Wednesday 11 March 2009

English, Welsh, and Double-Dutch

In arguing against any degree of further legislation or regulation over the use of Welsh, the CBI have suggested that the real problem is lack of take-up of the services which are offered - that Welsh-speakers themselves don't create the 'market' for the facility. This is a real issue for those of us who want to see a truly bilingual Wales.

There are a large number of reasons, of course. Some are more comfortable using English when dealing with officialdom, often because they've got used to doing it that way before the option of a Welsh service was available. I hear some people - invariably with excellent Welsh - expressing fear that their Welsh 'isn't good enough', or that there might be long words which they won't understand.

Others again have always seen Welsh as the language of the hearth, but English as the language of official business. This is an attitude of mind which I see often when I go to meetings as a translator and hear people who speak beautiful colloquial Welsh before the meeting turning to English as soon as the Chair bangs his (usually his rather than her before anyone corrects me!) gavel and calls the meeting to order.

Much of this is a result of our history and the way that Welsh has been perceived and used by previous generations. There are certainly signs of change happening, abeit slowly. Does any of this mean that we should not be so insistent on providing bilingual services? I don't believe so. Part of the change in attitudes is a result of giving Welsh a status in public which it did not enjoy for so many years – the very act of making Welsh more visible and usable itself helps to promote an environment in which it will be used more.

There is one other factor which may be relevant when it comes to take up of services as well, of course - and that is the quality of the service offered. Some organisations are very poor at this - I'm aware of a whole host of examples where Welsh-language material has been allowed out of an organisation to a standard which would never have been allowed were it in English.

Recently, I had an e-mail from one public sector organisation (which will remain nameless to spare their blushes) which told me that their decision (not to make an on-line payment facility available in Welsh) was "obedient to the Welsh-speaking milk deed". I'm fairly certain that they meant to say "complies with the Welsh Language Act", but should I, as a user, really have to guess at what they might mean? The rest of their note was so full of errors as to be incomprehensible – I had to ask them to re-send it in English so that I could try and make some sense of the Welsh.

I can only assume that they've used the notoriously fallible on-line translation facility which has landed other organisations in trouble in the past; but faced with gobbledy-gook like that, is it any wonder that people opt out of the Welsh service and simply use English?


Anonymous said...

Correct John. There's also the experience that the Welsh version of something is some months later than the English and so you may not be getting the latest service.

You've listed the reasons for low take-up, however, 'Part of the change in attitudes is a result of giving Welsh a status in public which it did not enjoy for so many years' - make that Centuries not years!

On a positive note, you really do get a better service if you use the Welsh language BT info service 118 404 - no mispronouncation of Welsh place names, less queues ... I'm surprised more people who only speak basic Welsh don't use is - it's a much better service than the English language version and I'm sure they'd help you out if you made just a simple effort with your Welsh!

Likewise, I recently learnt that I could claim back some childcare money from 2002-03 - the English service my friend complained was slow, until he decided to use the Welsh phone service and was surprised at the much quicker and polite response - of course, I knew that already as I told him!

Check out this for all the Welsh services. Usually better than English version.

Anonymous said...

You ignore the need for a "Plain Welsh Campaign". It is a sad fact that much Welsh material is presented in complex and archaic forms due to the lunacy of people who class themselves as "cyfeillion" of the language while they are actualy its worst "gelynion". The "dyw'n Cymraeg ddim yn ddigon da" people exist because of Welsh speakers who have made a living out of sneering at every mis-mutation and mis-placed to bach!

John Dixon said...


Certainly, a fear that officialdom will use complex language is part of the problem, and I agree that there are some who delight in putting down others, although my own experience suggests that that is a tiny minority. There's a tiny minority who put people down for what they consider to be poor use of English as well, of course- it's not an exclusively Welsh sport.