Sprechen-Sie Gymraeg?

‘A bloke goes into a pub with his girlfriend, right? This pub is in Wales so the locals all switch to speaking Welsh as soon as they hear these two speak in English. As Per. Well, he’d been in the army in Germany so he speaks German, and she has Austrian cousins so she speaks German too, so the two of them start talking to each other in German. One of the locals comes over and stands near them listening and then goes back to his friends and says in Welsh “It’s no good – I can’t understand what they are saying”. She shouts over “Well now you know what it feels like!” In Welsh.’

Not me, I’m afraid, because I don’t speak either German or Welsh, but the way the Welsh use their language as a tool of their xenophobia is legendary.

I’m all in favour of maintaining minority languages. I think it is great that there is a resurgence in Welsh, it’s fabulous that there are Welsh-speaking schools and that there is Welsh radio and Welsh TV. There are more people speaking Welsh now than there have been in umpty-ump years. It is wonderful that Welsh is becoming a living breathing language once again.

Rheolau'r Ffordd FawrWhat pisses me off is the pointed way all the road signs are bi-lingual. Let’s face it: there aren’t any Welsh monoglots. Everyone who speaks Welsh also speaks English, with the possible exception of the Patagonian Welsh. We all know that the bi-lingualism of the Welsh roadsigns is cosmetic – it is there to make a political point.

The problem is that bi-lingual roadsigns are dangerous. I would prefer roadsigns to be in Welsh than to have them in both languages. When roadsigns are in a language you don’t understand you don’t slow yourself down by trying to understand them. You make a rapid best-guess based on the pictures, what the road is doing at the time and what you know of the language, and you use the “foreign language” parts of the brain to do all of this in the time you’ve got available, and then you work bloody hard to read the road. It’s quick. You need your wits about you, but it’s quick.

When roadsigns are in two languages you have to read both sets of signage to work out which one you understand. It’s confusing. It slows down the rate you absorb the information. It is downright dangerous.

So I’m torn between my Cymriphobia, a sense of political fairness, a strong belief that multi-lingualism (any multi-lingualism) is good for peoples’ brains, an acceptance of the justice of minority rights, a disinterested delight that minority languages are resurgent in the UK, and enraged fury at the self-indulgent cultural posturing which requires a completely pointless bi-lingualism in the place where it is most dangerous to distract the reader.

So. Either Welsh or English. Not both.

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4 responses to “Sprechen-Sie Gymraeg?

  1. Yes, there are effectively no Welsh monoglots, but there is a significant number whose stronger language is Welsh. You say you are for the revitalization of minority language, but if these road signs are English only, this isn’t doing anything for the furthering of the language as those who would normally read the Welsh no longer have that available to them. And after time, that part of the language becomes dead. I agree that it can be confusing, and I think it would be wonderful if all English signs were banned, but that’s certainly not happening, so we need to stick with bilingual ones for the sake of Cymraeg.

  2. Do we though? If Welsh is so strong, then it won’t fritter away because the signs are in English, any more than English will fritter away because the signs in Welsh.

    I lived and worked in northern Europe for three or four years, but I still know that a railway station is a “railway station” not a “haltensteller” and a one way street is a “one way street” not an “einbahnweg”.

    If the signs were all in welsh, I’d still know that 100 yards was “100 yards” and not end up forgetting my English and thinking only in terms of “100 llath”.

    I’m not arguing that the signs should not be in Welsh. I am arguing that it is dangerous to have them in both languages. I’d rather they *were* in Welsh to be honest.

  3. In the above example of “100 yards / 100 llath” on road signs why not use “90 m” ?

    The lower case ‘m’ is the international symbol for metre (and metr). and is understood in any language, not just English and Welsh.

  4. Oh hey, I recognise that story 😉

    Thank you, one is blushing.

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