Speaking the Queen's Welsh

The fact that Prince Charles learned Welsh, and has even given speeches in the language, has not done much to mollify the common disdain of the Welsh for the English Crown. Admittedly, hatred for Prince Charles is a good thing to have, and often a sign of clear thinking.

But there is a curious fact whose implications, because counter-intuitive and somewhat at odds with many self-conceptions, are rarely considered by anybody except historians. Namely, that Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Elizabeth of Elizabethan Fame, was very much in favor of the Irish and Welsh languages.

She personally funded the production of an Irish typeface to facilitate the printing and dissemination of an Irish translation of the Bible, and was the driving force behind the act of Parliament that made the first Welsh Bible translation possible.

She in essence ordered Welsh Bishops to have a Welsh Bible, a Welsh Book of Common Prayer, and a Welsh administration of the sacraments in every Welsh-speaking parish by 1 March 1567, and commissioned the production of texts to meet this suddenly mandated need. The resulting Welsh Bible was arguably a superior translation to any English Bible then in existence, produced as it was just half a century after after the first translation of the Bible into Modern English, and half a century before the King James Bible was even a gleam in the eye of Elizabeth's successor James I. Without Elizabeth's insistence on vernacularity, the Welsh Bible and Prayer Books produced by William Salesbury and William Morgan would not have had much of a market, let alone funding. The Welsh Bible in particular was initially so big and expensive that every parish only got one. It would be another half century before personal copies of the Welsh Bible were available.

Elizabeth did, as a practical matter, think the Irish and Welsh should also learn English, but her aim was to ease them into bilingualism, not to supplant one with the other. She was keen on having English text available alongside Irish and Welsh.

Given her religious politics, one might say this was a rather cynical matter. It is usually portrayed as such. It definitely served her self-interest mightily. It was aimed squarely at stomping out popish use of Latin in the British Isles. She probably got quite a few jollies out of pissing off counterreformationists. Which is not a bad way to get your jollies, all things considered.

Now, I hate royalty on general principle, as I hate any and all hereditary systems of government. So I'm not the sort inclined to cut any monarch any slack. But it's worth considering a few things.

First, anti-Latin policies in Early Modern Europe frequently had the effect of suppressing regional languages by imposing the language of the Crown or the State at the expense of everything else, Latin and not. This is how things played out in places like Cornwall and Occitania. When backed by a centralized state's forceful strong-arming and strong force of arms, it was brutally effective. Elizabeth did not really have to make provisions for regional languages in order to give the finger to Latin worship.

While Elizabeth's main goal may have been monarchic self-interest, her political shrewdness on its own doesn't really explain other things. Elizabeth was eager to learn, and like many other Tudor women had literally the best education money could buy an Englishwoman. She also would have easily understood that Britain was plenty big enough for more than one language. I can't be sure, but she may well have been the most multilingual monarch England has ever had. She is known to have spoken at least English, Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Latin. Some of these she spoke and read far better than she could write them. (Her spoken French was reported to be quite fluent, but her secret letters to the Duke of Anjou, which for obvious reasons couldn't be proofed or drafted by anyone else, are written in a crabbed and awkward French full of unidiomatic phrasing. This is unsurprising. When you have a corps of diplomatic functionaries and secretaries to draft correspondence for you, you only need to write things yourself on rare or personal occasions.)

More strikingly, there is good reason to believe Elizabeth also learned at least some Welsh from her lady-in-waiting Blanche Parry, who came from a family of Welsh-speaking (and highly Welsh-literate) gentry. Parry was also involved in getting the Welsh Bible project underway.

Elizabeth was interested in learning Irish, too, a language for which there were at that time no learning materials for non-natives. Whether she made much progress in the language nobody will ever know. But she did commission Christopher Nugent, the Baron of Delvin, a bilingual Anglo-Irish nobleman, to write something up for her to help get the basics of the language. He did so. The result was the Queen's Irish Primer, a little booklet roughly equivalent to today's Lonely Planet guides for tourists: a phrasebook and word list plus a basic outline of the grammar. This was the first known written attempt to explain the Irish language to an adult learner, and it was produced at the personal behest of the English crown.

The final point is the sheer importance of the Welsh Bible. This can't be overstated. Vernacular Bible translations in Early Modern Europe seem to have functioned a bit like health insurance for languages. Once the Bible was available in a language, that language's long-term prospects were much higher. A Bible Translation offered not only the prestige of a written form, but something that speakers would be motivated to read and reread. Even under conditions of oppressive language policy, anybody trying to take people's Bibles might be vulnerable to theological objections or at least arouse great religious opprobrium.

The Welsh Bible was even more important than most other Early Modern Bible translations. Many have credited the widespread use of William Morgan's Welsh Bible as the major and even determining factor in the fate of Welsh-language literacy and culture. It would not surprise me if in 200 years, Welsh is the only Celtic language still alive. Welsh would definitely not be in this enviable position were it not for the fact that churches in Welsh-speaking areas were, and doggedly remained, free to conduct their parochial and spiritual affairs in Welsh.

