An off-topic discussion about nationalism and culture

[Moderator: this was in response to Rhiannon’s post:]

I think without the language so much of the culture is lost. Our folklore, songs, poetry etc are lost to me for now, and would be lost entirely if Welsh died out. So learning the language is a way to connect with all of that and be part of the necessary fight to keep it alive. It’s Welsh Nationalism of necessity, I suppose. I feel like all languages are worth something, and losing any would make humanity poorer for it. Welsh is my problem though, I definitely feel a sense of responsibility for it.

I have to disagree with this I’m afraid. As a musician, I don’t think language is entirely linked with culture, and I really don’t think very much (any?) culture would be lost if the language was. I’m also very much against nationalism (especially in the current social and political climate when walls are being put up figuratively and literally). I embrace Welsh and the language, and I’m proud of it, but I’m no better or worse than anyone else for being Welsh. What’s destroying our culture is the lack of respect for it, that’s what we need to work at.


I think you might have missed my first post (it’s a few before the one you quoted). I have never said I am better than anyone for being Welsh, of course I am not, I believe all languages to be of worth. My previous post stated that I believe everyone should be proud of who they are and where they come from, and also that indifference is the danger facing our language now. It seems we agree on a lot. I understand your views on Nationalism as well and share them in general, I want to protect Welsh by encouraging the learning of it, rather than building a wall around it.

As for our culture, I do genuinely think that understanding our language is important for being able to read and understand our poetry and folklore. That’s just my view though.


I think you might have misinterpreted my post … I didn’t say anyone here thought they were better than anyone else for learning Welsh at all, I was referring to those nationalists who have hindered myself and many others’ Welsh language journeys by repeatedly stating (yes, I’ve had this to my face many times …) that they are ‘better’ ‘more Welsh’ etc than me because they speak the language. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. And I believe that type of nationalism has hindered the growth of the language so much more than any apathy has.

There’s an unfortunately fine line between being proud of your place of birth, and supportive of it, and being a nationalist (see all of those hideous right-wing fascists claiming to be ‘patriotic’ shudder). Also, it’s just a place of birth, so it feels odd to be ‘proud’ of something that isn’t an achievement. I’m proud of my educational qualifications, I’m not proud I was born in Swansea 43 years ago (although my mother might well be proud of that having happened, who knows :rofl:).

I’d love for every primary school in Wales to be bi-lingual (maybe one day there’ll be enough Welsh-speaking to teachers to enable this!), and I hope to encourage friends to follow this course if they see me succeeding. We have very little cultural awareness in this country though (I was a music teacher for 15 years, and they’ve decimated music tuition in schools thanks to cuts …), and the language really does nothing to support our broad culture. Teaching the Mabinogion (or anything to do with Welsh culture!) in school would be a start too!

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It isn’t just yours, Rhiannon; but it’s excellent to see the common ground and to camp on it together with a few instruments telling tales new and old so that everyone can take a spot and join in. It reminds me of an Irish story where there was this fellow named

And this would be absoulutely (spelled incorrectly on purpose) the bees-knees!

I think that we need to be careful to be particularly clear when we use words which can be a bit of a red flag or taken as antagonistic such as nationalist; if we are kind enough to each other to take the softest interpretation we will likely find (as in this case) that it was the one intended.
By which I was referring to ‘nationalist’; many people confuse or conflate nationalism, patriotism and tribalism etc without intending to do so at all :expressionless:

I agree that it’s a crying shame that you have experienced a poor reaction to your (and other similar stories) experience of negativity in relation to the language. This is part of what @aran has back of mind when he speaks/writes. Did you catch him on the radio in relation to the Jeremy Vine twitter-storm recently?

So many kinds of awesome! :star_struck:

N.B. I had to edit this because my PC decided to post half way in to my writing it - lots of glitches lately…


The power of words - many words are well trodden and their original meaning becomes tainted by other associations and misappropriation.

Gwlad and caru gives rise to lovely words that simply combine simple concepts of love and country - gwladgarwch, gwladgarwyr, but translating those to English, might lose that sense of simple love - patriotic doesn’t quite reflect that same meaning, because in many ways the English word, doesn’t include love in any real sense and has been used in other ways that have diminished it’s original meaning and somehow that word also suggests pride, which can be a great thing, but yet another word that can stir up mixed emotions.


Thank you everyone for your calmness so far - this is clearly a powder-keg topic, and while we don’t try to stop any particular kinds of discussion on the forum, it is VITALLY important that we keep it friendly and respectful all the time:slight_smile:

Malumovis, I think it’s going to be particularly important, if you’d like to have this kind of discussion, to be keenly aware of the importance of terminology. When you say ‘that type of nationalism’, you’re recognising that not all nationalism is the same - when you say ‘there’s an unfortunately fine line between being proud of your place of birth… and being a nationalist’ you’re starting to conflate all kinds of nationalism.

