Why I...believe the Welsh Assembly should not compel students to be taught in Welsh

April 30, 1999

For centuries, the Welsh were trapped by their obscure Celticlanguage in which little of importance was written. When they switched to English they entered the mainstream of European science and culture.

Next Thursday the Welsh will vote for candidates to the principality's new assembly. There will be a strong coalition composed of Welsh Nationalists, some Liberal Democrats and some Labour Party members. This coalition is likely to push for the spread of the Welsh language.

In my view this will be a disaster, particularly for the Welsh university colleges. Attempts may well be made by the assembly to enforce university teaching in Welsh. But some subjects, because of their specialised vocabulary, do not lend themselves to this.

The Swedes teach medicine in English because the textbooks and journals are in English, the Dutch teach a variety of courses through the medium of English and the writings of philosopher Immanuel Kant are taught in English translation at the University of Kiel because it is simpler than theGerman original.

But in Wales, where all the leading textbooks, journals and monographs are in English and most lecturers are English speakers with little knowledge of Welsh, the compulsory intrusion of an irrelevant minority language is likely to become official policy.

Students in Wales already have the right to sit their final examinations in Welsh even when they have been taught in English. A few have insisted on this right. No doubt most Welsh-speaking students realised it would be unwise to do so. Even the truly bilingual may find it difficult to conjure up an academic Welsh vocabulary under examination pressures.

The real problems will arise if the Welsh Assembly decides to artificially boost the use of Welsh in tertiary education. It may do this by creating Welsh language-only universities. Alternatively, the assembly may insist that Welsh speakers must sit examinations in Welsh. There will then be a crisis because it will not be possible to find properly qualified markers or external examiners.

Fortunately, there is an old Welsh formula the assembly can invoke. A new academy of high-salaried Welsh-speaking examiners will be created, providing an endless supply of jobs for Welsh-speaking boys and girls. No ethnic foreigners need apply.

Christie Davies

Professor of sociology at a leading university,on sabbatical in California

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