Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Incomers & the Welsh Language

This is one of the most beautiful times of year with birds singing, hedges greening up and the wild flowers beginning to weave their tapestry through the fields,woods and secret corners of the farm. Today the weather is lovely and the daffodils & narcissus are still coming into flower and lighting up the gardens and the drive with their golden battalions. I've found the first violets peering shyly on hedgebanks which are also starred with glorious gleaming celandines and tiny creamy wild strawberry flowers. They look like the exquisite paintings found in the borders of medieval manuscripts.

We have a Lady Artist from Suffolk staying in the cottage at the moment. She has come to Wales for a working holiday for a few weeks & is enjoying the sharp contrast of the landscape here to that of flat Suffolk. I hope the weather stays reasonable for her

Why do people come to Wales? It is a big and complex question.
When asked many holiday-makers say they come for the wonderful scenery and the quieter pace of life, but many have admitted to me that it is fine for a week but they couldn't live here. For those who think the opposite and do take the plunge and decide to re-locate to a part of Wales they have visited as tourists a few times, it can be a major adjustment not just geographically but culturally. Wales quite simply is not like England and for many incomers this is hard to understand. Many don't really try and feel the need to Anglicise their new environment. There are far too many old Welsh farmsteads that have had their centuries-old names 'translated' into English. I was told by one person who did this that they couldn't expect their visitors from England coming to stay in their converted barns to be able to find them if the name was in Welsh! Excuse me! Would they think this way if they had moved to France? I doubt it & it probably wouldn't occur to them do even give their French abode an English name. But in Wales it seems the language can be ignored as an inconvenience.
To the indigenous people, the locals, this arrogance and lack of appreciation of an ancient language & culture is deeply offensive...something that has been expressed to me many times by our Welsh-speaking friends. It is remarkable that the Welsh language, one of the oldest in Europe, should still survive here on the edge of the western world after so many centuries of aggressive attempts to eradicate it. The continuing energy within the Welsh-speaking community is a testament to how much it matters that minority cultures need to be kept alive, not by artificial means but by people living their lives. Welsh is the language of poets & I was fascinated to learn recently that the sale of books of poetry written in Welsh is proportionately greater than any other book in Wales. That must be reflection on how valued a language is by its speakers.

Whilst tourism is a major & vital part of the Welsh economy (and I am part of it, though not as an incomer nor as Welsh speaker but part of Welsh-speaking family) the risk is that Wales becomes a theme park and its language & culture quaint curiosities. The fact that life for many people, particularly in this part of Wales, is conducted almost entirely in Welsh, English only spoken when absolutely necessary, seems to be an irrelevance. If incomers could tap into the vibrant cultural life of their Welsh neighbours they would find a full range of activities carrying on very well without a word of English being used. However, this is sometimes seen as being exclusive and unfriendly...it is not, it is simply the local people getting on with their lives using their own language. For our guests coming to real Welsh Wales here in Carmarthenshire, it is a revelation to many of them that Welsh is a language in daily use & that Wales is more than just mountainous, green damp countryside & comic stereotypes. Of course, for most people the joy of coming to Wales is the diverse landscapes and to be somewhere different from home & the cultural issues don't impinge on visitors who are here for only a week or two & why should they? However, for those who choose to come and live here then a little more sensitivity, research & consideration for the native people of the foreign country that they have come to would not go amiss.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I am in the US and you would be surprised at how other languages dictate local businesses, events, and literature. I am with you on this one. When I Wales speak Welsh. When in Rome etc. Globalization does have its drawbacks.