For example, I’m a Welsh nationalist, and if you think that means I’ve got anything in common with ‘hideous right-wing fascists’ then you just don’t know me very well (and perhaps don’t know much about the main strands of discourse in Welsh nationalism).

I’m very sorry indeed that you’ve had such horrible experiences with people claiming that they are ‘better’ or ‘more Welsh’ than you - I’ve never had that experience, or witnessed anything like it, despite moving regularly in Welsh nationalist circles - so I wonder if those were actually Welsh nationalist activists, or if they were just bloody nasty people. In meeting after meeting for years and years, I’ve heard Welsh-speaking activists talking about how to reach out to and work with Welsh people who don’t speak Welsh.

I find this a rather puzzling suggestion, and I think it must boil down to an inevitable difference in experience. You don’t - yet! - speak Welsh, so I presume you don’t spend a great deal of time in all the various Urdd and local eisteddfod activities - but anyone who has kids going through the year-long process of school, local, regional and national Eisteddfodau would be baffled at the thought that we have ‘very little cultural awareness’ in this country.

But all of that is happening through the medium of Welsh, so it’s not very obvious to you, and you interpret the lack of Welsh in the situations where you see very little cultural awareness as meaning that the language ‘does nothing to support our broad culture’ - whereas someone else might see the thriving cultural awareness in Welsh-speaking circles as being a sign that the language is central to our broad culture… :slight_smile:


Just to add the thought that the word ‘culture’ too has a multiplicity of meanings which can add to any potential for misunderstandings …:slightly_smiling_face:


I watched a fascinating program on S4C yesterday about the origins of the Welsh Princes, the links with the English, French and Scottish leaders at the time, the church, and how the various regions appeared, were fought over, castles built, defended - and so on. I had not heard of the Mabinogion, or much of the history of Wales ( my English history is equally poor ) and it is such an interesting area. A trip to the library this morning, and I now have some great books to help fill the gap, and the lady on reception at the library told me about the Black Book of Carmarthen, and its importance in the history of the written word.


This is indeed a tricky area of discussion, largely because some of the terms used are so loaded. For example the term ‘White Nationalist’ conjures up images of far right extremists, KKK etc. And yet, would you include Nicola Sturgeon (who is White and heads up the Scottish Nationalists) in one of these far right categories? Obviously not. So political discourse on the subject can be so misleading and perhaps we should be careful about misinterpreting peoples views. I’m English, but also feel a sense of connection to Wales and am enjoying deepening those connections through learning the language.


Thanks for the reply, Aran. I think we’ve all been very friendly and respectful here, haven’t we? It’s an interesting place to have this discussion, and (as with all topics) there are aways going to be a broad range of opinions, all of which are valid.

As I’ve said, I’m opposed to nationalism - it makes no sense to me. It’s a place of birth, nothing more. I love many cities and countries around the world and I respect, marvel, and wonder at their language, traditions, heritage, history etc. I see this as no different to Welsh really, and we can see that by the number of international community members (who have never even been to Wales perhaps) who study the language. Using the label of nationalism (in my opinion, again) only causes divisions, and I’m all about opening borders not closing them. I support the language, and I wish that Welsh history was taught in schools (it wasn’t at all up until the point I finished teaching a few years ago), mostly to educate people as to how our communities and societies have become what they are now (unemployment, social structure etc). To clarify, I did mention that there was a fine line between right-wing fascists and Welsh nationalists, not that there was a similarity between them (just as all people declaring as ‘patriotic’ are not fascists). There’s an unfortunate number of people utilising the banner of ‘nationalism’ as an excuse for segregation and racism (a number of people, not all, again to clarify) whether we like it or not.

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had a bad experience with Welsh at some point in their life to be honest. Mine started at school (I went to Gowerton Comprehensive, at the time when half of the school grounds were given to the new Welsh School - Gwyr (much-needed, I’m not disputing that, there should be more Welsh schools!), but the way it was handled was appalling, and resulted in practical gang warfare between the two schools. The kids at Gwyr used to wait for us behind buildings to attack us on the way home, for no other reason than we were from the ‘English’ school. Gwyr also had brand new sports facilities, that they were supposed to share with our school, but never did (this was clearly an error from the governance of the school, but nonetheless, it fed down to the pupils). As a professional musician now I’ve attended Eisteddfodau for years, and unfortunately have seen Welsh schools selected over English ones purely because of their language (this hasn’t happened as much recently, as far as I can tell, but most definitely happened in the 80s/90s). To give an example - I entered a chamber group in the late 90s (3 musicians, all of whom went to conservatoires the following year), which were beaten in the preliminary stages by a recorder group several years younger, who were from a Welsh Medium school. It was an open secret that the proficient group didn’t go through because they were English medium (this is factual by the way, not opinion).

