Some time ago I wrote an article for the journal PLANET [~>] as part of an ongoing series entitled ‘Keywords’, inspired by the work by Raymond Williams of the same name where he analysed significant words and terms for the definition of cultural identity and their ideological resonances. The PLANET series engages with such key words in the Welsh Language and their significance in Wales. The word which formed the basis of my essay was ‘cyfieithu’ (‘translation’), and I am now putting it up as a separate page on this site [HERE ~>].
Although the essay focused on the significance of the word in relation to the bilingual situation in Wales, I am now prompted to consider how the arguments might apply in the context of Britain as a whole. There are now many communities across Britain who use languages other than English in some part of the social lives, although English is the default language for many of those people outside their close communities. At a time when many are turning inwards and there is a mood of closing down ties with other European nations, England and English seem increasingly to represent a core identity which communities across Britain are invited to embrace. In Scotland and in Wales there are alternative focuses on national identity which invite the citizens of those countries to consider an independent existence which involves sharing sovereignty with the European Union, which explains the strong ‘Remain’ stance of the ‘nationalist’ parties of those countries.
Reviving the sense of the Welsh Language as the descendant of the language spoken across what is now England, Wales and Southern Scotland, and Gaelic as the language spoken further north and for a time in some other peripheral areas, might provide a scenario in which alternatives to an inward sense of Englishness as the core of Britishness can be imagined. Then ‘translation’ - in its Welsh sense of ‘cyfiethu’ implying a bringing together (‘cyf-‘), rather than its English sense of passing over (‘trans-‘) could provide the basis for a cultural identity which is inclusive and stands alongside other such identities without engendering conflict. But, as with the current belated concern about climate change, it may already be too late for that.