Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Tory MEP says Ireland not Speaking Irish a good thing: My Response.

The other day, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, while writing about Northern Ireland and the Irish Language dispute in the Daily Telegraph, appears to have argued that it was a good thing that the Irish Language revival movement in the Republic of Ireland had been a failure.  Here is what he said:

"Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.

Readers in Great Britain might struggle to understand why the parties in Northern Ireland have fallen out over an issue as abstruse as the status of Irish – a language spoken at home by less than a quarter of one per cent of the population."

To be fair to him though, he did go on to describe it as ‘that beautiful tongue’ but all while arguing how useless and pointless he thinks it is, and of course, as expressed in paragraph one, he is thankful that Ireland does not speak its native tongue. 

Now, I happen to agree with Daniel Hannan on a lot other issues – on maintaining a strong private sector and economic liberalisation, on decentralisation and proportional representation.  However, his recent comments on the Irish Language are, to me, just so outrageous that I feel compelled to write in opposition to them.

Would an Irish-speaking Ireland have really been such a disaster?

What Daniel Hannan seemed to be arguing therefore, was that speaking English as your sole mother tongue was a prerequisite for success in the 21st century.

True? Of course not - of the 10 richest countries in the world by nominal GDP Per Capita in 2017, as listed by the IMF, only three, Ireland, Australia and the US, had more than half their inhabitants speak English as their first language.  The other seven are all content with merely speaking it as their second language, and in Luxembourg and Switzerland’s case – as their fourth or fifth language, perhaps. 
An Irish-speaking Ireland (with English merely as its second language) would therefore not have to be a single cent poorer than the Anglophone Ireland that we know in our timeline – Daniel Hannan was talking nonsense.
However, the word ‘nonsense’ is perhaps being too kind - for that kind of talk is certainly not the nonsense of the cute and cuddly variety that you’d expect a baby to speak – but rather the signs of an attitude that has the potential to offend the billions of people who aren’t native English-speakers and embarrass the hundreds of millions of us who are. 

That attitude, which believes that due to English being the preeminent international Lingua Franca, all other languages are therefore a waste of space and should be liquidated, is one that I have come across unfortunately all too often. 

When I was on a Baltic tour with some Uni friends, we came across this thuggish American tourist in Latvia who was telling the locals around him in a café to stop speaking Latvian in his presence because English was the language that everyone was 'supposed to speak' while in Welsh-speaking Wales, you’ve had English tourists and incomers telling locals to stop speaking Welsh to each other in public.

Likewise, when I was at an Anglo German wedding  back in 2014, I met someone who said that the fact that ‘everyone speaks English’ meant that German was ‘useless,’ while in 2016, BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman made similar remarks about French.

I however, should have expected better from Daniel Hannan.  He himself speaks French and Spanish,  and so surely he, in spite of his Anglo-British nationalism, ought to believe that having other languages on this planet is no bad thing. 

PS: Just for the record, I happen to myself be an English teacher as well as a language enthusiast who has learnt French and Welsh and is learning Chinese.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Some Good Welsh Language News that the Press just isn't Reporting

Anyone who reads one of Wales’s main daily newspapers, such as the Western Mail, the Wales Online, or the Daily Post will be well aware of the many controversies affecting the Welsh Language, such as the Llanegennech school dispute, Gwynedd’s Local Development Plan and rows over Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, as well as numerous crises, such as Anglesey council not finding enough bilingual staff. 

But will they be aware that there is actually some good news about the Welsh Language too?

Some Good Welsh Language News
You may be surprised to learn this, but the following is completely true:
·      In the towns of Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog, the percentages of primary school children speaking Welsh at home increased between 2013 and 2017, from 75.6% to 78.7% in Caernarfon, and, from 73.3% to 77.0% in Blaenau, and in both towns, overall pupil numbers also went up.