My partner went to a Welsh medium school in North Wales, but his family don’t speak Welsh at home. He was brought up hating the language because of the level of bullying by the ‘mam-iaith’ at school towards the ‘English’. He still speaks the language, and teaches through the medium down here in the south now, but has no high regard for it due to his negative connotations. He was also a member of a Welsh-language pop band in the 90s (he’s also a professional musician) and has a very negative view of Radio Cymru, and the expenditure on Welsh language acts - prior to the ‘Welsh music only’ situation changing on RC, all Welsh language bands knew they could write any old nonsense, and it would get played on RC due to the lack of music available (again, this is fact, not opinion from someone who was there in those days).

To the present day, every Welsh entertainer/musician is aware of ‘The Taffia’ and how closed a group it is - you’re offered MANY more opportunities within the closed clique if you’re a Welsh speaker. There’s a strong sense of this supporting the culture within the Welsh-speaking community, but also of ostracising the English-speaking side. I’ve attended the Urdd, National and Llangollen Eisteddfodau (as a participant, teacher, and visitor) many MANY times, and out of all of them, the Llangollen one is by far the most inclusive and supportive of culture. The participants of the Urdd are mostly privately-educated musicians these days (harp is quite simply, not affordable as an instrument to learn for your average-earning Welsh family), which has been made worse by the dismantling of local education authority music services, local youth music groups etc. I was thrilled by the openness of the National last year down the Bay, and hope that this continues, and that the Urdd follows this lead too. The cost of attending Eisteddfod is simply prohibitive for many. Eisteddfodau are probably the only things keeping Cerdd Dant alive I suppose, so that is one definite example of the language supporting the culture! However, it does largely preserve it only for those who can enter those circles. For anyone not directly involved in Eisteddfodau, Welsh culture is non-existent. That needs to change.

All in, it’s a highly complex issue, as I’m sure you of all people are aware Aran (I have absolute respect for you for going on to the Jeremy Vine show and attempting to reason with him - I find the man utterly reprehensible to be honest, and can’t bear his show where he whips up hatred!). I feel we very much need to acknowledge the bad and the good about the language, and that some Welsh speakers can do SO much more to make Wales, and Welsh inclusive. We’ve come a long way since the dark days of Meibion Glyndŵr, thankfully!

I’d be interested to see the difference between ‘mam-iaith’ speakers’ views on culture and the language in Wales, and of English-speaking Welsh folk. As I’ve said, I can only go on my experience. Looking forward to an interesting debate here though!

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It is indeed tricky, which I suppose is why I’m opposed to the word, full-stop really? Nationalist - to me - generally conjures up negative images of those opposed to things outside of ‘their’ world (and that goes for Plaid, SNP in some terms). It’s this variety of opinions that leads to our ‘broad church’ of discourse eh? I’d prefer a world where there was no place for nationalists, as everyone agreed to leave peacefully, in harmony, working for the good of all people (not giving preferential treatment to any because of race, birthplace, gender, sexuality etc). Currently, for example, I would prefer it if a ‘coalition of the left’ got together to defeat the Conservatives to restore some element of fairness to our society, but Plaid and the SNP would never work with Labour to achieve this. It’s that ‘cutting your nose off to spite your face’ mentality that really puts me off any sense of nationalism.

Interestingly, here’s the definition of ‘Nationalism’ according to the OED:

Identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.

There’s not much positive about that is there?

Here’s a contentious question - would the Welsh culture be just as strong if Eisteddfodau were all conducted in English? Wouldn’t that make them truly inclusive, and more open to all, and therefore encourage the ‘culture’ within to thrive more?

(I’m not saying I agree with the above of course, just interested in the question).

@malumovis @rhiannon-elward @aran

I want to apologize to everyone on SSiW…this ‘thing’ is because of me. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (My fault, my fault, my great-big fault). I inadvertently used a highly emotional term ‘Welsh nationalism,’ in a comment to Rhiannon’s on "I want to be a Welsh-speaker because…’ thread. It was a slip of the fingers on the keyboard. I had no intention of it blowing up like this. SSiW is a fantastic place filled with brilliant people helping one another learn the intricacies of Welsh and share their passion for the language. It was the “passion” component I was referring to in my response, and it lit a fire :fire: of strong emotions. SSiW works diligently to keep the forum energetic, engaging and focussed on language.

If people want to carry on this topic there are a lot of different forums suited perfectly. is one example. My opinion, for what it is worth, is to drop this topic on SSiW and find other suitable forums for discussion, because while members are civil, at some point, a new person breaks into the conversation and it stops being civil and becomes a disruption. That is not SSiW. If it was, there would be a ‘Political’ sub-forum. SSiW is the love and passion of languages and I’m very sorry and deeply regretful that I accidentally pushed it in another direction.

