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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

The Other Side of the Hedge M. Wynn Thomas
Gwyn Griffiths and Meic Stephens, eds., The Old Red Tongue:
An Anthology of Welsh Literature (Francis Boutle Publishers), 999pp


IT IS ONE of the minor wonders (and to some one of the minor irritants) of the modern world that a ‘Wales’ exists – albeit perhaps as little more nowadays than as ‘England’s little butty’, as the cruelly perceptive Harri Webb put it. After all it was never meant to be like this. The Act of Union of England and Wales of 1536 – really a summary Act of Annexation and Incorporation – had deliberately set in train a process of steady assimilation by England that, from some contemporary perspectives, seems (despite the flummery of a carefully emasculated National Assembly) to have pretty well reached its conclusion. Yet this tiny mouse of a country, for so long the bedfellow of a (mostly amiable) elephant, has hitherto somehow avoided being completely flattened.

Of course, the disobliging Welsh language has had much to do with it. Right down to the middle of the nineteenth century, the overwhelming majority of the Welsh spoke a language known only to themselves. But then in 1847 the monoglot English authors of a government report on the state of education in Wales informed the general populace that their primitive patois of a language was nothing but a barrier to ‘progress’. And then shortly afterwards ‘progress’ duly came in the form of a multitude of English-speaking outsiders sucked into the vortex of the great industrial boom of the South Wales valleys. The Welsh language ...


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