How far would you go to save your language?

As a Swansea-based company we’d like to talk about the achievements of one of Swansea’s most well-known literary figures and promoters of the Welsh language.

Saunders Lewis, a renowned author and political activist, has arguably done more for the preservation and promotion of the Welsh language than any other figure throughout history.

However, although his passion for the Welsh language and culture cannot be doubted, his extreme viewpoints and violent methods have been criticised by many. Today we’re asking: how far should you go to save your language?

Saunders Lewis

Saunders Lewis was born into a Welsh-speaking family in 1893 and grew up among the Welsh community in Merseyside.

In 1922 he moved to Swansea after having been appointed as lecturer in Welsh at Swansea University. It was then that he began to be recognised for his literary talents.

He wrote plays, poetry, novels and essays – mainly in Welsh but also sometimes in English. In 1970 was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, having become one of the most celebrated Welsh writers.

Lewis was passionate about preserving the Welsh language. He became actively involved in politics as a means of doing so. In 1925 he co-founded Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (Welsh National Party). This has since become the modern-day Plaid Cymru.

The main aim of the party was to promote a Welsh speaking Wales. Lewis insisted that all party business was carried out in Welsh, and that members cut all ties with other British parties.

Lewis was also responsible for the creation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society). Cymdeithas was set up as a reaction to a BBC radio lecture given by Lewis in 1962. The lecture was entitled Tynged Yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language) and in it, Lewis forecasted the extinction of the Welsh language. He asserted that the language would die unless radical means were used to protect it.

Cymdeithas and Plaid

He had been hoping to inspire Plaid Cymru to take more direct action to support Welsh-language use. Instead the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg was founded, so as to allow Plaid Cymru to concentrate on electoral politics. The Cymdeithas focused on endorsing the language. His speech also had an effect on a UK-wide level. In 1964 the Labour Government established the Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales.

However, despite having achieved so much, Saunders Lewis’ legacy will forever be tainted by some of the extreme measures he resorted to in order to get his message across. His views about the preservation of the Welsh language were often intertwined with strong Nationalist leanings. Lewis himself admitting that he wanted to “remove from our beloved country the mark and shame of conquest.”

In 1936, ironically the 400th anniversary of the Act of Union (annexing Wales into England), Lewis was involved in an arson attack on a military bombing school. After he had been angered by the fact that Gwynedd had been chosen for its location over several possible regions in England. He was subsequently sentenced to nine months in prison and fired from his position as lecturer at Swansea University.

At Lingua Translations we are proud of our Welsh history and recognise the importance of preserving minority languages like Welsh. We would never advocate violent methods to do so. Saunders Lewis will always be identified as an important figure in Welsh history but there are many lessons to be learnt from his story.

What do you think? What are the most effective methods for preserving a language? Click here to find out more about our dedication to language and our professional translation services.