[lg policy] Fwd: fyi (today's NYT)

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 26 21:24:51 UTC 2014

 Forwarded From: Fierman, William <wfierman at indiana.edu>
Date: Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 3:02 PM
Subject: fyi (today's NYT)

 *The Welsh Strive to Keep Their Language*

26, 2014

CARDIFF, Wales — There was a time when Irish and Scottish immigrants in the
United States were jealous of their Welsh cousins, who had not just their
patron saint and their resentment of the English to bind them together —
but also their very own language.

A lively Welsh-language press once thrived in the United States. In the
1860s, a daily newspaper, three monthly journals and a range of books were
published in Welsh there, said Jerry Hunter, a professor at Bangor

As one Welsh-American told an Irish-American at the time: “On St. Patrick’s
you go to the pub and speak the language of the enemy. On St. David’s Day,
we go to the chapel and speak Welsh.”

But as the Welsh language withered from one generation to the next, much of
Welsh-American identity withered with it. If today it is mainly the Irish
and Scottish diasporas that endure in the United States, it is not just
because they were always more numerous.

“Once the Welsh lost their language, they lost their main identifier and
assimilated,” Mr. Hunter said.



A road sign in English and Welsh in Cardiff, Wales. Credit Matt Cardy/Getty

That helps to explain why Welsh nationalists have fought so hard to protect
their language at home: Welshness, more than any other national identity in
relies on its linguistic and cultural legacy.

Conquered by England in the 13th century, the Welsh were deprived of their
civic identity long ago. But their plucky little language held out. The
oldest tongue in the British Isles, it survived for centuries against all
odds, surrounded by one of the most powerful languages, English. Cymraeg,
as the Welsh call their language, “is intrinsic to the fascination, beauty
and self-esteem of this nation,” wrote the Welsh journalist and author Jan

Wales has bards and druids (indeed, it has archdruids), and in addition to
wildly popular national cultural competitions like the Eisteddfod and the
Urdd, one of Europe’s largest youth festivals, most villages have their own
versions of both. Culturally, Mr. Hunter said, Wales punches well above its
weight: “Where else have you got thousands of people crowding into a
pavilion watching the results of a poetry contest?”

Welsh went into rapid decline in Victorian times, when schoolmasters bent
on Anglicizing the Welsh beat the language out of the country, often
literally. The 1891 census showed the language spoken by a minority for the
first time. A century later, the number of Welsh speakers had shrunk to
508,000 out of about three million.

“They stole our language,” said Neil Hudson, a retired engineer in the
former coal-mining valleys outside Cardiff. “I’m 70 years old. My
grandparents on both sides spoke Welsh, and I don’t.”

But his grandchildren might. One in five people in Wales speaks Welsh, and
one in four children attends a Welsh-language school.

It has been an uphill battle. The long border that once made Wales
vulnerable to English conquest also exposes it to English immigration: A
full quarter of the population is non-native (compared with about 10
percent in Scotland). Militant language activists used to burn down English
vacation homes.

These days all signs and several public services are bilingual. There is a
dedicated Welsh-language television network. Welsh vocabulary, a garble of
Celtic consonants to the uninitiated, is expanding. Jon Gower, a television
producer, cites “Ffôn ar y lôn,” literally “phone on the road,” for
cellphone, or “carlo” as slang for cocaine (inspired by the American slang
word “charlie”). But there is still work to do, he laments: “You can’t talk
dirty in Welsh.”

A more serious issue is that the 2011 census showed a decline in the share
of Welsh speakers to 19 percent from 21 percent a decade earlier. The
improved official status of the language has failed to solve one problem,
said Geraint Talfan Davies, chairman of the Welsh National Opera: The
growing percentage of Welsh speakers in southeastern Wales matters less to
the language than its decline in the northern and western heartlands, where
it has been the language of a good majority.

As Scotland debates independence and all of Britain mulls the meaning of
national identity, Wales faces an old but no less existential question, Mr.
Talfan Davies said. “We have done all the easy things for the language,” he
said. “The question is, what’s next?”


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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