Respect the Welsh language, you !&@#%!

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.

Any thoughts?


  1. Gan fod hyn yn Saesneg...

    I was one of the howling pack, though I think I stopped short of outright abuse. I was just bored, in the pub, on my own, and was glad of the distraction from the piss-head playing bad music on the jukebox. Not particularly proud of that, but I think we need to keep a sense of perspective about this stuff: if you don't want to deal with the offended hordes, it's easy enough to avoid offending hordes. If you don't want people to think you're an idiot, try to avoid to saying idiotic things on public forums.

    Having said that, I don't think this was as big a deal for the girl who set off this particular squib as it seemed to be for the hand-wringiest parts of the twitfyd Cymraeg; she was out on the town, hopefully having having fun with her friends, while we "over-reacted" like trees falling in a blissfully unoccupied forest. As far as I remember, she didn't respond at all that evening, and the first thing she did in the morning was delete the offending tweet, apologise, and expeess surprise that so many people had been OUTRAGED at her silly comment. Fair enough, dwedwn i. Not the end of the world.

    Sorry, here we are again, I'm drunk in charge of an iphone of Saturday evening. At least I haven't called anyone an idiot this time.

  2. So as Chris Bryant says we should be triumphantly insouciant about such attacks on our culture and our language?

    Sorry Ifan - but I don't see why we should quietly accept such insults!

  3. Alwyn, I never said we should quietly accept any insults. Just respond to them in an inoffensive manner. That's far more likely to convince people that the Welsh language is alive and well than throwing insults.

    After all, we can't ask people to respect the Welsh language, while showing a total lack of respect towards them.

  4. Im one of the many Welsh people who missed our on the chance to speak Welsh as a child and am trying to rectify this by learning the language and sending my children to a Welsh medium school. Mae'n bwysig iawn i mi. I have come up against the same attitudes from people in England, namely that its a "waste of time" as "noone" speaks Welsh. It angers me but I see the best way to react is with dignity and dismiss such ignorant remarks which are borne out of sheer ignorance and maybe some jealousy. We know our language is precious. If ignorant fools don't then we should just pity them.

  5. Any dispute which makes Welsh-speakers more determined to speak or learn our language is a good thing. In general we are far too passive and timid.

  6. "In general we are far too passive and timid."

    I agree but what is needed is a sustained effort to educate people about the Welsh language rather than an angry response to individual remarks. We're dealing here with misconceptions that have lingered since the 16th and 17th centuries when the government made a sustained effort to kill of the Welsh language by portraying it as a lesser, barbarous tongue and English as the language of prosperity and advancement. The political attitude towards Welsh may have changed but unfortunately the old attitudes have festered on. The general view amongst non-Welsh speakers towards the language is generally negative, especially outside of Wales. The question is how we change that without resorting to name-calling.

  7. "Pick your battles". Most people on Twitter are not influential people or opinion-formers. They are mostly ordinary people with their own set of prejudices and views.

    Technology makes it easy to search for certain keywords and then jump on random individuals to complain about their view (or harass them). That way madness lies. You have no information about their background, knowledge, intelligence, sobriety or mental state.

    We should challenge ignorant views if they actually have some influence on a wider audience, not if they are some random Twitter user with a hundred followers. You could do the latter every day and go slowly mad.

    Of course, we can't stop every idiot on 'our' side from responding abusively either so if an individual does get 'mobbed' then it would make sense for the sensible people to kindly explain the error of their ways.

  8. Saxon reply? Germanic idiots? Just who is the thicko opining on subjects he doesn't understand? Because of course everybody that speaks English is Germanic. I have the good fortune to be English. My family is from Ireland. And India.

  9. Sorry for contributing rather late - I was just browsing through your old posts. Difyr iawn!

    I agree that any responses to these kinds of comments about our language should be well formed arguments aiming to educate, rather than abuse just for the sake of it but every now and again you meet someone who feels obliged to voice their opinion (often negative, or at least questioning the reaon behind the existance of) about the Welsh language and/or the people who speak it.

    Its tedious to have to defend something that shouldn't be questioned or doubted in the first place, which is why I partly agree with Selfel in that it is foolishness to publish an opinion about something that has nothing to do with you.

  10. The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.


  11. Just found this blog....diolch.

    As an incomer (refugee really), from what I've read here it's understandable that people were outraged.

    My experience of Welsh people is in itself an education to me as to how others should live their lives.

    Compassion, understanding, tolerance, dignity and above all...patience.

    You are a wonderful people with an amazing history. I feel so privalaged to be living here.

    The patience shown to me by native speakers whilst my daughter & myself learn your language has been amazing.

    I would suggest that the origional tweeter learns a few basic words if she chooses to come on holiday again... a few words are not that difficult.

    But I should say that having been brought up in Engirland (Scottish by birth), the general attitude towards the Welsh language is fairly well summed up in that tweet. It always has and always will, disust me.

    I would suggest, that you stop being quite so nice. Stand by your language...even liitle things like saying diolch, bore da and such. Whilst it is amazing that most Welsh speakers accomodate the English speaking incomers, a few words here and there would still make them feel welcome yet at the same time instill a sense of necessity to learn the language.

    And while I'm here...

    BBC Wales news is spoken in Engirlish...why? Why not have it spoken in Welsh with Engirlish subtitles?

    A few minor changes I feel, would have huge benefits not just to the attitude of incomers/holiday makers, but go a long way towards the way the language is percieved by our children.




Post a Comment