Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Disadvantaging English speakers or simply speaking Cymraeg?

 There a modern Fairy Tale which appears every so often about an Englishman who goes into a Bar in Wales where everyone is speaking English but as son as he orders his Beer the rest of the  Customers  realising he's not Welsh start speaking in Welsh.

I wonder who goes into a Bar and immediately start listing to the conversations or who orders a pint so loudly everyone in the Bar can here him?

It is the argument that people speak Cymraeg only to annoy English speakers .

The Wasting Mule online  have jumped on a piece of news that helps them in it  periodic anti Welsh Language articles

According tho Wales Online

A village council has been accused of disadvantaging English speakers – by conducting its meetings and providing some of its council documents in Welsh only.
In a scathing report by the Public Ombudsman for Wales, Cynwyd Community Council, near Corwen, Denbighshire, has come under fire for failing to provide bilingual agendas.
The defiant council has hit back at the criticism, saying that it has not let down the local community.

The Ombudsman said 

the council held its meetings in Welsh, as well as posted some of its notices in Welsh only, which prevented non-Welsh speaking complainant “Mrs X” from becoming involved in council business.
The “intransigent” council had allegedly refused to cooperate with the Ombudsman’s investigation or accept his findings.
Ombudsman Nick Bennett, in a report which was published today, said: 

”While I fully support the principle of any Welsh council conducting its business through the medium of Welsh, it should also ensure those who consider English as their first language are not excluded.
“It is worrying that the council has taken such an intransigent position throughout my investigation. Their refusal to act reasonably has let down their local community, both Welsh and English-speaking.
“I am hugely disappointed that by refusing to accept my entirely reasonable recommendations, Cynwyd council has forced me to issue a public interest report.”

His report states 

“it appears to be significant” that the clerk seemed to have resented Mrs X’s complaints about how the council operated.
Mr Bennett said: “I consider that the council has failed to make adequate written bilingual provision for Mrs X as a person who understands English, but not Welsh.
“It amounts to maladministration which has caused Mrs X to suffer an injustice. I therefore uphold Mrs X’s complaint against the council.”

He added that the council response was “contemptuous” of Mrs X and his office.

Clearly I do not have the full details and probably  neither does Wales Online but I wonder if the Ombudsman even considered discussing this with his or hers counterpart on the Welsh Language Board which may have a different view?

Retired headmaster and council clerk Alwyn Jones Parry told the Ombudsman, in a defiant response:

 ”Our position has not changed since the onset of these tedious protracted discussions.
“If we had been approached politely this matter would have been sorted out correctly and quickly.”

He insisted there was a “reasonable translation process” and neither an apology nor a suggested £100 payment for her trouble would be made to Mrs X who was new to the area. She did not seek compensation.
The reply continued:

 ”We emphatically say that Cynwyd Community Council believes that we have no case to answer. The complaint is without foundation, time wasting, a waste of money, and incorrect use of the Ombudsman.”
very few English or Welsh-speaking locals turned up at meetings to listen to the nine community councillors. If a guest speaker couldn’t speak Welsh, the council went into English for that part for the meeting.
 ”We are not apologising as we don’t see that we’ve done anything wrong.”
: “The councillors are a caring bunch and don’t get paid anything.
“They do it for their love of the area. They are the foundation of our political system. They are not anti-English, nor am I.”

Oddly I am glad this row as occurred  because it does raise a huge disadvantage that the Welsh Language is in.

If Mrs X was to turn up at every meeting of  Cynwyd Community are the Councillors  expected to cease carrying out their business in Welsh and switch to English?

The argument is that 99.9% of Welsh speakers are bilingual and  if people like Mrs X (and indeed myself) are unable to understand Cynraeg then they should switch to English in order to provide for us.

Its an argument that I suppose you could use in the Netherlands  .

Why should Welsh speakers always give way to English . Yes Councils like Cynwyd should accommodate those who do not speak Cymraeg particularly through notices . 

But is there not a line where doing so could lead to dropping Cymraeg altogether?


  1. Very disappointing to see wales own 'national newspaper' running a non story like this, worse than that their editors must know the only result of 'yellow' journalism like this would be to try and ferment divisions between welsh speakers and non welsh speakers. Thought we'd moved on from the depressing days when the media in wales would peddle inflammatory rubbish like this - will the mail be dredging up 'stories' about children having to ask to go to the toilet in welsh?

    As for the 'story' itself it looks like a welsh council in a welsh speaking community conducts its proceedings in welsh - where's the story?

    1. Are you saying that every person living in Cynwyd and its surrounding area is a fluent Welsh speaker? If so, you'd be wrong as that is not the case, even though this is a strong Welsh speaking area.

  2. I have aways admired the Welsh for clinging to their language, you at least managed it. We in Scotland are the proud possessors of three separate languages. Gaelic the language which was once the one of the court, Scots or Lallans the language most of us lowlanders spoke as did our great poet Robert Burns, and Doric which is spoken, still in Aberdeen and surrounding area.
    Gaelic has had a hard time, but it clings on, we have much the same problem in that area with incomers who do not speak it. Scots, well most of us speak a mere smidgeon, we still use words but nowhere near the depth of the language and most of us nearly need a dictionary ( now in print) to read Burns in any depth.
    If you are starting to get this in the papers, be aware how much worse it will be if Plaid becomes a power player. Our Media are a disgrace.
    I hope the Council hold to their opinion, they are correct and Mrs X is another trouble maker, boy we could do with shifting them out but then we are the racists.

