Friday, 23 July 2010

Something for the Weekend: Plaid MEP, Jill Evans heralds Historic day for Welsh language in the European Parliament (From Western Telegraph)

The language of heaven is finally accepted in the European Parliament as Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales) MEP Jill Evans delivers a seminar on language policy in her native tongue. Mrs Evans insists that the EU could develop a better relationship with its citizens by using the languages people actually speak.

"Currently Welsh enjoys a semi-official status after a long hard campaign. It is now my goal to use this historic day to push for Welsh to be a fully recognised EU language" she said.

The EU translates documents and speeches into 23 “official languages.” At its inception the official languages of the EU were Dutch, French, German and Italian but as it has grown more languages have been included, such as Danish, English and Irish (added 1973), Greek (1981), Portuguese and Spanish (1986) and Finnish and Swedish (1995).

The first thing that often comes to people’s minds when the subject is raised is the cost and, of course, this has to be a consideration. The argument is often put that most people speak English, certainly everyone in Wales does, so what exactly is the point? The argument is made that if we stick with a few languages that most people speak then why go to such trouble and expense just to please people?

“Just the Facts Ma’am”

This famous line attributed (incorrectly) to Sgt. Joe Friday of the Dragnet police drama perhaps epitomises the spirit of a world that puts a high premium on data,  facts and efficiency, a world imprisoned by literalistic ways of thinking. In such a world the ability to convey “just the facts” seems paramount. But he world is about a lot more than simple facts, and language conveys more than facts, it conveys culture, heritage, custom and creates identity and belonging. As the Welsh anthem has it:

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.

(Cytgan - Chorus)

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

Don’t try it at home, you’ll only hurt yourself. The following is one translation of the whole song:

The land of my fathers is dear to me,
Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free;
Its warring defenders so gallant and brave,
For freedom their life's blood they gave.

Home, home, true am I to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.

Old land of the mountains, the Eden of bards,
Each gorge and each valley a loveliness guards;
Through love of my country, charmed voices will be
Its streams, and its rivers, to me.

Though foemen have trampled my land 'neath their feet,
The language of Cambria still knows no retreat;
The muse is not vanquished by traitor's fell hand,
Nor silenced the harp of my land.

Who Are You?

What is the harp, the bard, Eisteddfodau (Welsh cultural festival), valley and mountain, choir and chapel, coal mine and slate quarry, Welsh Rugby, Welsh history and politics to one not Welsh? In the same way, each culture claims its own distinguishing features, its foods and customs, its traditions and festivals, its habits of mind and action and its language in which all these are expressed in a way not entirely possible in translation.

This is important, not just because the culture, heritage and identity of 611,000 Welsh speakers in Wales are represented in the European Parliament but because if we don’t know who we are, don’t have a clear idea of our identity we risk losing it.

Civitas is the Institute for the Study of Civil Society and in a recent report claimed that new hate crime legislation is preventing free speech and singling out alleged crimes by white Christians. A foreword to its report ‘A New Inquisition: religious persecution in Britain today’ argues that prosecutors and police are interpreting laws in favour of ethnic and religious minorities.  The report calls for a public enquiry into whether religion-based groups in the criminal justice system are driving a campaign of bias against the majority population defined as ‘white’ or ‘Christian’.

In a week when the despicable Nick Griffin was barred at the last minute from a Buckingham Palace official party and is making capital of the fact, complaining on the basis that he represents 1million voters in the UK, it is well to remember that if the majority population feels under attack the fault lies as much with ourselves as anyone. If we see richness and colour in others’ cultures but not our own, if we are unsure about our place as a people in the market of world cultures and if we too easily concede to others who have strong cultural identities then it lies with us to stop blaming those others, rediscover who we are and be proud of our heritage and values. Maybe this weekend we could think about who we are and what it really means to us.

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