Cachau Bant: Mind Your Language
The English language is one of the most dominant languages of the world and it is the number one go-to language when having to speak with foreigners. This is something that most people believe is natural and take for granted. However, what we seem to forget, is how English came to be the preferred language globally. It did not just happen as a coincidence. As a result of the colonization and the great English Empire, a lot of people were forced to take English into their lives. This is why we today think of English as the number one language of the world. But what were the consequences for the new English speaking countries, and how have they handled the new way of communicating? This is what the Welshman, Tom Law, describes in his article “Cachau Bant: Mind Your Language” from 2013, where he reflects on the outcome of a whole country replacing their native language with English. In this paper, I am going to analyze and comment on his article, where part of the focus will be on the writer’s tone and style and on how history is used in the text.
Tom Law is a Welsh journalist and writer, who is very much against the way England, more than 150 years ago, took over the Welsh school system and made them teach only English. In this way, their native language became their second priority and English the first. However, what he is most angry about is how English speakers react today, when hearing about native Welsh people, who are afraid of and suffer from loosing their mother tongue. As he, ironically, says, “There are more important things to worry about in life than some bloke in Aberystwyth demanding a bi-lingual sign on his local fish and chip shop.”(p.1 l.14-18) Nobody seems to care about the Welsh is what Tom Law claims.
To try to create a public debate on this matter, Law tries to use the European Union as an illustrative “scare story” to compare with the Welsh story. This is done by creating a plausible future scenario where German, instead of English, becomes the predominant language of the world. He asks the question, “How would you feel if you were made to speak German?’“ and then, in many details, he describes how German will slowly take over the English language, and that people soon will forget national heroes like “The Beatles”. This, to the English reader, naturally seems very unrealistic and silly, however this was exactly what happened to Wales those 150 years ago. To emphasize the ridiculousness of this “take over”, he uses the same sentence that he used to describe the Welshmen, now just with another location, “You don’t care about some bloke in Altrincham moaning about the German signs on his local fish and chip shop.”(p.2 l.65-68)
Throughout history, the Welsh people have always been proud of their native identity and language. This is also something that Law is more than willing to emphasize, as he, several times, uses the Welsh history to compare with today. By using history in his text, he is able to create a clear contrast between the past and present, which lead to him also being angry with the non-Welsh speakers. He is especially angry at the attitude of the generation, which was brought up with talking English in school. A generation, which he is a part of. The common attitude towards the “death” of the Welsh language is that it was an inevitable process. As Law, one again, ironically describes it, “That the Welsh language is dying of natural causes – like an elderly relative withering away…. What can you do?”(p.2 l.114-117) Tom Law does not give much for this explanation, as he believes that it was a conscious and deliberate action made by the English government, “The Welsh language has declined so rapidly because the English placed a pillow over its face and smothered it.”(p.2 l.20-122)
With the extermination of the Welsh language, a lot of consequences have followed. By forcing in a new language, you have also forced people to take a choice. On one side, people have chosen to welcome this new language. On the other side, people are not willing to give up their native tongue and identity. This divides the population into two parts, which are socially “fighting” each other, “It’s a cultural civil war which has brought out the worst aspects of both sides. A nation which once fought for its rights, which fought against inequality and injustice has been effectively turned in on itself.”(p.4 l.237-242). This “war” has also resulted in people of the different groups having troubles with finding jobs in the areas of the other group. Furthermore, the Welsh speakers have had to handle a lot of attacks, verbally and physically, just for speaking the language that countless generations have spoken before them.
The tone of this essay seems to be pretty relaxed and a bit informal, which makes the text more interesting and identifiable to the reader. This is seen in the use of many everyday-like terms, like, “fuzzy wuzzies”, “but it’s bullocks”. However, his language does consist of many long and well-structured sentences, which typically is a sign of a more formal style of writing. Throughout the text, Tom Law makes use of many rhetorical questions, which are used to make the reader stop up and actually consider the respective matter. Examples of these are, “So why did Welsh schools stop teaching children to speak the language?(p.2 l.1009-110) and “What can you do”. Furthermore, it is a great way for the writer to come out with his points of view.
Another technique that Law uses in his text is the repeating of selected sentences. One example of this is his “how to take over the language”-story, which he uses twice. Additionally, he also makes use of the sentence, “It was a sickness infecting the country, something the English had found the cure for”(p.2 l.135-137) twice. The effects of repeating terms or full sentences are many. One is that the reader gets even more focused on what the writer wants to say. Another is that it is a very expedient way to sort of connect and combine the different elements of the text.
The third thing that contributes to the style of the text is his use of irony and symbolism. There are many example of this throughout the text, which all play a part in the writer’s argumentation. Examples of these are “the pillow over the Welsh language”, which comes to be a symbol of the extinction of the language. Another example is “It was done by England and it continues to tear the country apart, affecting every aspect of Welsh life.”(p.2 l.74-76), where the Englishmen, once again, are portrayed as tyrants because they “tore” the country apart.
I can definitely understand, why Tom Law is so upset with the loss of his native language, even though some people might see it as a trivial matter. Yet, when you lose your mother tongue, you do not just lose a language. You also lose your identity and national legacy. Even though a language seems to be about words alone, we all know that it is so much more. Some words you just cannot translate. For instance, some places in Africa they have, in their local language, more than ten different words for an elephant, which naturally would be lost, if they had to speak English only. Additionally, we have in Denmark the word “hygge”, which no one really seems to know how to translate, and if we, from one day to another, had to only speak English, then “hygge” would be gone. I therefore, on one side, really feel sorry for Tom Law and the rest of the Welsh speakers. However, I must admit that I really do worship the fact that people, all around the world, are able to communicate with one single language.