On Dragons and Tongues

There is a typically Guardianista debate taking place on the Comment is Free site about intellectual clichés:

"We've all been there. You're in the middle of a heated discussion – debating the news over a pint in the pub, or firing off comments below an article on Comment is free. Suddenly, you remember that someone famous once put your argument in a much pithier way than you ever could. It might be an old canard like "Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" from the Old Testament, or trendy economist-speak such as Malcolm Gladwell's well-worn phrase "the tipping point". The point is: you didn't really read the original text, and you're not all that sure what the author was really going on about in the first place. But you quote it anyway. Everyone – commenters, commentators, yes, even editors – sometimes resorts to intellectual clichés."
As if by magic our own Wales Home came up with a perfect example "The Dragon Has Two Tongues", a debate about whether or not Wales Home should publish posts in Welsh without translating them into English, a theme picked up by John Tyler.

In the Context of the CiF debate the cliché's origins are not in a debate just about the language, but in a book by Glyn Jones and a HTV series where Prof Gwyn Alf Williams debated with Wynford Vaughan Thomas, not so much about language, but about conservatism and radicalism. Both Wynford and Glyn were fluent Welsh speakers the tongues that divided their dragon wasn't linguistic but cultural; it wasn't can speak Welsh v can't speak Welsh but right v left.

In the intervening 30 odd years since the programme was made, only one party has successfully taken on the lessons learned from the programme - the Conservative Party - The only party that doesn't really mind the language that you use as long as the message is right in both senses of the word. Unfortunately the Tories oppose national self determination for Wales, so I can't support them!

Plaid Cymru, a party that one would expect to unite all Welsh speakers and all who have an abiding interest in Welsh culture and history cuts us Wynford types out, because we are not Gwyn Alf's disciples who believe that the Gresford disaster and Streic y Penrhyn are the be all and end all of North Wales' history, because we are not all left wing. Plaid treats our Dragon's Tongue with opposition, opprobrium and derision.

Unless and until a national movement unites all who want Welsh independence, left and right, cultural and practical, Welsh speaking or not, one of the dragon's tongues will remain very, very wilted!


  1. Absolutely right, Alwyn. The trouble is that this Plaid socialist position is not far off the traditional Labour position which argues that Welsh history begins with the Industrial Revolution.

    Someone I was talking to yesterday - who spent many years in Plaid - stated that there have always been too many people in the party using it to push their socialism. People who really don't give a damn about Wales.

  2. Alwyn, it wasn't "whether or not Wales Home should publish posts in Welsh without translating them into English", but "whether the original post was meant to be inclusive".

    I made a mistake when I used a poor metaphor to begin, whether a post that is important should be accompanied by a translation. That was wrong, latterly I wrote ...

    "... a paper written and signed off by Bethan Jenkins, a Welsh Assembly politician, concerning an organisation with a budget of £100 million of British taxpayers money,..."

    ... if I had written this in the first-place I might have been able to contribute my feelings concerning S4C and its funding.

    And this is ... "The 20% shortfall in budget could be found from the education budget with the company being charged to create an on-line/televised welsh language training package for English medium schools. including responsibility for delivery."

    So to sum up, it wasn't about language, it was about inclusion, inclusion by one of our AMs.

  3. But Wynford Vaughan-Thomas was never a nationalist he was a typical member of the Crachach who were willing to support the British state so long as the Language existed in some form.

    But they rarely tried to support the language outside their small world and their support for actions by Cymdeithas Yr Iaith was lukewarm preferring to suck up to the English Aristocracy as happened during the Investiture for instance

    Who was there Wynford or Gwybn Alf?.

    Wynford's support for the Welsh Language was based on the idea that his type had a place in the British Empire similar to those in Scotland who saw themselves as the elite of the British Empire in Scotland.

    It saw them taking the roll of administrators in the Empire whilst ordinary Scot soldiers in Kilts marched behind the sound of Bagpipes to enforce it.

    The Welsh Crachach have always been willing to sell out Wales so long as their position as leaders of Welsh Society (as they see themselves) was upheld.

    They would never contemplate true independence at least Gwyn Alf did.


  4. Strangely enough I always remember Gwyn Ald ascribing Gwynedd's 20th Century radicalism to the flight from Rheged in...a long time ago !

