The following exchange took place between myself, Mr Martin Ivens and Mr Stephen Bleach of The Sunday Times in response to a poll conducted by The Sunday Times on Twitter as to whether the Welsh language should maintain its official status in Wales.
21st January 2019
Annwyl/Dear Mr Ivens
I write with regard to a poll conducted by your newspaper concerning whether the Welsh language should be taught in Welsh schools, and with regard to the history of the relationship between our two nations, and your newspaper’s role in it.
In 1847, the member for Coventry addressed the UK parliament on the subject of the Welsh language, calling for the UK government to adopt a policy of deliberate language extermination and the forceful assimilation of the Welsh people into English culture. The justification for this proposal was the racism that, as John Davies argues in his magisterial History of Wales, was commonplace in Europe at the time, and the belief that the Welsh workforce, once deracinated, would be more compliant in the English exploitation of their labour and natural resources – the same mixture of racism and greed that, as Michael Hechter argues in his book, Internal Colonialism, defines England’s treatment of its Celtic colonies. The chosen method of achieving this linguicide was the enforcement of the English language as the medium of education in Welsh schools, at a time when the vast majority of the population of Wales were literate, comparatively well-educated monoglot Welsh-speakers.
The result of this policy and the values that inspired it was the rapid depletion of Welsh natural resources at the expense of economic investment and development; the creation of a generation across much of Wales which could neither access its own cultural heritage nor pass that heritage onto its children, who yet remained unable to participate on equal terms in the English culture that replaced it; and a deep and abiding mistrust and contempt, effectively racist in attitude and expression, towards Welsh-language communities and individual Welsh speakers. England’s first colony was left economically impoverished, culturally wounded, and socially and politically divided against itself. In addition to this, individual children were scarred by the practice of treating the use of the Welsh language in schools as an infraction to be punished with the cane, leaving them psychologically unable to pass their language or culture to their children, or treat it with respect.
Welsh language activists, Welsh political activists, Welsh writers, artists and scholars, Welsh professionals and political leaders have in many cases devoted their lives to the healing of Wales as a bilingual society in which both languages are nurtured and cherished, and both language communities are treated with respect. With the support of the vast majority of the people of Wales, we seek to perpetuate the language for the future, and to bring about a society in which every child will be able to access the cultural heritage and enjoy the economic opportunities of both Welsh and English. I am sorry that your newspaper prefers to attack this vision in pettiness and vanity than to learn from the humanity and dignity of my nation’s response to exploitation and persecution, and that your newspaper’s colonial and racist assumptions have changed so little over the 172 years in which such attitudes have become unacceptable. I can only suggest that you offer your deepest and most thoughtful public apology to me and to the people of Wales, and that you begin an examination among the staff at your paper at its morally repugnant treatment of the Welsh language and the Welsh nation.
Yr eiddoch yn gywir / Yours sincerely
Dr Rob Mimpriss
B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Member, the Welsh Academy
31st January 2019
Dear Dr Mimpriss
Thank you for your letter to Martin lvens, which has been passed on to me for reply. I am sorry you were disappointed by the tweet from our Twitter account, but your assertion that The Sunday Times has a “colonial and racist” attitude to the Welsh language suggests you have not read-the relevant article.
The tweet was posted by our social media team after publication of the paper on January 20, to reﬂect and respond to a lively debate from our readers in the comments section under our interview with Eve Myles. That interview was headlined, “Eve Myles keeps faith with the Welsh language”. The sub-heading read “Actress who starred in last year’s S4C hit drama reveals pride in being an inspiration for others to learn their native tongue”. The first paragraph of the article read “The actress who learnt Welsh in four months to star in the nation’s hit television drama of last year feels proud that she may have inspired others to help ‘keep the beautiful language alive’”.
Surely it seems unlikely that a newspaper intent on attacking the Welsh language would write about it in such glowing terms?
Our Twitter poll merely posed a question rather than making an assertion. We certainly regret that some people have been offended by that question, and on reflection, it could have been framed a good deal better: but I hope that, given the context of the article from which it sprang, you will see that the intent was to inspire debate rather than espouse a view ourselves.
Thanks again for your response. We are always mindful of the views of our readers. Your comments will be relayed to our social media team, and I know they will hear them in mind for the future.
4th February 2019
Dear Stephen Bleach
I write with regard to my letter to Mr Martin Ivens concerning linguistic and educational policy in Wales, and I thank you for your reply of 31st January.
You are quite correct that I was unaware that your paper had published an interview with Eve Myles, that Eve Myles had referred to her feelings concerning the Welsh language, or that this article had inspired ‘lively debate,’ as you put it, in the comments section of your newspaper. I have, however, endured other ‘debates’ as to whether the Welsh language is a language; as to whether it should be taught in schools in the country where it is indigenous; as to whether it is inferior to the English language; as to whether the Welsh people are inferior to the English people; as to whether we are inbred; as to whether we are lazy; as to whether we are ignorant; as to whether we are stupid. A Twitter poll by the Sunday Times, conducted in ignorance of Welsh language, Welsh culture, Welsh history or literature, or even Welsh public life, could not contribute any knowledge or understanding to the cultural crisis in which we have been placed by our neighbours’ exploitation of and interference in our country; neither would such a poll have been considered with regard to the language of any nation which your newspaper’s staff and readers did not regard themselves as entitled to control. The Welsh-language ‘debate’ does not deserve a moment more of your newspaper’s time than the creation/evolution ‘controversy’ or the Jewish ‘question’ which once gripped Europe. To pretend otherwise can only give authorisation and encouragement to those whose views on Welsh governance prove, with little examination, to arise from racism, and to the rudeness and abuse of the kind which are meted out to Welsh-speakers online and in person.
I must therefore reiterate that your poll was utterly inappropriate, and that it requires a deep re-examination of your corporate attitude to Welsh affairs. I must also recommend that you read not only those books on Welsh and British history which I mention in my previous letter, but also the editorial published in The Times on 8th September 1866: a diatribe so openly hateful of Wales that it is widely quoted by historians and studied by schoolchildren as an example of philistinism and cultural intolerance. Such studies are necessary for you to understand the anger and pain which your newspaper’s poll has caused, and for which the people of Wales deserve your apology.
B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Member, The Welsh Academy