Guardian article today: Welsh & identity

Nice article by Ellie Mae O’Hagen in the Guardian today about her emotional attachment to Welsh. The comments are also interesting - clealry what she has to say resonates with a lot of readers.


That article is from January 2015. I don’t buy the “so much more poetic and sensual than the English [language]” thing, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

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I remember seeing this article a while ago, but I did not realise it was more than three years ago - thanks Rob. I have difficulty understanding the concept of forgetting a language, I don’t think that is possible, absent physiological damage. Individual words, sure, and also not becoming aware of new words, expressions, etc. in a living language. To me, she is describing what it is like to lose contact with a language community - which she refers to a few times - a common experience for emigrants all over the world

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I agree - but I think once it dips under immediate conscious control, at which point it takes some consistent effort to reactivate it (perhaps half an hour or more!) most people presume incorrectly that they have forgotten it.

I think it’s the same process of conscious vs unconscious memory that makes it hard for some people to let go and trust in the process of spaced repetition…

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I was talking about this with a friend, today and he felt that you can forget stuff (use it or lose it). However, I have found that memories, even quite precise ones such as languages, landscapes, even mathematical formula (not my strong point) seem to remain in the background, ready to be recalled when required.

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The neurological evidence at synapse level is that synapses can be weakened as well as strengthened - but it doesn’t look as though you can ever entirely remove all traces of the structural changes… I’m not aware of any work on speed of recreating memories that have been weakened - but all our circumstantial evidence from one-on-one work is that they come back extraordinarily quickly even if the subject believes that they have been entirely lost.

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One thing is sure, it’s when she says " language has an intimacy and power that shapes a person existentially". As I was saying in the topic about cornish and breton, a language is much much more than a perfect knowng of an whole dictionnary. A language is the way you think, therefore the way you built the sentences to express this way of thinking.

When french (and I suppose english) built their sentences “subject-verb-complement”, breton (and I guess welsh and kerveweg) built them 3 different ways (or even 4)

  • ar bara a zo war an daol (the bred is on the table)
  • war an doal emañ ar bara (on the table is the bread)
  • emañ ar bara war an daol (IS the bread on the table - and it’s not a question)
    The 3 ways mean 3 different ways of saying a thiing which, in french, will be only sad with the first way (otherwise french tongue has to use insistant and heavy formules)

But much more further than this, the fact of building sentences so differently, depending what you want to “spotlight”, means a way of seeing life (death, dreams, fantasy, adaptability to new things, imagination…) very different from the french cartesianism, for example.

Forget a language, yes you can when you practiced it in your very young age and never practiced again til a long time further.
But having a certain personnality because you spent a lot of time among people practiding maybe not the language, but the global behaviour that this language implies, even if the words are now english or french instead of welsh or breton, this is sure sure sure, and you’ll have it for ever.

How can we know that breton is dying ? Just because new speakers (a lot, so you could think that the tongue will survive) use the breton words, yes, but with the french grammar and way of saying. Just “subject-verb-complement”. French way of saying. The tongue is dying, but maybe not the personality involved by the fact of living in Brittany, among what remains of a culture, different from others in France.
And this shows how tongue and persnnality are so much part each and the other…


That goes right to the heart of what constitutes a language. It is possible that Breton will survive as some sort of creole (when compared to ‘pure’ Breton), but even as a creole, it would still be a language distinct from French, I dare say.

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Hello Louis. yes you’re right, if we speak “abstractively” : any way of expressing is a language, included language for mute people. So words have not a big importance.
But we were speaking about the link between a language and the “way of beeing, of thinking, etc”.
Look at the english tongue : in the USA, without beeing a creole of England-english tongue, it’s a different english, with a different spirit, different way of seeing things. And it works.
If this possible new breton “creole” was the language of a nation, or “far away colony” with a sort of independance, a sort of proudness maybe, and - above all - big economy (!) this breton-creole could survive, but it’s not this specific case…
That’s why I was saying that what remains now are “the rests”, as after a meal. As long as will stay those rests, the spirit of the “native” tongue will stay, even as a creole. But on a long term you won’t avoid a total (des)integration and digestion of this “spirit” in a larger language space (here, french), with other way of seeing life (life and what is all around life)

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I remember hearing JAcob Bronowski, the television presenter saying he could not remember a word of the Polish he spoke as a child. It depends a bit how old you are when you stop speaking it. I imagine it comes back quite quickly. What a shame she felt too embarrassed to join the Welsh Society, which is just what she needed. Perhaps she has done since then!

Reminds me of Michel Thomas. In a biography of his I read, he said he was sent from Poland by his family to live in Germany, where he completed his education. He said he felt more at home in Germany (ironic, considering what happened to him later), and more comfortable speaking German, and abandoned his Polish. (I don’t know if he actually forgot it though).

I haven’t heard of Michel Thomas. Doesn’t sound very Polish - or German!

No, well, he had a very chequered war.

He’s famous as a language teacher to the stars in the USA, where he settled after the war.
Then, relatively late in life, he started putting out CD-based audio language courses in the major languages. I have the Spanish one which is very good, and the German one which is (surprisingly) not so good. After he died, his company started putting out a wider range of courses in what they called “the Michel Thomas method”, but I think part of his method was his personality, and I don’t think they are as good.

Now, some people might say that there is a certain resemblance to SSi courses and Michel Thomas, but Aran always goes ballistic if you say that, so I of course, will not say that! :wink:

Back to his name: When the 3rd Reich came to power, he got out of Germany into France, and when France was invaded, he went underground and joined the resistance. I think he assumed his French name then, and kept it after the war. After the Invasion, he helped the Americans interrogate senior German officers, and after the war, emigrated to the USA.

I used the Michel Thomas method last year for the Japanese I learned and I have to say I was quite imressed. I did an hour or two a day for perhaps three months and it did serve me well for while I was there. I could say quite complicated things, but with a vocabulary of about 100 words it was still quite limited. And don’t ask me about understanding anything, but we all know that feeling.

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Ahem… :wink:

I’m always entirely happy to acknowledge that Michel Thomas was one of a wide range of course providers who influenced my own thinking - both in terms of what seemed to work and what didn’t seem to work - I just like to point out that we diverge in a few important ways, which don’t usually seem to be quite as obvious as the shared prompt->response->model structure… :slight_smile:


THanks MIke. That is very interesting. I haven’t learned any other languages that way. I don’t suppose he wrote them all himself, as I would not expect him to speak Spanish and Japanese, for example, so maybe the person who did the German one was not as skilled as the SPanish one.

MT did the French, Italian, German and Spanish ones himself - or rather, they sent someone in to record him while he was working with students in his private school.

All the others ones are done by other people, claiming to use the ‘MT Method’, despite Michel Thomas himself being very outspoken in his lifetime about never sharing the method with anyone because if he did, they’d all rip him off…!