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But this always happens to languages

The Welsh language is being threatened by social media, as a study found “the erosion of a language online would threaten the cultural identity of a nation”.

Last month, it emerged that the number of Welsh speakers had fallen to a record low of 17.8 percent, as fewer children are speaking the language.

Academics at Swansea University found nearly 70% of Welsh speakers used English “often” or “always” on social media, with the vast majority using it more than Welsh.

All of them, always, are subject to two contrasting forces.

1) They become increasingly fissiparous. Latin into Catalan, Andalucian, Galician, Portuguese, Provencal, D’Oc, Florentine, Sabian and on and on. A household comes up with a new word or two – happens in every household all the time. Some of those spread and become the accepted version in the village – or town, county and so on. Continual changes bubbling up from the bottom and the accumulated changes create those new languages over the years. Latin took 1600 years or so to become many really entirely different languages. Old Germanic took about the same to become The varied Germans, Norses, Cloggie and so on. Some languages are a bmic across boundaries – English.

Shrug, well that happens. Happened to Welsh too – Cumbrian, Cornish, Scots, Irish, Manx and so on. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that northern Welsh is different from southern.

2) Certain events consolidate languages. New methods of communication being one of them. Radio, newspapers, they both consolidate the previous fissiparity. Because there becomes a standardised version which exists across the distribution area. One of the most common was in fact the Bible. When it first started appearing in the vernacular (c. 15th c) which version of the local language was used became the nailed down and formal version. The King James had a lot to o with the creation of English as a unitary language. The other one I know of was the selection of which variant of Slovakian to use – the selection then led to the language of one subset of the greater becoming the formal version of that language.

This is all just normal about languages. OK, so now we’ve got a new comms method, Twitter. To some extent – and only some, nothing is 100% here – this will mean the standardisation of language across the platform. Just because that’s what happens. And, also, there will be the neologisms there some of which spread. As with texts – KTB, LOL and so on.

This doesn’t greatly help the Welsh with their cultural identity of a nation shtick of course. Because the Welsh language is their unifying factor in that official and give me more culturalmoneyforthebureaucracy sense. The population of the south is – genetically, culturally a century back – near entirely unrelated to that of the North. The mines and steelworks were populated not by the local farmers of yore but by vast waves of immigration from the Midlands, SW and Ireland. Pretending they’re all Welsh by shouting Yakki Da at each other is the only cultural identity they’ve got in common.

That last paragraph might not be as entirely and wholly true as those preceding it.

10 thoughts on “But this always happens to languages”

  1. Accordingly to the SouthWalians I know, southern Welsh is significantly different. They, rather self-deprecatingly, call the Northern version “proper Welsh”

  2. Same in Japanese, mainly what you hear on the radio became “standard” Japanese. You can still hear differences, some distinct enough to actually be taught. One most noticable is double consanants, Tokyo dialect carefully say the equivalent of “temperature”, non-Tokyo is the equivalent of “temp’r’ture”.

    It confused my Japanese teacher when she described double consonanats as “like in ‘book-keeper’ in English”.
    What, “book keeper”? I asked.
    No, “bu’Keeper”.
    That’s not how ‘book-keeper’ in pronounced in English.
    Yes it is.
    Hold on, who’s the native speaker here?

  3. Make using English by Welsh people a hate crime. It would be a win win, all Welsh people would have to learn Welsh so language saved, and they wouldn’t be able to communicate with normal people so we wouldn’t have to listen to their endless, chip on both shoulders whining.

  4. jgh, to my ear, when the Japanese speak English it sounds as if they have a mouthful of too-hot potato in their mouths….

  5. Don’t Japanese women speak different Japanese to men, to the point where a Japanese can tell whether a foreigner had a female or male language teacher?

    The Welsh language was virtually eradicated by the efforts of Edward Longshanks. It only came back into fashion after the campaign by Welsh Nationalists in the 1970s/1980s, blowing up TV. transmitters, defacing road signs, setting fire to English holiday homes, because… you know… violence isn’t the answer and achieves nothing, unlike peaceful protest and democratic process.

    Thence BBC Cymru, S4C, bilingual road signs, Welsh taught in schools, Welsh speakers given preference for Government posts, etc.

  6. John B – i’m not so sure that it was ever on its last breath, it’s been very healthy for most of the last few hundred years and compared to alot of other minor languages a relatively sustainable population. The nats may have got it on road signs and equal legal status and bbc broadcasts, but they didn’t resurrect it.

  7. Years ago I spent some time working at a site in Blaenau Ffestiniog (very north-walian!) and most of the people employed there spoke Welsh as a first language… They all spoke English as well, but Welsh was the language used at home – and their kids were invariably bilingual. I think that’s much the case in large chunks of North Wales.

    My brother and his wife moved to North Wales when their daughter was about 6 – the local school taught only in Welsh and she had to spend a couple of days each week for her first year going to total-immersion language school. She and all her little mates used to rattle-away in Welsh rather than English. She’s grown-up now – and still a fluent Welsh speaker (and English of course, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand her!).

  8. Nick: It was a standing joke that the American occupiers’ Japanese was clearly learned from ladies of negotiable affection.

    Again, this is another thing changing language. In younger generations both men’s and women’s speech is merging towards each other, and the old distinctions are starting to sound like you’re a doddery grandparent.
    Now then, young man, what have you been studying in school? – Granddad.
    Billy, have you made many friends at school? – Grandma.

  9. Don’t Japanese women speak different Japanese to men, to the point where a Japanese can tell whether a foreigner had a female or male language teacher?

    Japanese has six different grades* depending on the social rank of those communicating (analogous to the tu/vous distinction found in many European languages, including English until a few centuries ago). The top one is used only by the emperor, and the bottom one is used by all women. In between it depends whether you’re talking to your boss, subordinate or social equal**. Japanese children (and non-Japanese) are able to address everyone as equals while they’re still learning the language, but by the time they get to their teens they’re expected to adopt the polite form. This is why Japanese women speaking the language sound softer and more mellifluous than the men.

    * Javanese, a distantly related language, has a similar six-tiered structure, so the Indonesians decided to standardise on Malay as their national language because they wanted to get rid of the deference it produced.

    ** which is why every Japanese conversation with a stranger starts by an exchange of business cards, so they can work out which mode they should both be using.

  10. Maybe what Wales should do is put up barriers to travel and communication.

    The reason the US has, like, three accents and the UK has 10 within any hundred mile trip is that the latter developed during a time when long distance communication was fairly rare while my country expanded fast and thus ‘flattened’ out.

    So just institute internal passports. Divide’ cities into travel zones. Don’t let the people’s travel freely and censor the internet.

    Now you’ll get to keep your regional differences!

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