(As always when I drag this old blog out of retirement, this is over-cooked and under-edited. But there’s stuff to do, and Pethe Cylch Teifi won’t write itself.)
You’ll have all seen this from those lovely lads at The Tab: Let it go: the Welsh language should be consigned to history – which is why that link goes to a nice site. Google it if you really need to.
Let’s just pretend this isn’t mendacious clickbait for a minute, and assume Dugmore is serious. A couple of the things he says are true: one of them being “Only two areas of Wales are now majority Welsh speaking – Anglesey and Gwynedd.” In the 2011 census, those were the two local authorities with over 50% Welsh speakers – my county, Ceredigion, fell to 47% in 2011.
But these facts don’t exist in a vacuum: in 2001 the figure for Ceredigion was 51.8%, and in 1991 it was 59.1%. We all know why this is happening, and it isn’t because Welsh has too many vowels or doesn’t have a word for washing machine.
It is because there has been, and continues to be, an unending stream of economic migrants (yes, I went there) coming to rural Wales from (mostly) England, the vast majority of whom make no effort to integrate linguistically, there being no pressing reason for them to do so. The fact that it’s the decent thing to do, to be “part of the solution, not part of the problem”, is unmentionable, at least in English. Instead we bend over backwards to congratulate the rare freaks who do bother to put in the time and effort it takes to learn the language, as if this isn’t exactly what nearly every single immigrant who moves to England has to do, in order to survive economically.
The use of the metaphor — and yes, it’s a metaphor — “Welsh is a dying language” is always telling. (I do it myself sometimes, I hope only ever ironically, but I shouldn’t, and will try not to in future. Students, feel free to drag me over the coals.) We use it without thinking, as if it’s the only metaphor available, but it’s not.
To borrow from the late, great Utah Phillips, “the Welsh language is not dying, it’s being killed – and the people doing the killing have names and addresses…”
…and bylines in tabloids, even if they’re tuppenny ha’penny student rags.
They also have employers, and those employers have advertisers for clients, and those advertisers very often have shareholders.
I’ve seen people on Twitter, and in other other social media, respond to this latest incident with “ignore it, not worth the trouble”. I’ve done this myself sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with it in most cases. When it’s just some random Twitter user posting sheep-shagger jokes, yeah, life’s too short. I’ve found myself taking joining in with the pitchfork waggling on occasion, and felt queasy about it later, especially since reading Jon Ronson’s excellent book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
In the case of Oli Dugmore’s piece in The Tab, I disagree with the normally sound advice of “don’t feed the trolls”. Getting involved in conversation with Dugmore directly is certainly a waste of time, unless you enjoy pig-wrestling. I don’t even think putting pressure on the owners of The Tab to fire him is particularly useful: do they even pay their writers? But the piece has gone slightly viral, and when things like this reach the mainstream it tends to have one undeniably positive effect: more people get interested in learning Welsh. Beyond their bottom-feeding target demographic, Dugmore and his ilk are such obviously bad role-models that I would expect Welsh for Adults registration to spike in Cardiff next year. It’s just a shame he didn’t time his trolling to coincide with the beginning of term.