Language Suppression and Colonialism: Cymru a Chymraeg

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Postcolonial theory and the subject of language suppression are intimately tied together. Critiques of British, French, and American suppression and outright destruction of native peoples’ languages is well documented. Native American tongues in America, Canada, and Central and South America have been permanently lost. In the US and Canada, languages such as Navajo, Apache, Choctaw, and Blackfoot are still spoken, but there are languages that have been lost in the violent colonialization of the European movement westward. British, French, Spanish and Portuguese conquerors left a wake of death and culture destruction in their crusades.

The fact that the Welsh language remains the most vibrant of Celtic languages and has done so a mere few hours’ drive from London, is a remarkable feat in history. Perhaps the mountainous region, which makes it difficult even for those of us living here to travel from North to South easily has been part of this language survival. But there can be no doubt that there is a gentle stubbornness to the people living here, and a vibrant artistic culture that has framed the history of the native tongue. My week of language immersion in the Welsh National Eisteddfod was an experience in this culture. Not to be forgotten, is the fact that chapels across Wales were responsible for keeping the language alive in face of centuries of attempted suppression and pressure of the popularity of the majority language culture.

Understanding Welsh culture requires understanding the place of the language in the nation, and among the people here. The story of the language is to some degree the story of the people of Wales, whether they speak the language or not, and it is the story of a nation oppressed in small and large ways for centuries. But, the tongue of the Dragon of Wales is still hot with a fire of passion.

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