11 October 2001 world languages / ieithoedd y byd

Nesspa? This, apparently is part of the current spontaneous restructuring of world languages, including English and French - it is the new way of spelling n'est ce pas? in International English (or is it Franglish?).

Putting together brief statements from a radio programme* I note this:

Singlish, a Chinese-English mix from Singapore, cannot be understood by speakers of Standard English or by speakers of the other new dialects which English is 'breeding'.

Is this process comparable to sexual reproduction, or to reproduction by cell-division (amoeba like)? Or is it essentially cultural and not biological?

Many speakers of these new English dialects can also speak a comprehensible version of Standard English to non-speakers of the dialect.

The reason, or driving motive, for many new dialects is to affirm (collective and individual?) identity.

In the 'complete restructuring of world languages' that is taking place 90% of languages with few speakers are expected to 'go'. But 'not because of the growth of English - it would happen anyway'.

And, after noting these significant scraps from the programme, I asked myself:


I have been attending Welsh classes for twelve years and can now converse in it but not write it - but with a very small vocabulary of only a thousand or two words, and much ignorance of the grammar.

(My vocabulary in written English is at least 25000, probably more, since I last tested it in the seventies (by measuring the percentage of words, that I can use in writing, on a randomly-chosen sample of the pages of the Penguin Dictionary.)

Apart from my enthusiasm (or trepidation?) for the parts of the internet and everyone that are written in my personal Welsh-English mix (that I called Cymsaesneg or Welshish) I've lost the motivation to continue. I am typing this after having sent a message (speaking in Welsh to an answerphone - my first experience of that) to say that I cannot go to the Welsh lesson this evening. Perhaps this note will be the 'tackling'? For, yes, my enthusiasm is dwindling.

As I noted these things I wondered why Welsh seems at last to have (just) ceased to decline - there is some evidence that it is increasing slightly among children who go to the many schools that have recently changed to teaching all subjects (even English!) in Welsh. And that has come about from the efforts of many people who, in the past half-century, have protested and acted to create a new enthusiasm for this language that, in my childhood, was so unfashionable that my Welsh-speaking parents spoke only English at home and attended an English-speaking chapel. But my father insisted that I had a Welsh-speaking nursemaid (called Kitty) for a year or two and so I learnt the 'shape and sound' of the language - but only a hundred or so words and almost no verbs. When I began to re-learn Welsh, about sixty years later, I was excited and inspired, though almost put off by the academic way it was taught... I wanted to continue my childhood learning by sound, not by rules from a book.

So now, in the daylight of these facts and insights, what, if anything, can I do next in Welsh? And respecting English also - for I more and more enjoy writing English I think more freely and yet exactly than I used to? It is my medium and my life. Especially now.

Can my response to those questions be informed by this sudden awareness, after the radio programme, that what I do is indeed part of the efforts, spontaneous or forced, to preserve an ancient language spoken by few and to enjoy the catholicity of a modern language, spoken in a growing multitude of forms by half the people alive? And especially on the internet!

pause to think - and to await the next inspiration

Perhaps I will put some effort into learning enough grammar and spelling to write Welsh here and thus find a purpose to this twelve years of attending evening classes? But perhaps not.

I'd prefer to proceed intuitively - making my own mix of Welsh and English and enjoying the easier flow and the humour and perhaps the timeliness of that? Cewch onna, fachgen, do it! A peidiwch worry about yr athrawon! (Go on boy, do it! And don't worry about the teachers!)

*from Melvyn Bragg's programme The roots of English, Radio 4, this morning at five past nine