Saturday, August 27, 2005

Demolishing the 'Welsh speakers switching to English in the pub' myth!

There's a popular false rumour that locals only start speaking Welsh in the pub when the English turn up. Dylan Llyr from Caernarfon thinks it's time it was exposed as a myth once and for all. I hope he doesn't mind that I republish his letter to the BBC North West Wales here:

Llew DuThere are only so many times one can stomach the old 'Welsh people switching to English in the pub' myth without screaming and desperately trying to resist the urge to eat one's own head in sheer frustration. There is genuinely nothing that annoys me more than seeing otherwise intelligent people parroting this claim verbatim.

For once and for all, let it be known: it is utterly utterly false, and anyone who claims to have experienced such an event first-hand is a liar. The entire premise is flawed, for a number of reasons:

1) Why does the listener assume that they were speaking English beforehand if he's only just entered the room?

2) Perhaps they are part of a group comprised of a mix of Welsh and English speakers? When I find myself in such company, when including the English speakers in the dialogue I use English (even if it feels rather uncomfortable to speak English with Welsh friends), but if speaking merely to the Welsh speakers directly then naturally I will use Welsh.

3) Much colloquial Welsh contains a smattering of lazy English borrowings (usually when perfectly fine Welsh equivalents are available) so the listener may mishear and only realise they're actually speaking Welsh as (s)he gets closer.

4) How on earth would they know you could not speak Welsh? Do you wear a large fluorescent "English-only" sign?

Point 1 should be enough to demolish the myth on its own, but it's actually interesting since it demonstrates beautifully why the myth is so potent (and dangerous) in the first place.

The underlying assumptions behind the belief are truly sinister. Obviously there is the awful paranoia, but there is also the implication that we don't "really" use Welsh all the time ("but...but...surely they don't actually speak something other than English? There must be some sort of ulterior motive"). It perpetuates the notion that it is merely something we use to exclude 'outsiders' and as some sort of handy clique-maintenance tool.

It implies that when nobody else is around, we use English like 'normal' people, as if Welsh is only really good enough for some occasional English-baiting. It's the perfect legend for undermining an entire language, since it denies the existence and viability of Welsh as a natural and everyday way of life (and therefore eases the guilty conscience of those who destroy it) and portrays its speakers as insular and unfriendly bigots.

So there you have it, the perfect all-in-one Welsh-undermining urban legend. Jackpot, eh? Please, the next time you hear this myth from some guy at the pub, just think a little bit and consider that not only is it untrue, it DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. And that even worse, it's a cunning propaganda tool with far-reaching consequences."

From the BBC North West Wales website

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