Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 7 March 2011 at 13:21

Today, on a whim, I went to Abacus. It's our local educational bookstore; think Blackwell's more than Waterstones. Anyway, I went with the intention of picking up a Catalan grammar book for my collection of linguistic tomes I never look at. What I found instead was a copy of a grammar book for learners of Aranese, the Occitan dialect spoken in the Val D'Aran region of Catalonia. I was very tempted to buy it, then I realised it was all written in Lengadocian (or at least a purer form of Occitan than Aranese) so I put it back.

Since that moment, I've been having a few linguistic regrets. You see, we went on a trip to the mountains on Saturday, to Pobla del Segur. There, it was almost like a cross between the Welsh valleys and the dry hills of Spain. In some places, it was verdant and lush in a way you only ever see in city parks that are cared for. In others it was dry scrubland that looked neglected and yet typically Mediterranean. While my Italian friends went to sample the local delicacies of the Carnival, the Polish girls and I decided to hike around the hillsides. It was a really nice 4 hour walk, into the 'back of beyond' -- though I mean that in a purely descriptive way, as the place was genuinely beautiful, it was just miles from the big cities -- but the more I think about it, the more I have these pangs.

Sure, I've been ill, but it's not those kind of pangs. It's the pangs of regret that come with living in a bilingual community where the people actually care about their language. Without trying to sound like an ignorant Briton, I think Wales needs a good dose of someone like Franco to make them realise how important the language is. My Literature lecturer here teaches in Spanish, his students answer him in Catalan and write essays in Catalan; to do that in the UK would amount to a fairly weighty political statement (speaking and writing in Welsh to an English Lit. lecturer)

Of course, I'm not going off on a linguistic rant, espousing the virtues of the Iaith Cymraeg, but merely trying to put up some barriers to explain to myself and you, dear reader, why I have these pangs. I'm from a country that should, in theory, be 100% bilingual. Instead, we're allowed to drop the language at 16, speak English for the rest of our lives, and nobody gets annoyed at it. It's a fine system...if you don't care. What I'm getting at, in the most roundabout of ways, is that I regret not continuing my Welsh education.

I could probably, with the help of a dictionary for the more colloquial words, attempt writing this out in Catalan and it would come out much better than an attempt in Welsh. But, while that may be molt bé, and an achievement for most, considering Catalan is a fairly strong minority language -- 9million speakers in 4 countries; more native speakers than those who speak Danish -- it's not my first language, or even a language spoken in my home country. While I may not come out of this degree being able to call myself bilingual in any of the languages I have devoted myself to, that's not a problem for me. I guess now I feel like if I should be able to call myself bilingual, it should be in the two mother-tongues of my country -- English and Welsh.

In short: if I learn nothing else this year, I can be safe in the knowledge that I want to get back to learning to speak Welsh.


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