    1. Do you realise how bigoted that sounds? As I have explained further down, I have lived and worked in North Wales for many years; my mother was born in Wales; a relation of my father was killed down the pits in Wrexham; our son was born in Wales. What defines 'Welshness'? Cynwyd has many non fluent and non Welsh speakers in its area. Are they to be ignored even though their council taxes help pay for this community council? Is it so wrong to ask for the few lines of the Agenda to be in English as well as Welsh in line with the Welsh Language Act? How are we supposed to know what is to be discussed if we can't understand the Agenda? My husband has early onset Alzheimer's and a local care home faces closure. Do you not think I am entitled to know what the local community council thinks about this? Is this your idea of democracy in Wales? I am 100% supportive of the Welsh language, but it is attitudes such as yours that do Wales a great deal of harm.

  3. It's always a very difficult situation, and a common problem, so much so that many Welsh speakers who regularly go to meetings where there can be 90% attendance by Welsh speakers, but where it is the 10% 'majority' who don't speak Welsh who hold sway, and ensure that the meeting proceeds in English. Things have probably changed by now, but back in the 80s I can remember monoglot English speakers who had had the bright idea of moving to Blaenau Ffestiniog rushing off to sign up to Welsh lessons! As many will know, finding anti-English sentiment in Blaenau Ffestiniog is very hard, if not impossible, but the people used to be pretty intractable, in that their language was Welsh, so that is what they spoke 99% of the time, in their daily lives, socially, and in meetings. Anyone with any sensitivity whatsover moving to an area where that was the case would soon realise that if they wanted to fit in, they'd more or less have to learn Welsh, and really, that kind of environment is ideal for learning a language, natural immersion!

    But it is hard, many people moving into Wales don't feel that they should make the effort, and to be honest, bilingualism is partly responsible for this. It's hard to see a way around bilingual provision, but sadly it does weaken Welsh, as all too often English appears first, followed by Welsh, (monoglot English speakers complain otherwise) which makes it pointless, as, Welsh speakers are, almost by definition, bilingual in both Welsh and English, will read the English, as it comes first. I'm a secretary of an local group where I prepare the minutes of meetings where I always ensure that the Welsh appears first, (I also write it in Welsh, and then translate to English). Initially some people complained as they suddenly faced Welsh in the left column and English in the right. I got told that as it was Cardiff, then Welsh should be in the right column, and English in the left. I dug my heels in, and insisted it was staying that way. I have my suspicions that if and when I decide to step down as secretary, that will change, and indeed, I doubt that the minutes will appear bilingually at all. That will be fine, because as soon as that happens, just once, I will leave that organisation.

    It's already the case that Welsh, has, at best, only a token position in public meetings, or even closed, political meetings. Sometimes this is a matter of the nature of the locality, there simply being few Welsh speakers, but sometimes it's just because the organisers can't be bothered to make an effort, and assume, that all the natives speak English anyway. There needs to be much more of an emphasis on the language, whilst at the same time making provision for those who don't (yet) speak Cymraeg, With languages it is very much a case of 'use it or lose it'.

  4. The Welsh Language Board was abolished some 4 years ago.

    1. Sorry Hywel I meant Welsh Language Commissioner but the argument applies to the current commissioner Meri Huws

  5. I am the Mrs X in the report and I can tell you right from the start that I am not remotely anti Welsh language and support its continuation and growth. (In fact, I have many Welsh relatives on both sides, with my mother being born in Wales; I have worked and lived in North Wales for most of my life; and our son was born in Wales.I just don't speak Welsh.) However, there are many in the Cynwyd area who are non fluent Welsh speakers or who do not speak Welsh at all. This includes people from other parts of Europe and the world. This council carries out all its meetings through the medium of Welsh and this has, in the past, created problems for residents who don't speak Welsh to be able to follow the business. Through this investigation the Clerk has now offered to translate for any non Welsh speakers while the meeting is going on. The discussion of potential care home closures, traffic calming schemes, financial issues etc. goes far beyond normal Welsh conversation classes. In fact, I asked a couple of people who have lived in Cynwyd most of their lives and are considered Welsh speakers, if they could translate the Agenda on the noticeboard for me, and they were unable to. This is about local democracy and ensuring ALL local residents can participate equally. The Welsh Language Act is quite clear that Welsh and English should be made available on all public body notices, including Minutes, meetings and Agendas. There is a maximum £5,000 fine for those councils failing to use Welsh appropriately, but nothing is in place for English. So, you could say that the Act is slanted in favour of the Welsh language. I just happen to feel it was a bit of an oversight and no one anticipated a situation such as this. All I asked was that the few lines of the Agenda were also in English so we could see what was to be discussed. For some reason, which they have not explained, they refused to do so. At every step they have been incredibly difficult and it has ended up with this unprecedented situation.