  5. Glynbaddau has exposed another truth - the Welsh elite who are happy to run Wales on behalf of England. Plaid Cymru's top echelon falls into this category, and of course they're all 'socialists'. It's just a word to them, a middle class parlour game.

  6. Gwilym ap Llew16/07/2011, 17:17

    You wrote, "Unless and until a national movement unites all who want Welsh independence, left and right, cultural and practical, Welsh speaking or not, one of the dragon's tongues will remain very, very wilted!" I'm afraid independence is no guarantee of language survival. Look at the case of Ireland, independent for 80 years, but you almost never hear the language spoken. The buzz of the 1960s (Dafydd Iwan et al.) took place firmly within the British state, before there was any serious talk of an Assembly. Perhaps the future of Welsh is tied to being part of the United Kingdom?

  7. Gwilym ap Llew, when Saunders Lewis made the same point back in 1962 it was valid, but I'm not sure that the point has any current validity. There was an important milestone in the language campaign last year that went almost unnoticed; Cymdeithas yr Iaith campaigned against a Welsh Language Measure proposed by a Plaid Cymru Government Minister (who, as it happens, is DI's little brother). The language movement is so established in its own right now that the comparison with Ireland in 1922 has become redundant.

  8. Anon, Gwyn Alf might have made a comparison between the flight from Rheged (in about the 8th Century BC I think) but his historical focus was always on the Industrial Revolution and the plight of the working class – and it is in that context that he always invokes the likes of Macsen Wledig, Llywarch Hen, Hywel Dda and Llywelyn ein Llew olaf etc. As they were all tyrants and slave owners Alf's invoking their names as heroes of the working class was a tad silly too!

  9. Glyn and Jack raise difficult questions about where Wynford Vaughan Thomas should sit on the heroes and villains list of Welsh public figures. He first came to prominence by providing Welsh Language commentary on the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, an important first in the history of the language! Because that broadcast made the Welsh a language one that the "Establishment" didn't have to fear broadcasting in Welsh and the other languages of the UK has been normalised. Without Wynford we wouldn't have Radio Cymru, S4C, BBC Alba, Radio nan Gaidheal etc. By making Welsh an "establishment" language did he help or hinder the cause?

  10. Having re watched the clip from the programme, one of the things that struck me was how untrue the portraits of the protagonists are. Wynford comes across as a genial happy go lucky chap, all smiles and bonhomie; Alf comes across as a very miserable, execrable bastard.

    In truth Wynford was an exceptionally arrogant sod, difficult to get to know and almost impossible to get along with.

    Gwyn Alf, on the other hand, was a laugh a minute, easy going and one of the friendliest blokes I have ever met.

  11. Gwn Alf was remarkable. When he was teaching at university. Students who weren't even taking his course would attend his lectures just to hear himand yet he still sounded like a lad from Dowlais.

    As for Wynford broadcast in 1937 should,t the honour go to ever commissioned it?

    Jac may have a point about the "echelons" of Plaid Cymru but I wouldn't call them all socialists and anyway most of the Crachach tend to be on the right.

  12. Alwyn describes the left vs right nature of the programme and the historical debate. It's the case that the left is usually more explicitly nationalist than the right, because we can't ever hope to achieve our politics in the British state. Thus, there aren't as many "right-leaning" Welsh nationalists because their politics can easily be achieved in the British state. The vast majority of national liberation movements in the world since colonialism follow this pattern, and it isn't a coincidence. Gwyn Alf's Marxist analysis placed Welsh history in the context of class struggle- the alternative history from Wynford Vaughan-Thomas just doesn't have the same effect. With Gwyn Alf people in Wales can unite around real material causes and events in the name of Welsh nationalism. With Wynford, not even a nationalist in any meaningful sense, the Welsh "cause" would be a pointless and obscure hobby. That's just my opinion.

  13. Brrrrutal Rrrrrruptures!! Brrreak after Brrreak after Brrreak!


    God how Wales misses Gwyn Alf!

    Wynford represented the sort of slimy, soapy, sentimental professional Welshman that is thankfully becoming rare these days.

  14. PS Just had a think, and the only modern day ones who leap readily to mind are the Bedwettys.