·      In Llangefni, the county town of Anglesey, the number of children speaking Welsh at home increased from 309 to 337, although in percentage terms, the increase was small – from 72.0% to 72.2%.
·       Overall, on Anglesey, of the 25 primary schools which had a Welsh-at-home majority either in 2013 or in 2017, 15 saw an increase in their percentages speaking Welsh at home.
·       Similar news from some places in Gwynedd, such as the villages of Llandwrog and Waunfawr.  In the PS in Waunfawr, children speaking Welsh at Home rose from 66 out of 98 pupils in 2010 to 78 out of 100 pupils in 2017.  This was mirrored by an increase in the percentage of people able to speak Welsh in that village between the Censuses of 2001 and 2011.
·      Some weaker areas also saw some good news:  In Dolgellau, the percentage of PS children speaking Welsh at home increased from 27% in 2010 to 30% in 2013, and to 32% in 2017.
·      Moving on to Welsh as a second language, as of February 2018, there are 939 thousand learners of Welsh on the online app Duolinguo, more than the number of English-speakers learning either Romanian, Hungarian, Czech, or Swahili, and nearly as many as the numbers learning Chinese!

Welsh with nearly as many learners on Duolingo as Chinese,
as of February 2018.                                                               
Not bad for a language that’s supposed to be dying.  

Sadly though, you won’t see any of these news stories in Wales’s main newspapers.  In fact, when I emailed both the Wales Online and the North Wales Daily Post in November 2017, about the good news from Anglesey, only the Daily Post sent a reply, and as far as I am aware, neither newspaper provided any coverage of it.  If I am wrong then please let me know!

Certainly, the coverage that the Welsh Language is getting at the moment is making anti-Welsh language campaigners like Jack Protiques very happy.  You only have to look at the comment section of any such article to see what I mean.
One of the two emails that I sent to the two     
respective Newspapers.  The word Anglesey
is highlighted due to that being the word I keyed
into my email search bar.                               

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Happy Chinese New Year 新年快乐

The year of the Rooster has come to an end – the new year is the year of the Goat.  I therefore wish my readers a very Happy Chinese New Year, or as they say in Mandarin, 新年快 - xīn nián kuài lè!

For me, my new years’ resolutions are the same as they were for Western New Year, to live life to the full here in China, to immerse myself in Chinese Culture, to learn as much Mandarin as possible and to be a good teacher. 

The first month and a bit has been such an enjoyable experience here in China, as has meeting my new work colleagues, and dare I say it, getting tipsy with them over dinner sometimes, and of course, experiencing a new culture that is so different from my own. 

China has got to be the least Western country that I have ever been to, and of all the countries outside of Europe on that list, China, Turkey and Ethiopia are the only three to have never been colonised by a European power for any appreciable amount of time and this naturally makes China much more different from Europe, than say, Guatemala or the USA. 

Naturally, there are a lot of differences between China and my own country.  The Language barrier certainly is a challenge and there are times when I have not known what people were trying to say and had to apologise and just be at a loss, and other times when I feel proud to have been able to understand and communicate successfully in my mandarin. 

Of course, there are many social conventions which are different, and others which are more the same.  Certainly, I have found the people to be often very friendly, with some initiating conversation with me and even offering me certain things.   

Having stayed in Nanjing since I arrived in China on the 8th of January, I have now booked a day-trip for the 19th to the city of Suzhou, located between Nanjing and Shanghai.  

Suzhou, often nicknamed as the ‘Venice of the East’ is well known it’s canals, gardens, temples and pagodas, many of which date back to the Song dynasty, that which predated the Mongol invasion, and beyond.  How lucky that I happen to be so close to it.

And talking of lucky, I would also like to thank my family for posting my new posting my new blog articles online while I have been in China.  谢谢

And for the rest of you,
Happy Chinese New Year.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Why I became a Welsh Nationalist

After I wrote the article in Nation.Cymru advocating that Plaid Cymru should tune down on the Republicanism, it seems that more than a few commentators wondered what I was doing in the Welsh nationalist movement at all.  I am after all, very much a Sais – I’m London born and bred, and yes, when it comes to Republicanism, I don’t see it in Plaid’s best interest to have that as a core policy.  So why am I a Welsh nationalist?

For the simple reason that having lived in Wales before for three years, it quickly became obvious to me that she was getting a rotten deal and that her current situation wasn’t exactly serving her well.  And let’s face it – it’s not: you only have to compare Wales’s GDP per Capita to those of other countries in Europe to wonder what the hell is going on. 

Wales’s GDP per Capita is only about 70% of that of Slovenia (a country smaller than Wales and with higher mountains), and about a third of that of Ireland, her western neighbour.  Wales was also practically the only place in North Western Europe where, in 2015, the GDP Per Capita in PPS terms was less than €20,000.   