I run two Welsh speaking meetups in the US each week and I’ve made it clear that no politics will be discussed. I did however, leave open the option once the group was collectively strong enough in Welsh, I would be happy to have a political discussion through the medium of Welsh. Imagine American politics debated in Welsh…That would be fun!



I don’t think you said anything at all wrong to be fair.


Is there a bit of a ‘Jeremy’ mix up here? This sounds more like the reputation of Jeremy Kyle and his TV show than our new R2 friend JV


Thank you, Toffidil. I agree with you. I didn’t say anything wrong but the term I used can be loaded with preconceptions which may trigger a strong reaction. Next time, I’ll use less provocative terms like, “Welsh pride,” “Welsh heritage” or “Welsh culture.” I like SSiW the way it is. :grinning:


Crikey, I’ve missed all this. I don’t think anyone said anything wrong at all and appreciate the sensitivity to the word ‘nationalism’ which I used also. I think it’s a shame that so many words we could do with to express ourselves have been stolen and made the property of fascism now, making everyone trying to stick up for our pretty beleaguered land sound like a racist. It’s a semantic issue rather than a disagreement though I think.


Dwi’n gwybod/ I think so


It’s often too simple to break these complicated things down into simple concepts. Then everyone disagrees about what these fundamental things are as there are lots of different ways of defining them, patriotism, nationalism, culture and so on. These differences are partly because we all experience the world differently.

For me, people often bring up the ‘but you were born in England’ argument, which to me isn’t a relevant argument. Patriotism is an odd thing. I feel that to be patriotic you first have to be against the country and then grow to love it. What I mean is that during those confusing teenage years all the tradition that family and society seem to ram down your throat, you react against, that there are better more exciting things to do and places to visit.
However as you gain more experience you start to appreciate the value and uniqueness of those traditions and realise that they are under threat, whether intentionally or not. So after running away, you stop, turn and come running back. To grow to explore and reach ever outwards I feel it is important to have healthy roots and for me that is Wales.b By learning how a culture has shaped you yo learn to appreciate what culture is and respect all other cultures through that learning process.

To be a Welsh patriot, is not to say that Wales, it’s culture or it’s language are superior or inferior to anything else. It’s saying that culture is important and it’s important to nurture the cultures you come from as well as exploring other cultures. All cultures are equally valid, I think people are proud of their own cultures more, because they are the ones they identify with and feel at home in.

Sometimes people realise that they don’t quite fit what by accident of birth or geography is the culture they should belong to, that the reaction against a culture wasn’t exploration but a genuine misplacement and those people may find a real sense of finding home in whatever culture they find a home in, just as people come to Wales and find it to be their home.
In Wales the language is part of it’s culture, but it’s not the entire culture. I’ve found Welsh simply to be another language to be Welsh in. We can probably all agree to disagree on the exact percentage contribution that the language makes to the culture of Wales, but agree that it isn’t 0% and not 100% but somewhere in-between.

So, where does this concept of nationalism fit into all of this. The first bit of the OED definition is fine: Pride in your own culture and support for it’s interests. The second part ‘to the detriment of all others’ is telling. This patriotism I’ve described is positive, however it is entirely possible to end up with the same 1st part conclusions but not be a warm rooted nurturing place. Nationalism can be somewhere for the dis-connected, the unsure of themselves, the inward looking rather than outward-looking, aggressive rather than nurturing. The problem is both types of people end up under this somewhat artifical banner of ‘nationalism’ and it is not always easy to tell where they are coming from. These unrooted nationalists can be spotted when they tick the ‘detriment of others’ box that the rooted nationalist would never dream of.

I hope this makes sense to somebody!


Couldn’t agree more (although you are not to blame in any way!). Like everyone else I have my opinions but SSIW is refreshingly free of potentially divisive discussion. We are all here to learn some Welsh because for our various reasons we are drawn to it. SSiW is a sort of mini-nation of those who love Welsh and, in this context, that’s enough nationalism for me :slight_smile:


Would it still be the same culture? To me, the fact that there are cultural festivals conducted almost entirely in Welsh is an expression of the pride of the Welsh-speaking community in its culture, its language, its music, its poetry, its literature. Where in the world would you find people so passionate about cynghanedd and Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog other than in Wales?

It would be a different culture.

Does that make it exclusive? I took my Australian nephew and my wife to the Eisteddfod Gynedlaethol in Ynys Môn a few years back. They don’t speak Welsh, but they loved every minute of it (even the mud). You could say it is exclusive if you insist on understanding what is going on if you don’t understand Welsh, perhaps. But you can’t say that it is exclusive on the basis of only Welsh speaking people being admitted - and everyone there has the right to speak Welsh and be part of the community, no matter whence they hail.