Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Laws concerning "Yr Iaith Gymraeg"


From Councillor Gwyn Hopkins - Sir Gar

There have been five of these. A major purpose of the first two laws was to drastically downgrade the Welsh language to the point of extinction. In Wales, English was to be made indispensable and Welsh very much dispensable, indeed superfluous. The last three laws represent extremely reluctant, woefully inadequate and grudging attempts to atone for the monstrous injustices of the first two Acts.

N.B. Actual passages from the Acts are written in “italics” and are quoted verbatim.

The Acts of Union 1536/1543 (Acts of Imposed Incorporation would be a more honest description).

Although enacted by the English Parliament of Henry VIII that contained no members from Wales, these Acts are still highly relevant because they were not finally repealed until 1993 (by the Welsh Language Act of that year; Section 35, Schedule 2).

The preamble of the 1536 Act says: Some rude and ignorant people have made distinction and diversity between the King’s subjects of his realm (England) and his subjects of the said dominion and Principality of Wales.
The clear implication is that all “distinction and diversity” is to be eradicated, not least the Welsh Language.

This is re-emphasised by the following passage in the body of the Act: utterly to extirpate all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing from his realm of England.

The Act then spells out the primary, draconian provisions by which the language is to be eliminated: Also be it enacted that all justices, commissioners, sheriffs, coroners, stewards and their lieutenants, and all other officers and ministers of the law, shall proclaim and keep the sessions, courts, hundreds (divisions of counties), sheriff’s courts and all other courts in the English tongue; and all oaths of officers, juries and inquests, and all other affidavits, verdicts and wagers of law to be given and done in the English tongue; and also from henceforth no person or persons that use the Welsh language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees within this realm of England, Wales or other of the King’s dominion upon pain of forfeiting the same office or fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English speech or tongue.

One cannot imagine a better example of a colonial linguistic policy – in a country whose people were nearly all monoglot Welsh-speakers. Unfortunately these (and other) barbaric measures, together with the accompanying intense anti-Welsh language indoctrination, have given rise to a profoundly anti-Welsh language mentality in many people within successive generations of Welsh people. Faced with such intense practical and psychological pressure many people have acquiesced and “gone with the tide”, even though it was, and is, patently obvious that – unchecked – the policy would lead to the long-term demise of the language and national identity of the Welsh people, as was its intention.

Half a century later the English poet Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) expressed this colonial oppression even clearer: For it has been ever the custom of the conqueror to destroy the language of the conquered and to force him by all means to learn his (the conqueror’s) language.

Of course, this language persecution policy was just a very important means of implementing the central policy of the English government, namely that Wales be swallowed up by England, as declared by the key passage of the Act: That the King’s said country or dominion of Wales shall be, stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with his Realm of England.

Foster’s Education Act 1870 (this introduced compulsory primary education).

This gave state authorisation to the force-feeding of English to Wales’ children (most were monoglot Welsh-speakers at the time). It was an unmitigated disaster for the Welsh Language.

Prior to 1870 primary education was not compulsory but the elementary schools that existed were thoroughly anglicized. This trend was firmly cemented in 1861 when schools became financed by results – in reading and writing English, not Welsh. This measure effectively forced teachers to drastically downgrade, if not banish, the Welsh language from schools.

The 1870 Act legalised this trend by extending, throughout Wales, the network of “English” schools in which Welsh was outlawed on pain of physical punishment. To enforce anglicization the notorious “Welsh Not” was introduced. This was a piece of wood attached to a circular string and children were exhorted to betray one another by reporting anyone caught speaking Welsh to the teacher who would then hang the “Welsh Not” around the neck of the “offender”. The child possessing it at the end of the day was then punished physically. Thus children were mocked, scorned and punished not for any wrongdoing but for speaking their mother tongue – often their only language!
This disgusting and disgraceful persecution of children, and the policy that made the Welsh language an outcast in its own country, lasted for the best part of 30 years. The enactment and uncivilized implementation of the Act had the appalling – and intended - effect of further poisoning the minds of many Welsh children and adults against the language, reinforcing the damage already wreaked by the 1536 Act. This produced widespread indifference and often hostility towards the language that has only abated, to some extent, in recent times. Even amongst those who have - against all the odds - retained the language, the totally anglicized educational system imposed upon them has ensured that a very substantial proportion are, although quite fluent speakers, barely semi-literate in Welsh.
Unfortunately, as a result of this intense, anti-Welsh language indoctrination, all too many of these have compounded the problem of ensuring the survival of Welsh by refusing to pass the language on to their children, thus largely depriving their offspring of the linguistic and cultural heritage of their own country.
The diabolical legacy of the 1870 Act endures and is very much alive within the educational system in Wales today.

Welsh Courts Act (1942).

