Tacsi for a moribund language

Why condemn a million Welsh people to a parochial linguistic straitjacket?

This article is taken from the February 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Kingsley Amis in The Old Devils: “A sign used to say Taxi and now said Taxi/Tacsi for the benefit of Welsh people who had never seen a letter X before.” Whatever officious authority erected that sign was merely boasting about Wales’s precious particularity, its specialness, its not being England. Further, the populace was patronised as if it was comprised of children, to be bossed about by Cymraeg 2050. 

This is the Welsh Government’s totalitarian project which aims to have one million people speaking Welsh by that date. That’s twice the (much exaggerated) number that is currently claimed to speak the language. What, in this context, does “speak” mean? The capacity to make a simple purchase? Or the ability to discuss why R.S. Thomas, a fundamentalist nationalist whose politics could be ugly and naive but whose poetry is thrillingly harsh, seldom composed in Welsh (which he had begun to learn in middle age) and then with a certain trepidation. Thomas  wrote of his compatriots: “An impotent people sick with inbreeding.” 

In an effort to maintain that sickness, a minimum of 60 extra “Welsh-medium nursery groups” will be opened by 2026. Why? Why teach a moribund language whose survival depends on “initiatives”? Policy decrees these speakers are needed. Needed for what? For the sake of Welshness perhaps, to give the bogus bardic tradition new legs?

Despite the folly of Brexit, English, thanks to America, remains the global lingua franca. An approximation of it is spoken and partially understood by billions. Welsh is spoken by a few hundred thousand people, less than a fifth of Wales’s population. Yet the government intends to make “Welsh and English equal”. 

So long as it’s a hobby language it is as harmless as a Sunday painter. But in pockets of Snowdonia and mid-Wales it is a tool not only of communication but of identity and exclusivity, thus of self-harm and curtailment.

The daftest idea is that ethnic minorities should be encouraged to learn Welsh

Imagine the lot of a child brought up monoglot Welsh by parents who, likely as not, were anglophone and possess the sinister fervour of the converted — more Welsh than the Welsh. This child is condemned by a linguistic straitjacket to a lifetime in Caernarvon or Blaenau Ffestiniog. In the former, a few years ago, a shopkeeper affected not to understand English. Similarly in Antwerp (Anvers) a barman refused to serve a drink ordered in French. Such vain Canutism doubtless exists the world over, creating divisions, fomenting tribalism, feeding delusions. 

The Welsh government evidently has an appetite for acting like a prefect. Its linguistic authoritarianism is not its only current exercise in social engineering. It has a splendid breeding programme based on lebensborn: women will be paid to bear children so that they can be brought up Welsh. The daftest of many daft proposals is that ethnic minorities should be encouraged to learn Welsh — and thus be burdened with a double handicap.

The Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan is a pitch perfect parody of a clumsily-wrought document, founded in the unconvincing fiction that the Welsh are violent bigots who enjoy nothing more than taunting those who don’t look like them. Where do these people learn to write such hackneyed dross? Silly question: this is the work of pompous politicians, dutiful civil servants, thin-skinned “activists” and cause-whores expert in taking offence — all with a conviction that human nature can be changed by the good intention to create “a nation where there is zero tolerance for racism in all its guises”. A nation where on a Friday night, in its capital, the tattoos from Penarth greet the big girl’s blouses from Rumney with neighbourly broken bottles and vomit.

It seems improbable that xenophobes and free-range oafs will succumb to an education in equality or that women who wear the hijab will follow the practice of one who has abandoned the garment. Which might be a first step to abandoning the religion of peace. Religion and the broad culture it engenders are, far more than skin colour, the major impediments to integration and thence assimilation — which is evidently antipathetical to multiculturalism, the orthodoxy that the government and the entire British establishment, including the BBC, unquestioningly supports as though it were immutable.

The most delicious ice cream in Wales (and possibly the entire UK) is made by the third and fourth immigrant generation of the Conti family of Lampeter. Assimilated. 

Which is not to say that they have forgotten where their forbears came from a century ago any more than the many people of increasingly distant Italian origin in Wales and the west of Scotland have. Or the Irish in Kilburn, the Poles in Ealing, the Portuguese in Lambeth. Or the Welsh themselves in Maida Vale.

But such people do not cling to a familial past, they are not shackled by communitarianism. With every generation they change and adapt and look forward. They have no fear of the mongrelism which is the very lifeblood of the human race. Marry out! 

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