I’m going to blog in English, for once, because I’d like to see what non-Welsh speakers have to say about this matter.
About two weeks ago I witnessed a fiery exchange on Twitter, concerning the Welsh language. To cut a number of short tweets even shorter, here’s the gist: a tweeter tweets a tweet ridiculing S4C, saying something along the lines of ‘What’s the point of S4C if only three people can speak the language?’ (the original message seems to have been lost in the mists of the time). The message was re-tweeted by a Welshman, and the response was instantaneous. The Welsh language tweeters descended on the poor woman like a pack of ravenous wolves, or a shiver of sharks with the taste of blood in their nostrils. She was ripped limb from limb. One or two Welsh tweeters tried to correct her, but most just called her stupid, or worse.
About an hour later this tweeter returned and was understandably surprised at the ‘hate mail’ filling her page. She probably hadn’t put more than two seconds of thought into the tweet itself and wouldn’t even have expected a solitary reply. Anyway, she was never going to apologize after being called an idiot, and she finished with a message saying she wouldn’t be going on holiday to Wales again because all the people were so rude.
Of course, I accept that some blame must rest with the girl for saying such an ignorant thing in the first place. But to be fair, we all spout ill-thought-out nonsense on Twitter, all the time.
One feature that is characteristic of communicating on-line, be it through e-mail, twitter or some other medium, is how little thought goes into the messages. Older forms of communication required us to put some time and effort into getting our point across. As publishing has become faster and easier we’ve become far more careless with what we publish. There’s probably dozens of spelling and grammatical mistakes in this blog, which would have been rectified if I wanted to publish it in a book or (to a lesser extent) a magazine. On Twitter publishing is faster and easier than ever before. The messages are extremely short, so they can be as ambiguous as any haiku. No effort is expended on tone and nuance. The consequence is that a message that was intended to be inoffensive manages to offend someone on the other side of the interweb who interprets in a completely different way to what the author intended.
(I always find this to be a problem with e-mail, where a message that was intended to be short and to the point is often interpreted as being a sign of anger or impatience. Always use a telephone when you can!)
|Dead, according to some on Twitter|
Anyway, the message in question wasn’t very ambiguous. It was obvious she didn’t believe many people speak Welsh (only three, in fact, a holy trinity perhaps). But on Twitter people tend to write down anything that flits into their minds, as if we’re reading a ticket tape of their thoughts. There was obviously no intention here to offend. She didn’t go out of her way to publish this attack in a newspaper. It was just pure, undiluted, ignorance about the Welsh language.
And as Welsh speakers we know a lot of people think that no one speaks Welsh. So why should we react with rage when someone expresses this commonly held view? Do we think that attack is the best form of defence, and that the only way we can change such perceptions is to brow beat anyone who disagrees with us?
We must remember that we, as the lucky Welsh speakers, know a lot more about it that most people do. If our parents or grand-parents had decided that the language wasn’t worth passing on, it could well be us on Twitter, saying rude things about S4C.
(Of course a lot of Welsh speakers do say terribly rude things about S4C, but that’s another matter.)
So, let us think before we attack. I’m not saying anti-Welsh comments should not be responded to forthwith. But they should be responded to with measured language, and with facts, and well thought out arguments. Rather than just calling them idiots.