Wales ought not to be an underdeveloped place on the periphery of anywhere – she is at the centre of the British Isles and surrounded by richer neighbours on both sides.  Yet successive government policy in Westminster for decades has been to under-fund Wales compared to Scotland and Northern Ireland and to neglect her infrastructure while using her as a dumping ground for things that the locals haven’t wanted – like military bases in scenic countryside and reservoirs that have flooded villages; and now super prisons and toxic waste.

Let’s face it – if any other European country, a political party had governed that country as badly as the UK has managed Wales, then that party would be swiftly voted out of office.

And then there’s of course the language.  Before I came to Wales in 2014, many in London told me that on no account should I ‘waste my time’ trying to learn Welsh.  I instinctively took a different view – that when in Rome, I should do as the Romans.  And just because the Welsh Language has suffered a great injustice and been weakened by that injustice does not mean that we incomers should continue to do it injustice by not learning it when moving to the Fro Gymraeg – on the contrary.

The Welsh language has been one of the saddest casualties of Welsh membership of the United Kingdom – of all the independent nations of Europe, in only two, Ireland and Belarus, is the indigenous language no longer the majority language – and in both cases it was brought about by foreign occupation and not local democracy. 

As part of the UK, it seems that Wales, Ireland, and Scotland have had to sacrifice their indigenous languages in exchange for membership, while England seems to have gotten away with not sacrificing hers.  Funny that.  Integration and assimilation within the United Kingdom has been very one-way, don’t you think?

My article in Nation.Cymru
And it’s not just language, it’s also other people’s awareness of your very existence -  many people in other countries think that Wales is just another province of England, and that the Welsh people are Anglo-Saxon, with similar ideas about Scotland and even the Republic of Ireland.  A Union of Equals? You tell me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved it if the United Kingdom had been one-big-happy-family with all the different languages and cultures thriving and equal, like in say, Switzerland or India.  But unfortunately, that isn’t how it’s worked out. 

Now, I appreciate that with greater language rights and then devolution, the United Kingdom has reformed itself greatly, and is much more like a happy family than ever before, however a lot also hasn’t changed, like, for example, the ‘dumping ground’ attitude towards Wales, and the neglect of her infrastructure, and the subsequent inter-regional inequality that still plagues these islands. 

So that, my readers, is why I am a Welsh nationalist – for the simple reason that I know that Wales deserves better.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Irish were Right to Vote for their Independence 100 Years ago

It is now 2018, and 2018 is the centenary year of when the Irish people opted for their own independence in the General Election of December, 1918.

That election, the first British election in which all men, and any women at all, had the right to vote, saw Sinn Fein win 73 out of Ireland's 105 seats at Westminster.

The elected SF politicians, acting on their manifesto promise, created their own Irish Parliament, rather than attend Westminster, and subsequently declared Irish Independence in January the following year.

Sadly, the British government refused to recognise the authority of the democratically elected Irish parliament (The Dail) and there began the Irish war of Independence.   It's strange isn't it, given that the British Government had just fought a World War to defend the 'Rights of Small Nations?'

Certainly, there appears to be a fair number of people who view Ireland's struggle for Independence as one that wasn't  a just war, including, it seems, revisionist historians in the Republic Ireland itself.  I, however, will argue that the Irish War of Independence was a just war from the Irish side, and I do so as a Brit myself.

And for the simple reason that the Irish had voted for Independence in 1918, and the British Government just wasn't recognising it.  All that the British Government of the Day needed to do, was to acknowledge that Sinn Fein had won the Election, and that therefore, Sinn Fein had the right to govern Ireland, or at least excluding Unionist Ulster.

Instead what happened, was that Lloyd George's government refused to do that, the Irish War of Independence therefore started, and London subsequently sent in the Black and Tans.  Even during the Treaty negotiations at the end of the War of Independence, when London was finally willing to concede an Irish Free State, the British Prime Minister threatened to wage 'immediate and terrible war' on Ireland unless they agreed to his demands,  which included having the King of Great Britain as the Irish Head of State.

Now, excluding Unionist Ulster from the new Irish State was, I feel, reasonable and right, given that the Unionists there had voted to stay in the UK, but the other demands, I feel, were not.  Forcing Ireland to be have a Foreign King as its Head of State, and making nationalist areas like Derry be part of Northern Ireland, can only be described as anti-democratic.

