasting European Union. I'm resigned to the fact that in both cases the unionists probably lack the courage to do the deed - but I fear the possibility that they lack the conviction also.

**By "research" please read "trawling PDFs that made me cry".


  1. Do you think that Romansch spoken in Switzerland - spoken by less than 1% of the population - should be discouraged. And the Romansch translations in passports, banknotes and other offical things put an end to?

    What is wrong with promoting the Welsh language anyway? Does it sow divisions - possibly, possibly not.

    Remember that (to back to my previous post on the Habsburg Empire) - any official use of any other language other than German was severely discouraged. Most of the people who knew what was good for them and wanted to get on spoke and communicated in German - whatever their origins or surname.

    After the 1848 risings Vienna became (in your view anyway I suppose) soft on the language issue and allowed the official use of Czech, Slovene etc even though urban areas of these lands spoke German. The start of the rot?

    After the creation of the dual monarchy in 1867, the Hungarians used their autonomy to crack down in their domain the official use of Slovak, Romanian, Serb and Ukranian. They wanted to crack down on Croatian but the Croats had special autonomy and so the campaign was blunted.

    The Austrians were soft on the language issue. In German speaking schools in the Czech Lands those caught speaking Czech had a wooden donkey put on their desk to show their stupidity. In the UK, we had the right way - caught speaking Welsh in class and you were given a bally good thrashing with a "Welsh Not" stick. That will teach them.

    Now you ask, why would a Czech speaker attend a German speaking school. To get on and access the best (German speaking) universities.

    Thomas Masaryk, the Czech born son of a Slovak farrier and a half-German Czech woman was educated at the German Boys Gymnasium in Brno and later continued his schooling in Vienna. He later went to Vienna Uni (where he later taught) before going to Leipzig Uni in Germany.

    Masaryk would later found Czechoslovakia. He once told a fellow statesman that until the middle of the 19th century, most Czechs spoke German half the time, the Czech language movement had made it possible to govern the new state in the Czech language thanks to the efforts of Czech language revivalists. Masaryk said that he himself had mainly spoken German in the early part of his own life.

    His listener later said that was justification enough to reduce the Czech language back to the backwater peasent dialect had been for the past few centuries. German would return to its rightful place as the main language of the Czech Lands. The listener's first name was Adolf.

  2. I was following you for a while, then you broke Godwin's Law and invoked the Nazis. Of course I would have opposed the Czech revivalist movement - does the fact that Hitler did to make me a Nazi, is that your implication? I think the Habsburgs should have done all they could to resist the nationalist movements in their territory, that eventually broke it up into that smorgasbord of hatreds now known as "the Balkans". I think the Yugoslav's should have done the same.

    Apologies for not noticing this earlier, I hadn't actually thought to check if I had comments.