Contradictory arguments against the Welsh language show that the game is rigged

Evan Davis on Newsnight. Picture by BBC


Dylan Llŷr

Anyone who’s ever manned the barricades against attacks on the Welsh language will have noticed that the arguments against it are often contradictory.

This is because the game is rigged. It’s designed so that we can’t win.

The most common hostile claim is probably that the language is ‘useless’. There’s no point in speaking it, much less learning it, because it’s allegedly of so little practical value.

This argument is usually accompanied by the claim that Welsh is ill-equipped to deal with the modern world, as we supposedly struggle to come up with new words for the latest fancy gadgets and ideas.

These claims are false, obviously, but that’s not the point here. Rather, it’s that we also face complaints – often by the very same people who just argued the above – that Wales is run by a Welsh-speaking ‘crachach’ or ‘Taffia’ that saves the best jobs for those who are fluent in the secret code.

That isn’t true either, of course, but it’s also completely inconsistent with the previous idea that Welsh is pointless and primitive. After all, it’s hard to think of a more useful and relevant thing you could do with a language than run a country in it.

It’s common for defenders of the language to have to argue back on contradictory fronts like this. Another example is having to respond both to the claim that we can ‘all speak English anyway’ and also that teaching kids Welsh somehow harms their English.

These claims reveal that those making them are being disingenuous.

Imagine, in the first instance, that, for whatever reason, we could not, in fact, speak English. Would they then abandon their hostile position?  Of course not.

They would simply move the goalposts and deem such a scenario an educational emergency, blamed, naturally, on our persistence with Welsh at the expense of English.

Likewise, when we explain that Welsh-speakers’ English is just as good as that of the English themselves, they can simply pivot back to the ‘you all speak English anyway’ canard.

Our response to Argument A is countered with Argument B. Meanwhile, our response to Argument B is countered with Argument A. Heads they win; tails we lose.

It’s a loop, designed to be unsolvable, and shows that you can’t debate when the other side is insincere.

Already decided

Personally, I suspect that many young Welsh-speakers actually overstate how uncomfortable they feel using English instead of Welsh, because they want to show the pragmatic case for policies to protect the language.

The truth is that our English is perfectly fine, and usually much better than Julian Ruck’s (mine certainly is). It’s ridiculous that we should feel we’re undermining our own justification for existing by saying so.

The rigged system is even at work when the topic is something relatively straightforward like the numbers of Welsh-speakers.

On the one hand, if we point to more positive interpretations of the statistics to say that Welsh is quite healthy, then why does the language need help at all?

On the other hand, when we acknowledge that the trends are worrying and that the language is under threat, that just shows it’s dying anyway so, again, what’s the point?

The thing to remember is that these people have already decided that they’d prefer a world in which Welsh didn’t exist. All that follows is post hoc rationalising. They’ll use whatever argument is convenient at any given moment.

This is not to say that arguing back is pointless. It needs to be done, especially after last week’s Newsnight debacle showed the extent of the genuine ignorance about us.

If someone is using all of these arguments simultaneously, we can be quite sure that they’re just bigots who can’t be swayed. But there’s a good chance that there are other people reading who can be.

We should reject the very premises of these arguments. The aim should be to show precisely how rigged the game truly is.

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