And it was those demands which divided Irish opinion and led to the Irish Civil War.  The British further exacerbated the situation towards Civil War by forcing the Free State Army to shell the Four Courts and kill their own countrymen.  Thus, I would argue that it was the British Government that was directly to blame for both the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, and the divisions in Irish society that the latter caused.

Ireland, no doubt made the right decision the pursue Independence 100 years ago.  The Conscription Crisis of the spring of 1918 made it clear that mere Home Rule within the UK was not enough, since it would have still allowed the Central Government in London to conscript Irishmen to fight in the British Army whenever the former so pleased.

Therefore, who knows, if Ireland had stayed part of the UK, you might have had Irishmen being conscripted to suppress the Malayan Insurgency and Mau Mau Rebellion, the latter in which we British could have incarcerated as many as 1 million Kenyans, according to research by Caroline Elkins.

At least in our own timeline, those Irishmen who joined the British Army after Irish Independence did so because it was there own choice, and not because they were forced to - and this was due to the brave actions of Irish Nationalists 100 years ago.

I therefore feel that anyone who believes in Democracy and the Rights of Small Nations would agree that Ireland's struggle for Independence 100 years ago was a just one.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda


Rwy i'n ysgryfenni yr erthygl hon i ddymuno i chi gyd Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.    Dw i'n gobeithio bod chi gyd yn gallu teimlo yr ysbryd nadolig - Fi, yn bendant ac ers yr eira yn Lundain ychydig wythnosau yn ol.  

Mae hi wedi bod yn flwyddyn grêt i mi ac i'r blog yma.  Yn y dechrau 2017, Roedd gen y blog llai na 4,000 views.  Rwan, ym mis hydref, mae gen ni yn fwy na 94,000 views.  

Hefyd, mae 2017 wedi bod y flwyddyn lle wnes i raddio o'r Bryfysgol Aberystwyth gan 2:1 mewn Hanes ym mis Gorffenaf.  Roedd y dair flwyddyn yna yn amser lyfli a dw i'n methu fo'n iawn yn barod.  Gobeithio galla i ail-fynd yna.  

Rhwng rwan ac yr amser yna yn y ddyfodol, bydd i'n Tsieina i fod yn athro y saesneg i'r plant.  Wna i hedfan ym mis Ionawr y seithfed.  Bydd hi'n bennod mor gynhyrfus mewn bywyd ac bydd i yna yn ystod 15 mis.  Tipyn scary, ydw i'n cyfaddef.  

Mae hi wedi bod yn flwyddyn gynhyrfus i Gymru hefyd.  2017 - Y flwyddyn y dechrau Nation.Cymru gan Ifan Morgan Jones.   2017 - y flwyddyn y fuddugoliaeth Ben Lake yn Geredigion.  Rw i'n gobeithio bydd 2018 y flwyddyn lle gallwn ni adeiladu ar ben y llwyddiant 2017 a chreu llwyddiant yn yr ardaleodd newydd hefyd.  

Yn y Cyfamser, rwy'n ddymuno i chi gyd Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, a rwan hefyd, mae rhaid i fi ymddiheuro am y ffaith bod Fy Nghymraeg fi ddim yn dda.  

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I hope that you are feeling the Christmas spirit – I certainly have felt it since the snow in London earlier this month. 

It’s been a great year for Politics by Rebuttal.  At the beginning of 2017, this blog had only had less than 4,000 page views.  Now, that figure has jumped to over 94,000 page views.  

2017 has also been a very significant for me personally – it was the year in which I graduated with a 2:1 in history from Aberystwyth, exactly five months ago to the day; the 21st of July.  The three years there were a wonderful experience, and I can’t say I don’t miss it already.  Le’ts hope that I can go back one day.

Meanwhile, however, I will be starting my new job in China and I fly out on the seventh of January.  It’s an English-teaching job with classes of children under the age of 14.  It will certainly be a new chapter in my life, and I admit that it is not like anything that I have ever done before.

