Wales: (Still) a Problem of Translation? Language Choice in Wales at the End of the Anglo-Welsh Era

David Newbold


In 1996 the poet  R. S. Thomas claimed that ‘my country, Cymru, to be understood presents a problem of translation, and if it is to maintain a separate and valuable identity, it must continue to do so.’ Thomas, a native speaker of English, and a self-taught user of Welsh, seemed to be questioning the value of English to reflect the reality of Wales, and with it his own status as an ‘Anglo-Welsh’ poet. This inner conflict mirrored the language situation in Wales, and the lack of language choice facing writers, since native Welsh speakers carried the psychological onus of remaining faithful to the ‘old language’, and non-Welsh speakers had no choice but to use English.

But the last two decades have seen considerable social, political, and linguistic change in Wales. An extensive bilingual education policy, the emergence of a Welsh language television channel, and the establishment of the Welsh assembly, seem to have halted the decline in the number of Welsh speakers, and bridged the gap between the two linguistic communities. Today writers in Welsh and in English share the same national platform (Llenyddiaeth Cymru - Literature Wales) and an increasing number of bilingual writers choose to use both languages, often translating their own work. In this paper I shall look back over a century of Anglo Welsh writing, and suggest that entrenched language attitudes in Wales, and the attendant ‘impossibility of translation’, have given way to a vibrant bilingual literary scene as Welsh writers look beyond the hills and valleys of an Anglo-Welsh tradition to the world at large. 

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