A recent article by travel writer Simon Calder has launched a small blaze of controversy about the use of the Welsh language on aircraft landing in Wales. The offending piece begins: “In the unlikely event you find yourself aboard a plane flying to Wales before the end of April, you should discover the Welsh terms for “a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell”.
Strangely enough, around the world, announcements are frequently made in languages other than English. Mr Calder, a seasoned traveller himself, must surely have noticed this. For example, English persons on flights landing in Spain might be inconvenienced by announcements in Spanish; likewise in France, China, Ukraine – anywhere in fact where commercial flights land, there are announcements made in the language of that country.
For Calder, however, Welsh doesn’t count. He writes that its abandonment would unlikely cause any harm and suggests that burdening the sensitive ears of passengers and crew with “guff” is not only pointless, but might well contribute to one’s plane meeting with a serious accident. This notion is backed up with a story about an Air Canada flight from Toronto to San Francisco in which garbled instructions from airport control nearly caused the pilot to collide with a packed Philippines Airlines plane, a salutary tale, no doubt, but one that bore no relation to announcements made to passengers in a language other than English. It makes one wonders what the target of Calder’s complaint really is. And it would appear that his real problem is with that pesky irrelevance, the Welsh language.
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes, writing for the news site Nation Cymru, suggests that indeed, this appears to be the case, and goes on to say: ‘Implicit in such tropes is that the Welsh language is inferior, and that it can therefore be casually disregarded. Unlike ‘real’ or ‘proper’ languages, it is not essential. It is characterised as merely an indulgence, not as something fundamental to the lives of those who speak it. Instead, it is a ‘waste’ of resources or as Calder puts it, a “burden”.’
Interesting, to say the least, that someone dedicated to travel and travel writing should show such astonishing lack of cultural awareness, or even basic intelligence. His attitude doesn’t seem to be any different from that of so many Brits abroad who moan about the inconvenience of having to put up with those irritating natives who have the gall to speak their own languages rather than English.