Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Just a few quick thoughts at the end of the day...

When blogging last night after enjoying a whole day at the Urdd Eisteddfod, I didn't expect Betsan Powys from the BBC to note my comments about some national events having too much Welsh and others having too much English on her blog.

It's good to see that internet conversations are thriving. Betsan's comments, and several other conversations at the Urdd Eisteddfod, made me think some more - much more.

Sometimes, I feel that communities - be they of faith, language or of politics - occupy the same spaces but in mutually excluding bubbles. It's one of my great fears for the future - that the excluding bubbles will multiply. They have done so frequently in Wales at a terrible cost to a nation striving for the strengthening of shared narratives. Communities as well as nations are refreshed by the holding of transforming conversations - in whatever language.

I have asked a question all day: do I abandon my identity by sharing a platform or holding a conversation with those who are different in faith, politics or of language?

No, I don't. The sure testing of conversations with others only adds to the legitimacy of a point of view or belief. Languages are for me much better servants of the human experience when they are primarily the means of good conversation. They are the harbengers of the affirmations we strive for.

Cultures that crave the safe certainties of isolation eventually stagnate and die.


Simon Brooks said...

Hi Aled,

I enjoy your perceptive comments, but as I think this posting could be perceived as critical of monolingual Welsh-language institutions like the Urdd Eisteddfod which I strongly support, I think it is important to reply.

There is nothing unusual or wrong about monolingual cultural events. We have plenty of them in Wales: one of which, the Hay festival, is going on this week; another is the Urdd Eisteddfod. Both events reflect legitimate forms of cultural expression.

It is a failing of liberalism as a philosophical principle in the field of language rights - and I believe I'm right in calling you a liberal thinker - that it fails to recognise that some languages are stronger than others. Monolingual Welsh cultural festivals are needed to ensure that there is "space" for a minority language. In this sense, I see an Eisteddfod as rather similar to any other minority event.

For example, a Gay Pride event provides "space" for the gay community to celebrate; while a religious celebration can provide space for a particular religious minority.

The only moral requirement which I believe the Eisteddfod has to fulfil is that it be diverse as regards its own constituency. So the Eisteddfod should promote ethnic minority, or non-Christian, Welsh-speaking identities for example.

There should be no requirement on the Eisteddfod to do anything in the majority language (English), as long as non-Welsh-speakers are freely allowed to attend and watch etc, which they are. Again I see this as similar to a Gay Pride march, where the marchers might all be gay, but anybody - including many heterosexual men and women - are allowed to come and enjoy the spectacle.

Stonemason. said...

Well Aled Edwards you have ripped my comfort zone to shreds, I guess I should say thank you.

Szczeb said...

It strikes me that the option you offer, Aled, between "isolation" and "sharing a platform or holding a conversation" is a false choice.

There is no reason why someone may not belong (in Wales, or anywhere else) to any number of communities.

Your judgement that any activity which is in any way perceivable as exlusive will "eventually stagnate and die" seems untenable unless you can explain how this is consistent with any number of limited-interest discussions which exist within any major language. E.g. natural scientific discussions or technical linguistics - neither is anything like a universally understood language and yet biologists happily converse with government phonologists *about other issues*.

The "isolation" which biologists crave in the laboratory or linguists might at a conference is entirely healthy and natural, to enable them to fully enjoy (one of) their chosen cultural environments. And the doors are always open to those who would learn the jargon.

The same may be said about languages as a whole.

It is neither a bad thing, nor is it of danger to anybody that the Turkish nation as a whole does not speak Polish, or that the Basques as a whole do not speak Sami (or even French); the "shared narratives" you desire are formed in other ways and in other places, and are rarely universal.

Such shared experiences are in no predicated on negating the monolingual cultural activities in any of these languages, which are as healthy as a rock concert or a poetics conference, even if not necessarily to everybody's taste.