Welsh doesn't need friends like this

It was strange, to say the least, for last night's Week In Week Out on BBC Wales to feature Professor Christie Davies so prominently. His totally bizarre solution of Welsh enclaves in which people would have to speak Welsh not just fluently, but "excellently" – and forced to leave if they didn't, even if they'd lived there all their lives – would have been sinister if it wasn't so obvious that he was taking the piss.

OK, he might have fooled some BBC researchers into thinking he cared about the future of Welsh ... but that says more about what passes for research nowadays. If anybody needs reminding about what Professor Davies really thinks of Welsh, these two articles should help:

The last gasps of a dead tongue

Christie Davies argues that as the Welsh language will and must die out, encouraging people to learn it is a pointless exercise

The study of Welsh is compulsory in all schools in Wales. In Gwynedd all teaching is exclusively through the medium of Welsh. Yet, in my opinion, learning Welsh is of no use to anyone, since even in Wales itself the language is spoken by less than a fifth of the population and the vast majority of Welsh speakers are bilingual, often with English as their stronger language.

Whereas there is a strong case for ensuring that all school children in the United Kingdom should acquire a thorough mastery of all aspects of the English language, no such argument can be applied to the teaching and learning of Welsh. Rather, two libertarian principles should prevail throughout the Principality. First, all pupils should have an inalienable right to be educated through the medium of English. Second, every pupil should have the right not to study Welsh and to have access to a choice of modern languages in school.

While the Welsh language will, should and must die out, it does not follow that the study of dead Welsh should be abandoned. On the contrary the Welsh of the past should be made available alongside Latin and Greek for the more gifted pupils.

Times Higher Education, 4 July 1997

Why I ... believe the Welsh Assembly should not compel students to be taught in Welsh

For centuries, the Welsh were trapped by their obscure Celtic language in which little of importance was written. When they switched to English they entered the mainstream of European science and culture.

Next Thursday the Welsh will vote for candidates to the principality's new assembly. There will be a strong coalition composed of Welsh Nationalists, some Liberal Democrats and some Labour Party members. This coalition is likely to push for the spread of the Welsh language.

In my view this will be a disaster ...

Times Higher Education, 30 April 1999

I'm sure the word "libertarian" would have pricked up some ears, too. Yes, he's also part of the Social Affairs Unit, a right-wing think-tank. Who'd have guessed?

If the Welsh language had friends like this, it would hardly need any enemies.

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Hogyn o Rachub said...

I haven't had the chance to see the programme yet, and am actually shocked at the quotations you note, however the idea of exclusively Welsh-speaking areas is essentially a good one, especially for those of us who want to able to live our lives fully through the medium of Welsh and cannot because of essentially economic trends.

Building afforable housing exclusively for Welsh-speakers in y Fro Gymraeg, and a housing framework which provides for a set limit on the number of local houses bought by non-Welsh speakers will no doubt be thought of as extreme by some, and most reading this will not be in favour of it, but it would go a long, long way to saving Welsh as a community language.

The Language Measure, language acts and language righrs will no absolutely nothing to preserving y Fro Gymraeg. As things stand, it will absolutely without a doubt disappear with in the next 20-30 years, and with it any hope of a bilingual nation.

Extreme measures are needed to save the language heartlands, and thinking otherwise is simply burying one's head in the sand. Planning and housing solutions favouring local people would go a long way.

The problem is it isn't going to happen, and most politicans are quite happy to leave y Fro to its fate.

Anonymous said...

Excellent research. Well done. I get the feeling Welsh nationalism is under a strong attack. We get it all the time on BBC Wales - except rugby, of course (HQ-approved, see). We have a trickle of articles on 'Labour' Home questioning our history and identity. We know of Brown's 'Britishness project' and the BBC network policy of promoting 'soft' Britishness programmes: real history, period dramas, travelogues, etc. As LBJ said, just 'cause I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not talking behind my back. There seems to be a trend here and no effective Welsh nationalist response. 'One Wales' and Cardiff Bay consensus politics have neutered Plaid. Gotta think of an answer soonest.

Anonymous said...

"all school children in the United Kingdom"

Gives the game away there - he's looking at it from a British nationalist POV.

MH said...

I read what you wrote yesterday in response to the BBC website story, Hogyn. I know there are many people who share your view that more needs to be done in Y Fro, but I fear that some would be attracted by draconian measures such as those proposed by Christie Davies because they think that all else has failed, and that something ... anything ... must be done, no matter how extreme.

What I hope to have shown is that Prof Davies' suggestions are not motivated by any desire to protect the language, let alone see it thrive. If he has any good intentions towards Welsh, his attitude might make sense if he wants to preserve it in "laboratory conditions" so that it can be studied, because he has convinced himself that it will die no matter what. But I doubt that his intentions are that good. It's clear to me that he wants to see it die, and that he's proposing this extreme solution as a way of achieving it.


I have to say that I see the situation rather differently from you when you said it was much more important to protect the heartlands than to create a bilingual Wales. I think both are important.