This was the first chink made in the armour of the linguistic provisions of the Acts of Union. Of course, the vast majority of the provisions - essentially banning Welsh from public life - remained.
The Act merely gave legal validity to the use of Welsh in court proceedings and allowed evidence to be given in Welsh. Prior to this Act accused people whose only language was Welsh were compelled to pay for a court translator.
At this juncture it is worth recalling the bold, ground-breaking part played by Trefor and Eileen Beasley back in 1953 in challenging the totally unjust linguistic status quo. They were fearless enough to demand a rates bill in Welsh from Llanelli Rural Council – a revolutionary act at the time, when the cursed, barbaric, anti-Welsh language provisions of the Act of Union (1536) were still in force. As a result these trailblazers – natives of Llangennech and living there at the time - were summoned to appear before Llanelli Magistrates Court no fewer than 11 times during the period 1953 – 1961. They were consistently found guilty of refusing to pay the rates (until they received the rates demand in Welsh) and fined. As they refused to pay the fines the bailiffs removed all the furniture from their house on three occasions. They suffered much contempt and derision at the time. However, they finally triumphed and received their rates demand in Welsh. Trefor has passed away but Eileen is still with us and lives near Whitland.

The Welsh Language Act (1967).

Although better than nothing, this measly two-page sop gave Welsh equal validity – though certainly not equal status – with English, but only in an extremely limited set of circumstances. Section 1 of the Act states: In any legal proceedings in Wales the Welsh language may be spoken by any party, witness or other person who desires to use it.
Section 2 of the Act says: Where any enactment specifies the form of any document used for an official or public purpose, the appropriate Minister MAY by order prescribe a version of the document in Welsh or partly in Welsh and partly in English.
This, of course, allowed the appropriate Minister to do as he/she liked. Section 3(1) states: Anything done in Welsh in a version authorised by the appropriate Minister shall have the like effect as if done in English. However to reassure those who feared that the Act would cause the imperial language to relinquish any of its superior, totally dominant, status, Section 3 (2) (a) says: provided that in the case of any discrepancy between an English and a Welsh text the English text shall prevail. Welsh speakers had to be left in no doubt of their continued subordinate and inferior status.

The Welsh Language Act (1993).

Its preamble says: An Act to establish a Board (the Welsh Language Board) having the function of promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language, to provide for the preparation by public bodies of schemes giving effect to the principle that in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on the basis of equality.

As it applies only to public bodies, private and voluntary bodies can continue to totally ignore the Welsh language. Many do. Also ”basis of equality” – qualified, as it is in the Act, by any action having to be “reasonable and practical” - is a significantly watered-down version of “actual equality” let alone “equal status”. Indeed, this is effectively a cop-out.
To address this issue – which is essentially a matter of human rights - a new and much more comprehensive Welsh Language Act needs to be formulated aimed at ending all discrimination against Welsh-speakers by giving them exactly the same linguistic rights as non-Welsh speakers enjoy. If, and when, that occurs a Welsh language Act will be unnecessary – after all there is no need for an English language Act in Wales.

GWYN HOPKINS 21/7/2006 (Updated 10/2/2008)


Broadly speaking three linguistic categories of people exist in Wales today: (i) non-Welsh speakers, (ii) Welsh-speakers who tend to favour the English language particularly when communicating with officialdom, often – and understandably - because they are a lot more literate in English than in Welsh, (iii) Welsh-speakers whose loyalty is to the Welsh language and who favour its use and use it in all possible circumstances. Members of the first category enjoy the privilege of conducting the whole of their lives entirely and unhindered through the medium of English. The second category also face no difficulty whatever in choice of language, using English in official circumstances and Welsh socially, if they so wish. Members of the third category are very much the poor relations and linguistically down-trodden second class citizens, for in present circumstances - in large measure engineered by the first two of the above Acts - it is completely impossible for them to conduct anywhere near the whole of their lives through the medium of Welsh. Discrimination militating against this abounds at every corner throughout their lives – a constant reminder of the grossly inferior status of their language. The sooner the better both the Westminster and National Assembly governments seriously address this obvious, continuing and major discrimination; for no objective, fair-minded, impartial individual - nor any civilised society- could possibly condone the status quo.

The fight continues for the rights of the people of Wales to use their own native language in all situations without discrimination in their own land, and for sections of their own people to recognise the importance of Welsh for maintenance of national cohesion and identity. We await a new Welsh Language Act and encourage all Welsh citizens and immigrants to become fluent in the language so that it becomes the lingua franca of all.
Alan in Dyfed


Anonymous said...

Why do you have to use an image of a dead soldier with the Union flag in order to peddle your wares?

There are many Welsh soldiers who have died for that flag and you simply insult their memory with your flagrant disrespect.

You really should be ashamed of yourself.

alanindyfed said...

Symbolic my friend!

It symbolises the death of the British state. I intend no disrespect.

alanindyfed said...

Symbolic my friend!

It symbolises the death of the British state. I intend no disrespect.

Anonymous said...

Kindly remove the offensive image and use some other more appropriate symbolism.

This particular image has caused offence and, given your previous description of Welsh soldiers as mercenaries, merely compounds this offence.

Notwithstanding your intentions, noble as they may be, you have shown disrespect and I ask you to please remove the image in order to avoid further disrespect and offence.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your prompt attention.