It’s an amusing irony for Welsh speakers, that one of the main complaints heard about the language is that it is ‘shoved down people’s throats’. I’m not quite sure why it’s always the throat – given that the ears and eyes are the usual point of entry for any auditory or visual stimuli – but still this complaint persists.
No one has ever been forced to learn Welsh – at least, not this side of the 13th century. Many people do find themselves put under huge pressure to learn languages every day – usually indigenous people who suddenly find themselves encroaching upon the ever expanding territory of dominant languages such as English, Spanish, and Chinese. But while people who speak Welsh have always welcomed and encouraged anyone who moves to a Welsh speaking area to learn their language, it’s only ever been a suggestion. We’ve never tied anyone to a rack, or even tickled their feet.
And, let’s face it, if people who moved to Welsh speaking areas really were ‘forced’ to speak Welsh, the language would be in much better nick that it is at the moment.
What people actually mean when they say the language is ‘forced down their throat’ is that – God forbid! – they occasionally see the language written on signs, or once had to turn a letter over because it was written in Welsh on one side.
What they don’t seem to appreciate is that there are a lot of people out there who do live their lives in Welsh from day to day. And by wanting to get rid of any visible signs of the Welsh language they’re actually threatening to do what they themselves are complaining about – which is force a language choice on other people.
We don’t need no education
Alas, our imaginary antagonist will at this point play his trump card – the one place where the Welsh language is mandatory is when studying for your GCSEs in high school. Why is the Welsh language being forced down the throats of all these poor students, many of which would no doubt rather be somewhere else – behind the bike sheds smoking a ciggy, or snogging Gemma from class 3E?
The only problem with this argument is that GCSE students are ‘forced’ to take a whole range of subjects – not only Welsh, but also English, Biology, Physics, and even Religious Education.
They may well not enjoy it. They may find it useless in later life. But then I’ve never used had to calculate the radius of a circle since dropping Maths at GCSE level. Remember Xylem and Phloem? Probably not.
All these subjects have to be compulsory because neither the school, the parents or the children themselves have any idea what they’re good at, what they’ll enjoy doing as adults, what job they’ll be doing in 10 years, or even what jobs will exist in 10 years. I could well have ended up in Airbus in Flintshire designing airplane parts, in which case that physics class on gravity would probably have come in handy.
I’m sure countless students have considered Welsh in hindsight to be utterly pointless – just as pointless as biology or religious studies ended up being for me – but for other former pupils, it’s the most useful subject they did at school. Personally I regret dropping it at A/S level, given that a sound knowledge of Welsh grammar would probably be of much more use to me now as a bilingual lecturer than an intricate understanding of the post-war American New Deal, police stop-and-search powers, and the plot of Jane Eyre (which is all I remember from my History, Law and English A-Levels).
Ifan Morgan Jones