I want to see a Wales in which everybody who grows up here can speak Welsh. Welsh has to be our national language, for Wales as a whole. Of course everyone who grows up here will speak English as well ... and a good cross section of other languages too, I hope. I have two fears about concentrating efforts on Y Fro, or more fragmented Fröydd: the first is that it will distract from what we are already doing to ensure that every child learns to speak Welsh competently; the second is that if we give some special legal status to these areas, we will enshrine a two Wales rather than all Wales situation. We will create a language divide. Once established it will be very difficult to expand those boundaries, we will in effect have set limits to how far we want Welsh to flourish.


Now of course I recognize the problem of the decline of communities where Welsh is the predominant language. Like you, I see housing policy and planning as tools that have been woefully underused. Rather than repeat myself, please read this. As I see it the problem is much more to do with the economy, and housing policy, than it is to do with language. I think we could use the planning process far better than we have, particularly with regard to TAN 20 and the use of Language Impact Assessments. But there are some fine lines, as I mentioned here.

Another factor which will make a significant difference is the use of Welsh as the language of "officialdom". Without wanting to focus on history, it's probably true that the decline of Welsh has been caused by "officialdom" in all its forms using English rather than Welsh, confining Welsh to social use. Welsh is now the internal language of business in Gwynedd Council, and Ynys Môn is heading that way (the situation is helped by North Wales Police's policy on Welsh, insisting that it's staff develop competence in the language). In due course I expect the same will happen in Ceredigion and Sir Gâr. Both are likely to elect Plaid councils next time round, which might well provide the momentum needed, even if it takes much longer to fully implement. If that happens, there will be a real sense in which the Fro Gymraeg is different in the sort of way I would guess those who want special treatment for it want. The difference is that it will come about by process rather than imposition, and without effecting or enshrining any different legal status on just one part of Wales.

Hogyn o Rachub said...

Thanks for the response MH, I’m afraid I can’t give you a deserved response but just one or two quick comments:

As much as Davies’ words may well be false, I still agree with the jist of what he is saying. It may well seem illiberal to try and control housing stocks based on linguistic ability, but there’s probably little choice if Y Fro is to truly survive (with an appropriate combination of other measures e.g. Welsh education).

A bilingual Wales is still a long way away, but Y Fro’s demise is not, that is why I believe the emphasis should be on it – I’m sure you agree that if it does disappear, then the dream of a bilingual nation becomes somewhat of a fantasy. To create a bilingual Wales, Welsh-speaking communities are essential. I don’t want to divide the nation, of course, but still if it’s the survival of the language is at steak, I think many Welsh-speakers would probably place the language above national unity, as it were, although I doubt that would come to pass.

Of course, I fully support every attempt to strengthen Welsh at an official level, although I don’t believe it is automatically connected to the survival of Welsh-speaking communities. We’ve had 40 years of Welsh language legislation and promotion, and it hasn’t saved a single Welsh-speaking community.

In order to promote Welsh in the official domain, Welsh-speaking communities are again essential – Gwynedd being the prime example. But that hasn’t stopped the decline in Gwynedd, it’s worse than ever. Also, personally, and with great sadness, I foresee non-Welsh speaking majorities in both Ceredigion and Sir Gâr in the next census, and knowing Ynys Môn well possibly there too, and I don’t see the councils there truly using Welsh as their primary language simply because of that fact.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, and I really do hope so. But I really view the future of Y Fro Gymraeg from a position of despair rather than hope.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up Hogyn! I'm convinced the number of Welsh speakers in Gwynedd will go up in the next census (it would have gone up in the last one if it hadn't been conducted during university term time). It will also be interesting to see if the increase in Welsh speakers outside 'Y fro', will contribute further to the increase. Time will tell...

Simon Brooks said...


I agree with you that Christie Davies is a very marginal figure in Wales, and that the quality of BBC research is very poor. Why Christie Davies? Who is he? What is his relationship to Welsh-language pressure gruops and Welsh-language civil society? None, as far as I see.

However, there is nothing wrong with language planning informed by spatial considerations regarding language use. Personally I believe that the Welsh language would be better off with a defined Welsh monoglot heartland than without. This is not an extremist position, but one held by many Welsh speakers, as you well know.

Anonymous said...

Why should we accept that Welsh should die as a community language? The English would never accept a situation which went, 'yes, English is very good etc but, you know, York will not be an English language city in forty years time'.

Why should we accept this? Labour in Westminster have put into place policies which confirms that England/UK is one big Gaeltacht/Bro Saesneg.

Sorry, MH, but why this 'either or', why does it follow that to revive the language in the East we have to lose the west? Why lose anywhere? It's not easy, it needs to be done sensitively, but why does keeping communities which have been Welsh-speaking for 2,000 Welsh speaking in the C21 mean that someone in Wrexham/Cardiff/Newport is less-Welsh? I don't understand this train of thought. It's about language competence not nationality or ethnicity.


MH said...

Hogyn and Anon, I think the 2011 census will show an overall increase, perhaps not quite the 5% hoped for in Iaith Pawb, but to about 25%. This will mainly be because of big increases outside Y Fro, and I think things will either remain roughly the same or might even fall in Y Fro. I also think that the number of 70%+ Welsh speaking communities will decrease. The trend will be towards a more uniform language spread.

