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Where is our pride, where is our confidence?

In Wales we have a language unique to us.

Whilst there is a scattering of Welsh across the globe, from Argentina to New Zealand to the USA, it is a defining feature of Wales that we have ownership of one of the oldest living languages in Europe, if not globally. 

It is a mark of an oppressive environment that the oppressed limit their ambition, lack confidence and pride in what they have. This is certainly true in Wales although we hide it well. We hide it particularly in our passion for our sporting achievements and in the way we identify with our teams and sporting heroes. We hide it in our deep conviction that Wales is not England, that we are different, that we have a distinct identity. We hide it by telling ourselves that we have been part of something greater than ourselves across centuries of history, playing our part, small but crucial, in all of the successes of the Greater, broader British enterprise.

But we do not hide it well enough. It manifests itself in many ways but nowhere more so than in our conflicted relationship with the Welsh language. There are deeply Welsh people who harbour a fear of the Welsh language because it has been lost to them, often generations ago. There are still Welsh speakers who mistakenly believe that only by speaking the language can one be truly Welsh, a defensive stance arising from centuries of cultural and language suppression.

There are new arrivals into Wales who are allowed to scorn the language because we, as Welsh communities, whether we speak it or not, are not bold and confident enough to put them in their place and make them understand that this is a national treasure which belongs to all of the people of Wales. Even to these new arrivals who have come to make Wales their home.

Our language is one thing which is utterly, uniquely ours and a treasure to be owned and shared by every single person in this country. When you lose your language, your identity, your pride and your confidence will surely follow. A confident nation would be unutterably proud of the language and its survival in the face of blatant and aggressive suppression - the infamous Welsh Not - and of the insidious oppression of exclusion. Welsh was not allowed as a language of the law, a language of commerce, of business, of trade, of politics, of science, of education, of anything bar the home and the chapel. Its survival in spite of centuries of constant attack should be celebrated as a great victory for the whole of Wales. Like the song says, the language, like us, is ‘Yma o Hyd’ - still here.

So much has our confidence been drained, our faith in ourselves, in our own culture, in the unique offer we have for the world, so much has this been undermined, that our language, our own unique language, our own exclusive national treasure, has not been raised up as an unifying force to bind us together in celebration and recognition of our wondrous Welshness, rather it has been used to divide us, to create internal conflict, to make us afraid of each other.

In the global marketplace the absurdity of our lack of confidence is often demonstrated by those outside Wales, who tell us how amazing we are, how wonderful our language is and its survival. We’ve seen this recently with Netflix buying the Welsh language and even that bastion of Britishness, the Guardian praising the unquantifiable wealth that our language adds to Wales culturally. This is not new. Confident commentators from non-British nations have always been able to see this, but for us it has been muddied and obscured by our immediate neighbour’s jealous dismissal of the relevance and strength of our unique language. Perhaps we should not judge them as they have lost their language to the world, we have it too, a natural national advantage over our generically monoglot English cousins. We are blessed with a culture and a system which can capitalise on the growing academic and scientific consensus that fully bilingual people and education confer a significant benefit to all when assessed in terms of lifelong outcomes.

But here we must seize our opportunity together, united. Ensure that everyone in Wales understands that this is their language, whether they are masters of it or not. The untranslatable concepts, the cwtch, hiraeth and more - concepts that are recognised here in Wales by Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike. They are recognised because they too are cultural treasures uniquely ours. Entwined with language and memory, with song and legend, with who we are and where we’re from. Concepts that we can share with open arms with those who move to Wales and who embrace us in return. Concepts that define us. Concepts that should underpin our self confidence and pride in our nation.

This is a self confidence and pride which we must nurture to give us the drive, the passion and the power to seize our own destiny, to campaign for and achieve independence, to seize that opportunity when it comes, to make Wales the nation, the country it can and should be, standing tall on the international stage.

Be proud of your language, whether you speak it or not. Applaud those who do, revel in its lyrical sounds, bask in its uniqueness, identify yourself and who you are with this ageless cultural treasure that has survived in spite of everything thrown at it.

If you have a few words, use them, if you are fluent, speak it loudly and often, if you want to learn, go for it - and do it all with confidence and pride in yourself and in your ownership of this piece of Wales, of our land, of our heritage, of our culture. 

A rich culture which we can, and should, happily share with the world, with joy, with vigour and with passion.

Cofleidiwch eich iaith! Embrace your language! 

Bendigeidfran's Blog

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