Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Race and language?

It is a term that offers welcome relief for a very basic need, and is recognised around the world - but not, it seems, in one corner of Wales.
Although the origins of the “WC” abbreviation for “water closet” are English, it has been adopted into everyday usage in German, Italian, Dutch and Hungarian.
Even the French use it, and we all know what they're like about diluting their precious language. But now councillors in Gwynedd, North Wales, are being asked to justify the decision to include the term “WC” on road signs in the area.
The issue is due to be debated at the next meeting of the county council’s “language subcommittee” following a complaint about the use of the non-Welsh initials, which it is feared could become a rallying point for nationalist sentiment.
The dispute hinges on the use of the abbreviation on a sign on a roundabout on a new £35 million Portmadoc bypass advising motorists about a nearby public convenience. And it's a particularly annoying dispute for two reasons, both of which assume a depth of stupidity in someone or other.
The first is that the “WC” sign is an internationally used and recognised symbol, and to object to it is to suggest that Welsh people are too ignorant and insular to know what it means.
The second is that the alternative Welsh word is “toiled”, and to suggest that English tourists won't be able to guess what that means is also pretty thick.
Let's face it, English visitors soon realise that Welsh is not a real language at all, but a made-up one which borrows words from French (“eglwys” = “church”, or “ffenestr” = “window”) and English (“dim bikio” = “no cycling”, “dim dympio” = “no dumping”, “trowsus” = “trousers”) with gay abandon.
Mind you, Portmadoc is no stranger to absurd and unnecessary controversy. Recently there was a row about a £650,000 bridge (“pont” - not French at all) over that very same bypass. The bridge was built to help bats cross the road.
Clearly there are no budget cuts for wildlife in Wales. In England and other civilised places, of course, bats can fly. Welsh bats would have to be different, wouldn't they?
On the University of Wales website there's an online translator which renders “bat” as “bat”. Can't think why we bothered to look it up, really.
Meanwhile a bit further south in Aberystwyth council chiefs are planning to fly a gypsy flag on the promenade. The plan will mean either removing another national flag from the display, or splashing out on a new flagpole.
Aberystwyth prides itself on the 52 flagpoles which grace its seafront, all flying European or other national flags. But town councillors have now provoked a row by agreeing to include the Romany Gypsy flag.
Supporters of the move say they want to mark the area's 'long tradition of gypsies'. But councillor Aled Davies suggested the move was a waste of money, saying 'Those flags are supposed to be for small nations, and the gypsies don't have a nation as such.
Should we really spend money on a flag and flag pole during the current economic climate?' The flags along the promenade are all either flags of the minority nations of Europe (so not gypsies, then), or flags of other EU member countries (so not gypsies, then), or flags of countries which send significant numbers of visitors to Ceredigion (ah. Now there's a clue. But ... a country?).
The GOS says: Please would you Welsh speakers not write in and tell me I've got it all wrong about Welsh because you had all those English and French words first. You didn't. That's bollocks (“bwlllwcs” - not a Welsh word, but one belonging to an ancient indigenous language I just made up. Rather like Cornish, actually).
The Welsh language was invented for a bet in 1973 by two men from Bridgend. The Welsh for “bet” is – you've guessed it - “bet”.
Welsh national dress was invented by Augusta Hall, an Englishwoman who objected to the Welsh habit of flitting round the mountains in the nude (“noeth”). The thing about gypsies reminds me of the most annoying aspect of the Dale Farm d├ębacle: the claims that evicting the illegal travellers is “racist”.
Travellers are not a race. Gypsies are not a race. You and I aren't a race. Travellers, gypsies, you, me, we belong to the human race, but we have no right to invent little subdivisions and call them “races”.
Our DNA is 99.9% identical, we move, breathe, walk, eat, shit and fuck identically, whether we live in a condominium or a caravan, whether our parents came from Rawalpindi or Rochdale.
If you want to make yourself feel separate and special, or if you want to invent some reason why you are being discriminated against, then you need to use an expression like “ethnic subdivision of the human race”.
Then you can claim that people are being ethnically subdivisionist towards you. Or alternatively, you can invent yourself a special language and demand that everyone recognise it. But I think we've already dealt with that.
With thanks to the Grumpy Old Sod for injecting some common sense into the debate!

3 comments:

Hippo said...

Absolutely fucking brilliant!

Bambibasher said...

Thank the GOS such a gem

Dan said...

Well, on the subject of the Welsh and bilingual stuff, I can say from personal experience that you're absolutely spot on. I did most of my PhD work in Aberystwyth and managed for three years or so without speaking more than a word or two of Welsh; most Welsh people can't actually speak the language at all, though much fun can be had asking if they've worked out how to spell the Welsh word for "Wales" yet; in north Wales it is 'Cymru', and in the south 'Gymru', all this in an area about the size of Yorkshire!

Wherever you have public money and pillocks in proximity, you get the bilingual policy crap. Aberystwyth University Students' Union meetings were a hoot; all the normal politicking, gerrymandering, fudging and so on plus bilingual bickering. At a Union meeting, they actually set up a live translation service for the people who militantly didn't want to listen to the proceedings in English and wanted instead to listen to the Welsh version. I was involved with the Biology and Conservation Society there for a while; we found it cheaper to tell the Union to keep their money and raise our own funds ourselves, since Union money came with strings attached, most notable of which was that EVERYTHING had to be translated into Welsh (and back in the 1990s, Google Translate didn't exist). Such a stipulation burned the funding on translation costs alone.

Down in Caerdydd (Cardiff spelt Welshie), they have the Welsh Development Agency. This is ostensibly for funding company start-ups and making up for the gibberingly stupid legal stipulation that everything be translated into Welsh; in reality it has funded a local industry in subsidy farming. The sooner the "extra" funding Wales gets is reduced down to the English level, and the Welshies are permitted to inflict taxes on their people to make up for this, the better. This will give the Welsh Nationalists a nice, long, bitter taste of what freedom and equality are like, and it ought to educate the electorate there on why you don't vote for muppets.