The language again

Peter Finch considers the Welsh Language LCO currently in progress:

At Cardiff Central the station sign reads Caerdydd Canolog in railway green and, under that, Cardiff Central in motorway signboard black. If you arrive from the east then you know you are in another country. Over the tannoy a voice sounding rather like the Welsh-language poet Grahame Davies announces perfectly pronounced valley destinations for the next train leaving platform chwech. In the 70s when Cardiff Council were busy trying to drag us out of a post industrial slum a research team came up with the notion that visitors would increase in number if they felt that they were travelling to somewhere truly different. Like another country. The previously uniformly monolingual city signboarding turned bilingual almost overnight. Cardiff started to actually feel like the Welsh capital, a status it had held, a little against the grain, since 1955.

The Welsh language, regarded by some as a financial drain on the whole of society, was now making economic sense. Could the Halifax Building Society, Boots, W H Smith, and a whole raft of other national yet private providers be persuaded to offer a genuine bilingual service? It took a long campaign of letter writing, sitting down with banners and the fixing of locks with metal glue to get some change on that.

The reality, of course, is that a bilingual nation such as ours needs to be just that. Bilingual. Bilingualism doesn’t work when only partially implemented. It fails when it is accommodated rather than embraced. Usage needs to be expected rather than enjoyed. Resentment among the many (and often those who write in vociferously to the South Wales Echo and the Western Mail) needs to be overcome. Much can be done to assuage fears and level objection simply by making bilingualism the norm. The sort of thing you see every day. Taxi Tacsi. Library Llyfrgell. Plumber Plymwr. Pub Tafarn. Corner Shop Siop Gornel. Vacuum Cleaner Repair Service Gwasanaeth Atgyweirio Sugnwyr Llwch. Golf Course Maes Golff. Half Price Bacon Today Cig Moch Hanner Pris Heddiw. Council Tax Increase Imminent Cynnydd yn Nhreth Cyngor Ar y Gweill. And that, I suppose, is the problem. How do we afford this? Actually there’s no argument. We simply have to.

The new powers sought by the Assembly will, I’ve heard, give both English and Welsh equal official status and will require a much larger swathe of enterprise (including, rather controversially, any organisation receiving more than £200,000 annually from public sources) to make their operations bilingual. The devil will be, as ever, in the detail. In the jargon what the Assembly are seeking are “the powers to legislate in order to promote and facilitate the growth of the language and to make us a truly bilingual nation”. Will this mean a Wales world of fully functioning two-way streets? Bilingual street preachers. Cardiff City football programmes in Welsh as well as English? The Cyfansoddiadau (the annual programme of results and adjudications from the National Eisteddfod) in English as well as Welsh? I’m not sure those things will arrive overnight. With this aspect of nation building there’s a distance to go yet.

Peter Finch is Chief Executive of Academi.