It should also be noted that the census tends to return the lower percentages compared with other surveys, and we can see that recent opinion polls tend to give much higher figures. Perhaps that might spill over and increase the census figures next time round further than expected.

So I don't think we should be too pessimistic. One half of the equation (increasing the overall numbers through the education system) is doing quite well, although the progress needs to be faster. The other half isn't. That is a big concern—"more challenging" as Colin Williams put it—but I do not think that the number of 75%+ communities is the only measure of success, which seemed to be a major theme in the programme.


Simon, I fully agree that there is nothing wrong with language planning informed by spatial considerations regarding language use ... though I'll comment on the details of any plan, of course. And I certainly don't think that everybody who wants a defined or protected area is an extremist. The programme could have picked any number of spokespeople from Cymuned or Cymdeithas who could have made that case much more reasonably. I disagree, but only on balance.


Macsen, the point I was trying to make was that it isn't a matter of "either or", nor of concentrating most of our efforts in one direction rather than another.

To anyone getting email alerts, sorry about the multiple comments.

Plaid Panteg said...

I must admit, as someone who is fast approaching becoming a second language speaker of Welsh, the programme was a huge eye opener for me.

My three sons are more than likely to go to Welsh medium, but in an area like Torfaen, it does not even compare to the communities I saw in that film.

To me firm government action, particularly around housing and public services to me seems wholly appropriate. Perhaps it is beyond my personal knowledge to venture as to what that would entail, but I cannot see the 'gaeltacht' idea flying.

The problem with state levers, and this I include welsh medium education, is that it can only achieve so much. To take it further, it will need to be bouyed by social and personal consent. Of course we have to use these levers with velocity, but as the results of these levers (increased welsh speakers), so will the effective levers need to change (who to increase use in every day life).

I almost worry about the growing ability of welsh speaking being accompanied by decreasing first language use. To me this may alter the way we view the language in an almost perverse manner, as a parochial afterthought rather than a living and breathing language.

Like I said, I am very much taking baby steps on this issue, despite my enthuiasm.

Anonymous said...

Suggest you have a look at: http://www.gwerddon.org/2_goblygiadau_newid_ym_mhroffeil_oedran-72.aspx

MH said...

Anon, thanks for the link to Gwerddon.org I'd not heard of it before.

I've found what looks like a tasty article on Wales and Catalunya ... but I'll save it until after the Barça game.

Tay said...

MH: "...but I do not think that the number of 75%+ communities is the only measure of success, which seemed to be a major theme in the programme."

Well, do whatever is possible to preserve such communities. We in Germany did the same mistake in thinking that it wouldn't be sooo bad if the overall number of people would raise who can speak low german - well, it turned out that it killed Low german as a community language in large large areas and thus it isn't taught or used. Nono, children have to - if possible - grow up in a welsh/low german/ whatever speaking enviorment, because it is the best way to ensure that the language is NEEDED. People won't learn welsh if it isn't needed - they will use english, because they know it and don't see teh need to learn - and communities where more and more people speak english are not very helpful there.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't really been aware of Chritie Davies before the program, and really thought he was an actor, employed to make those of us who care about the Welsh Language look like loons - which he did! - but he's not an actor!

The university of Reading say "His main research . . .(interests are the). . .study of morality and of humour." I think his role in the program was definitely as a humorist.

It goes on to say " .. (he) is seeking a publisher for a book on the moral transformation of Britain during the last half of the twentieth century." Could it be his literary agent that got him onto the TV?

Anonymous said...

Another measure of the man, you might think, and his love of Wales is to be found here : -


I looked at about 10, and didn't find one in any way funny. A bit patronising, but not really offensive, just boring.

Cneifiwr said...

MH makes a good point about the use of TAN20. I have tried this in a supermarket planning battle which is going on in Sir Gâr. The head of planning told the council after my remarks that language impact assessments were only used for housing developments. Yet TAN20 is quite clear that if a proposed development will have a significant economic impact, the effect on the language needs to be taken into consideration. If you wonder what this has to do with the language, well - open a supermarket and watch small locally owned businesses die and make sure that the only opportunities left for young people are jobs on the checkouts. The effect this has on a Welsh speaking environment is to create a kind of Bantustan of low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

The trouble is, as in Sir Gâr which pays only lip service to the language, how do we make these arrogant bastards sit up and use the (admittedly pathetically weak and limited) tools that do exist to help the language fight back?

Anonymous said...

It gets worse!:

Illtyd Luke said...

Hogyn writes "It may well seem illiberal to try and control housing stocks based on linguistic ability, but there’s probably little choice if Y Fro is to truly survive (with an appropriate combination of other measures e.g. Welsh education)."

I agree with this- but it seems that the only way to preserve the linguistic integrity of those communities would be to completely suspend capitalism and globalisation in those communities. Such a step would be completely unorthodox and would certainly require some kind of systemic deviation from capitalism in Wales. I personally would be all for that!

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