Sunday, September 05, 2010

From A Family Album, 1

My great grandparents Charles and Mary Jones and their offspring in a photograph taken around 1897.

Mary was born in Llansawel and brought up in Llandeilo Fawr in Carmarthenshire - she's always shown in the census returns as speaking both Welsh and English. Her husband was born in Llandrindod and is always shown as speaking only English. At the same time my grandfather, he's the lad with his hands in his pockets, said that the two sometimes conversed in Welsh.

Two of Charles' brothers, who moved away from Radnorshire, are shown in the census returns as being able to speak Welsh. One was married to a monoglot Welsh speaker from Llangammarch and the other, with a Radnorian wife, lived in Bargoed where the entire family is shown as being bilingual. I found a similar situation with my mother's family and it does make me wonder if Welsh was quite as dead in Victorian Radnorshire as most suppose.

I once asked my great uncle, the little lad seen sat on his father's knee, about his parents ability to speak Welsh, I might just as well have accused them of being thieves. I think his animus suggests that the situation in Victorian Radnorshire, well in the west, was similar to that in Victorian Limerick where:

"Up to about 1830, or so, the entire Rathkeale countryside spoke Irish. Then the new schools, the pro-English clergy , the influence of the landlords and agents, as well as the political leaders, the use of English in the law-courts, at gatherings and public meetings, in sermons and religious functions, the growing public feeling that Irish was a dying language, a mark of a degraded people who were not 'decent' - all this combined to produce a new people who from youth were pledged to speak no Irish. And so in West Limerick you had many who persisted in trying to speak a broken English and never again uttered a word in the old tongue they knew so well."

I wonder if that last sentence might be echoed in O. M. Edwards' reported comments about Radnorshire speech:

"Such a jumbled up, untidy hybrid language, that isn't proper Welsh or English."

Given the context I think Edwards was speaking about the west of the county next to Builth Hundred rather than the older Herefordshire influenced dialects of the east. I wonder when Edwards formed this opinion? If it was earlier in his life then it would make sense in describing a generation of older Welsh speakers trying to get by in English. A few years later and it wouldn't be an accurate description of west Radnorshire speech at all, in which case he might just have been being rude.


Carl Morris said...

These linguistic attitudes, common as they were, seem so strange to me in retrospect. Are we to believe bilingualism was never seen as an option by most folk? Clearly, the ability to speak English was a big advantage for many reasons but that shouldn't have meant Welsh was a disadvantage.

radnorian said...

It is a puzzle, after all the Irish who rejected Irish during the 19C - and the process was well under way before the Famine - were hardly lacking in national feeling.

On the whole bilingualism seemed to be regarded as a temporary state in the 19C and the adoption of English seen, not as a rejection of Irishness and Welshness, but a means of moving the nation forward.

Hopefully the 21C will prove that viewpoint wrong although at the moment I think we're very far from having anything but token bilingualism here in Wales.