Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A View from America

Your comments are interesting, but I have to disagree with you -- at least partially. First of all, I don't know much about British or Irish politics; I'm a citizen of U.S.A., and I'm having enough difficulty trying to understand our system. I don't pretend to know which policies would be best for Wales, but I'm not convinced that complete separation from England and / or Scotland would in and of itself be automatically beneficial. That does not for one second mean that I think that complete assimilation or submission is necessarily a good thing either. All I know is that if something promotes human rights (and by that, I mean the rights of individuals -- not just groups), I am for it; if something is contrary to human rights, then I am against it.

You say that one is either a Unionist, or a Nationalist. Is it really just that simple; it is that black & white? Have you never heard of concepts such as devolution or decentralization? Are there not degrees and compromises regarding questions of regionalism vs. imperialism? Or how about the concepts of federalism, confederacies, treaties, leagues, and such? For example, if Plaid Cymru were to secure the national idependence of Wales only to subject Wales to the domination of European Union, would Wales be better or worse off? I don't have an answer; I just think it's a question worthy of consideration.

You say that one is either Welsh or British; you say you cannot be both. In terms of history & etymology, that is a most ridiculous, absurd, and nonsensical statement! If you are indeed Cymro (a Welshman), then I am most disappointed by your lack of knowledge & understanding about the ancient origins & history of your own culture.

The Welsh were British centuries before the Scots or English became British. I explain all this to my students when I teach a class called "Quest for Camelot." I tell them that nowadays "British" can mean Welsh, English, or Scottish since those territories make up the island now known as Great Britain (to distinguish it from Little Britain across the channel).

In terms of what's left of the global British Empire, "British" can also mean Falkland Islander, and until recently it could mean Hong Konger. Some folks in Northern Ireland call themselves "British" while others most certainly do not, but that's a whole other controversy outside the scope of the point I am making.

If one looks at Latin documents from the Dark Ages (circa 5th to 9th centuries), the term "Brettonum" (British) always applied to the Welsh -- not to the English or Scots. I have read that the native and Irish cognates "Pretini" and "Cruithni" have been applied to the Picts who were Barbaian British as opposed to the Welsh who were Romano-Britons. Dark Age Latin documents used the terms "Anglorum" and "Saxonum" pretty much interchangably when refering to the English. "Scottonum" or "Scottorum" meant "Irish" before the concepts of "Scottish" and "Irish" branched apart to become distinct; this was also before the concepts of "Welsh," "Cornish," and "Breton" branched apart to become distinct.

There is one interesting exception to all this. Even before the several English kingdoms in Britain united to form the Kingdom of Englelonde (England), and indeed even before the English people (a.k.a. Anglo-Saxons) had conquered all the territory that would eventually constitute that kingdom, they were calling the most powerful of their kings "Bretwalda"
(Britain Ruler). Even so, it should be noted that in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was written in Englisc (Old English) rather than Latin, the terms "Brettas," "Wealh," and "Wealas"were used interchangeably to refer to the Welsh.

It's bad enough that Americans don't understand this. I especially cringe when American journalists, who are supposed to be educated, use the terms "British" and "English" interchangeably as though they were absolute synonyms. English and Scottish kingdoms were first established in Britain over 15 centuries ago, so we now can use the term "British" to refer to anyone living on the island, but that only makes the terms "English" and "British"overlapping concepts -- not synonyms!

It is only because England became the largest and most powerful kingdom on the island, and because England was central to the British Empire which became global, that people think primarily of England when they think of Britain, but that is no reason to think ONLY of England; England is not the whole island.

Anyway, the Welsh are still the most British of all the people of Britain. Equal or almost equal in Britishness would be the few people in London learning Cymraeg (Welsh), and the few people in Cornwall keeping Kernewek (Cornish) alive. The Welsh (Cymry), Cornish, and Bretons are today's Brythonic (British) Celts who share a common ancestry / heritage which can be traced back to the Roman Diocese of Britannia.

Gaidhlig (Scottish Gaelic language of the Highlands), like Gaeilge (Irish) and Gaelg (Manx), is a Goidelic Celtic language; it was imported into northern Britain from Ireland. English and Scots (Lowland Scottish language), like Nederlands (Dutch or Low German) and Deutch (High German) are West Germanic languages; they were imported into Britain from northwestern Europe. Again, these importations happened AFTER the Brittani (a.k.a. Bretones, Britons, or Roman Britons) and their Brythonic language were already established on the island of Britain.

So I think it's even worse when British people don't know or understand this stuff. One person who does, however, is Professor Fred Long. He was born and raised in England and speaks English with an English accent, but he now lives in Wales and is learning Welsh. He attends eisteddfodau, and he is active with St. David's Society when he works part of the year in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. I once asked him: "When people ask you your nationality, do you say 'English' or 'Welsh?' He said: "I tell them that I am British." Based on the historical ethno-geography explained above, I said: "Ah... perfect answer!"

Cymru am byth (Wales forever),
-- N. Rob Willis, Board Member, Saint David's Society of Pittsburgh,
Incorporated.

My reply to Robert Willis

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your lengthy and erudite exposition of the origins of the Britons and the Gaels. I accept all you say regarding the history and etymology of the peoples of Britain. I would like to clarify my stance on the following paragraph however :

"You say that one is either Welsh or British; you say you cannot be both. In terms of history & etymology, that is a most ridiculous, absurd, and nonsensical statement! If you are indeed Cymro (a Welshman), then I am most disappointed by your lack of knowledge & understanding about the ancient origins & history of your own culture."

In my article, "Hearts and Minds," I am not talking from a historical perspective. I understand the culture and history as well as you do. I made that statement because of the misconception that British applies to all the island and not specifically the Welsh/Cornish. "British" today is an anachronism and is generally identified as the English, Welsh, Scottish conglomerate, known as the Union, and it is this that we question.
Therefore, because of the public miconception in use today, we are obliged to separate "Welsh" from "British". The Welsh have lost the nomenclature of British to the establishment which does not wish to recognise a separate identity.

Hwyl fawr/Best regards,

Alan in Dyfed

2 comments:

Valleys Mam said...

Tell him to read gwyn Alfs book Alan
The brythoni and the history of Wales and the wider isles
This man sounds like a paper academic

Michael Follon said...

Alan,

I've just read the comments by Robert Willis in 'A View from America' and would like to make a few observations (I have been an active member of the Scottish National Party for over 33 years). He asks 'You say that one is either a Unionist, or a Nationalist. Is it really just that simple; is it that black or white?'. The answer to that question is quite simply 'YES'. He also asks 'Have you never heard of concepts such as devolution or decentralization?' - so what's the name of the process that established the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the Assembly in Northern Ireland. There were also referenda in Scotland and Wales on devolution in 1978. With regard to the European Union versus the British Union (particularly in terms of Scottish history) the British Union was established despite the views of the people of Scotland (there were widespread riots throughout Scotland when the Treaty of Union of 1707 was agreed) whereas continued membership of the European Union would be subject to the consent of the people. A few years ago a Scotsman passing through immigration on entering the United States had to say that he was British to satisfy the immigration officer when he would have preferred to say that he was Scottish.