Either way, 2017 has certainly been an exciting year for Wales.  It was the year in which Ben Lake won Ceredigion, the year that Nation.Cymru was founded, but it was also the year in which rail electrification was cancelled between Cardiff and Swansea by a Westminster government who would rather spend the money on bribing the DUP and extending the Northern Line.  I just hope that 2018 will be a year in which the successes of 2017 will be built on, and a year in which new successes will arise.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and apologise for the fact that there will undoubtedly be mistakes in my Welsh above.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Stop Blaming the Welsh Language for the Language Divide in Wales

Having just watched the video of a non-Welsh-speaking Anglesey Councillor arguing that Welsh Language Policy has created an ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Wales, I thought that it would be high time to try to debunk the anti-Welsh-Language-campaigners’ favourite argument – namely that the survival and promotion of the Welsh Language is responsible for the language divides that exist in Wales.

First of all, what language did Wales speak when there last wasn’t a Language Divide in the country? Answer: Welsh - and it was the entry of the English Language into Wales that created the split.

Now, having two languages is no bad thing; on the contrary, Finland, Belgium and Switzerland are all either bilingual or multilingual, and they are better because of it.  I, myself a native English-Speaker, love learning languages, and am actively trying to become more multi-lingual, not less. 

But when the anti-Welsh-Language folk blame the Welsh language for dividing a country, and its communities, I think that it’s important that we respond to that argument, and not let Welsh get criticised merely for existing within its own country.  Welsh has done nothing wrong, so to speak. 

On the contrary, I would argue that the universality of English is what’s to blame for a divided Wales.  Far from uniting Wales, the universality of English is the reason why Wales today is a land divided between those who do still speak Welsh, and those who don’t.  And this divide does indeed exist both at a national level and at community level. 

Think about it.  In England, where I’m from, there is no universal, or even widely spoken, second language, and that is a good thing.  It means that if you are an immigrant or an ‘expat’, you pretty much have no choice but to learn the local language, English.  In England, there is no divide between those who do speak the local language, and those who don’t, since everyone has to speak it.

In Wales’s Welsh-speaking communities, however, everyone can also speak English, which is why most incomers in such areas don’t speak Welsh, even after living there for a long time.  And it’s that phenomenon that has created the division and even social tensions, within said communities.

The 1989 A Study of Language Contact And Social Networks in Ynys Môn, by Delyth Morris, which looked at the Welsh-speaking community of Brynwran, showed exactly that.  Indeed, the results showed that a number of the incomers were actually angry that the locals spoke to each other in a language that they didn’t understand and didn’t like the fact that Welsh was the language of many of the village’s clubs and societies. 

 Of course, in a fair and just situation, those incomers would have been forced to learn the local language and not think anything of it, yet, the universality of English as a second language prevented this ‘normal’ process of integration and assimilation from happening, and is therefore a direct cause of the social malaise.

But of course, in most of Wales, this phenomenon has not stopped there, and has instead resulted in the collapse of Welsh as the local vernacular all together.
That was why, when I was in Aberystwyth, I met so many locals who either couldn’t, or didn’t, speak Welsh.  And it was always for the same reason -  that one of their parents or grandparents had been an incomer, which meant that English had to be the language spoken at home from then on, and that therefore English was the first language of everyone in the family from that point onwards.

In a fair and normal situation, any such incomer would have had to learn the local language to communicate with the locals, and not the other way around, and the local language would have been the common language.  The universality of English is what prevented this, and is therefore a direct cause of the collapse of Welsh as the community language in Aberystwyth, in the South Wales coalfield, in Dolgellau, across most of Wales, in fact. 

Thus, if I had to blame one language for the language divide in Wales, I wouldn’t pick Welsh.  Rather, it is the universality of English that has led directly to a Wales that is a) divided into Welsh-Speaking and non-Welsh-speaking areas, and b) a Wales in which there is division within it’s remaining Welsh-Speaking communities, since the universality of English prevents the absorption of non-Welsh-speakers into the local Language and culture. 

Not only that, but a non-Welsh-Speaking Wales would have far more reason to be internally divided than a Welsh-Speaking one.  When Wales was majority Welsh-Speaking, north Walians, Mid-Walians and South-Walians had something obvious that united them, their language.  

Now, however, that most Welsh people no longer speak Welsh, that unifying influence is no longer there, and many in North-East Wales, for example, feel that they have more in common with people from the geographically closer Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester, than with people from Cardiff.   
Thus, the collapse of the Welsh Language has greatly strengthened the divide between north, mid and south Wales. 

So, when somebody accuses the promotion or survival of the Welsh Language of being something that divides Wales, tell them that they, if anything, are accusing the wrong language.