Nurture Our Language or Risk Its Untimely Death; Mario Basini

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 27, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Nurture Our Language or Risk Its Untimely Death; Mario Basini


IF the ability to face up to those issues which divide it most painfully is the sign of a nation's growth then Wales must be well on the way to maturity.

The debate about the Welsh language and its place in defining our nationality may have begun as a spin-off to the argument about English incomers, but it has rapidly gained a momentum that has generated more heat than the original question.

Almost from the start there have been those among Welsh-born English language speakers who have chosen to interpret Welsh speakers' concern over the increasing numbers of English incomers and their effect on Welsh as an attack on themselves and their own community.

They have frequently reacted with an anger bordering on fury.

This week, their temper has not been improved by statements from a respected member of their own community, Professor Harold Carter, the retired head of Geography at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Professor Carter said after he had given evidence to the culture committee of the National Assembly that in his view "you cannot be Welsh unless you speak Welsh".

Throughout a highly successful academic career Professor Carter has contributed a great deal to modern Wales.

In particular, he has been assiduous in chronicling the fate of the Welsh language in the recent past. But in this case I believe he is wrong.

It is perhaps an understandable habit among Welsh speakers to assume that English has slackened the grip Welsh exerted on the population only in the past 100 years or so.

But as influential writers in English like the poets Raymond Garlick and Roland Mathias have shown, an English language literature indigenous to Wales has existed for most of the past 1,000 years.

It is a literature which has been shaped and influenced by geography as well as by a knowledge of the history and literature of Welsh-speaking Wales. As such, it has been very different to anything written across the English border.

By the 20th Century the English spoken and written in South Wales had not only become the language through which much of a dynamic industrial culture expressed itself.

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