It's worth comparing the fate of Welsh to that of the other Brythonic language under the English crown: Cornish. Cornish was brutally suppressed by Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, who in an attempt to root out the Latin liturgy, was content to have English enforced in Cornwall at swordpoint, rather than bother subsidizing the regional vernacular language. With the crushing of the Prayer Book Rebellion, use of Cornish in worship, or any official capacity, came with great risk. It was a risk that few were interested in taking. Within a century, the last known monolingual Cornish speaker, Chesten Marchant, was dead. The century after that saw the death of the last known fluent native speaker who was able to write in the language, the famous Dolly Pentraeth. In the 19th century, though there were a few people who still spoke Cornish still, they were very hard even for well-meaning antiquarian scholars to find. Generally Englishmen no longer knew what Cornish was, and did not recognize it on the rare occasion that they heard it. Mostly evidence of continued Cornish use takes the form of puzzled descriptions, such as a reference to some kind of bizarre-sounding non-English spoken by a few illiterate miners from Falmouth. And in 1914 came the death of one John Mann, the last person known to have spoken Cornish as a child. On his deathbed, Mann could remember only a few words and phrases of the language he grew up speaking. Despite great antiquarian interest in the language throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Cornish was dead by the time revival attempts got under way.

All through this, Welsh was still holding its own. Despite a few fairly dicey decades, when prospects for its future were not at all certain, Welsh would ultimately survive the oppressive language ideologies and language policies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today in Wales, ability to speak the language is enough of a social asset that learning it is often part of upward mobility in English-speaking areas. This is thanks in large part to the continuing robustness of Welsh-medium Methodist churches which were able to provide not only an alternative source of literacy outside the English school system, but a strong spiritual identification with the language. It's a lot harder to get somebody to abandon their native language when they talk to God in it. Welsh also had a thriving literature written in a standardized register based largely on the language of Morgans' Bible. Although hymnography often tends to quash talent rather than nurture it, Welsh-language hymnography was the medium of quite a few brilliant poets, such as Ann Griffiths, whose work was preserved in oral tradition before being fixed in writing.

On the other hand, the Bible wasn't translated into Cornish in its entirety until 2011, as part of the  language-resurrection movement.

It's a supreme irony that the (relatively) good prospects for the Welsh language owe a great deal to the shrewdness, temperament and intellectual disposition of an English Monarch whose main goal was to consolidate her power.

Reflexivity

Oh yes-man at the mirror, don't you know
That no-man's-land is just a glass pain here?
Oh to be different from that different O,
You lean to ask, as he lends you his ear,

For the yes-man in the mirror to say no.
Say no. A double negative of fear
That can't save you from what you know you know.
Yes, hear him, broken-toned, still in your ear.

Thanksgiving

These are my kin who believe they know me
The blood forgotten in my veins
This is the room I would not have chosen
My long-dead childhood's living remains

Who is this stranger that runs to hug me?
What does he want me to smile about?
We know each other less each year.
Shall I make myself at home and go out?

Must pretend convivial things
Never knowing what more to say
How do they seem to feel so normal
Clinking glasses of strange rosé?

This is the art of loving illusion
This is a house and not a home
But strangeness has always been kin to me
Strangeness my only honest welcome

This

This

Do I care for America? Well, I do and I don't.
That question's a trap you spring. And, well, I won't.

It's a nice enough place, from sea to rising sea,
Whose people don't know how to love it. Land of the fee,

The hypocrite, the hipster, the toil-turned hand,
The heritage we pretend to understand,

And it happens that I was born here. As for the races
(Black, white and electoral) the disgraces

Impress far more than song and spacious skies,
Or the ego of Rushmore's mountain majesties.

And I've stomached quite enough of the hullabaloo
Of kneejerk Nothings making much ado

Beneath blue sky in whose light the foul claws
Are digging up the bones of the grey Lost Cause.

Can I leave? To get some space form rhetorical muck,
I'll take a walk through my town, mind all amok,

And here I am. The library. School. Signs of DANGER:
CONSTRUCTION. Places that taught me to be a stranger

Are where I am from. In between sky and earth
There are many berths but never a second birth.

And there's that wind as I come to the old play-hill
And the sound of race-myths looting the people's will.

I'm getting pretty woozy. I sit in the park
And a dead dream starts back beating in a heart

Wrapped in that starstruck banner. So it is,
God damn it. I can't just walk away from this.

Historian

A world of vanished nations in your head
You lie tonight without a thought to spare
Aught but the wind that seems to down the leaves
Despite stilled summer air

落花

Heineken's "World Apart" and Corporate Sociopathy

Watching the recent Heineken ad I was instantly reminded of when Donald Trump told Caitlyn Jenner she could use any bathroom she liked at Trump Tower. Then I realized it was nowhere near that dignified. The ad is apparently working quite spectacularly. It's a successful ad, in that it made more people feel positively toward the Heineken brand without undermining the company's bottom line. That is its job. To artistically convey a message. Much like propaganda. When propaganda truly has warmed your heart, you know you've been had.

If you think I'm cynical, consider how cynical this ad is.

What actual substantive discussion did we even see the climate change guys engage in? Do you think this is an accident?

How plausible is it that the cause of the sudden(ly visible) political polarization in the present moment honestly can be explained by reference to questions of gender, gender identity and opinions on climate change? How plausible is it that the good people of Heineken or Publicis London think that?

Heineken claimed in a tweet that these are not actors, and that what we see is not staged. Despite the fact that people do seem to have been rather selectively "cast" for their roles in this experiment, it hasn't been staged or scripted. It's simply been directed and edited.

Toby Dye, who directed the commercial for Publicis London, also directed a vile commercial for Persil, a laundry detergent, in which he told prison inmates that they spent more time outside than the average child and filmed their reactions, and then featured a prison guard telling the audience that if kids aren't filthy with dirt and in need of a bath, they haven't played outside hard enough. The man's editing and direction were able to make it look like incarcerated prisoners thought that kids growing up at home had it better than they did behind bars.

Consider moreover some of the things these people you see in the ad probably already agreed on, but which Heineken would never dare allow to be aired in a commercial. For example, a majority of Britons believe that big business and wealthy donors have too much influence on government and politics. I dare any beer company to show beer drinkers of different walks of life agreeing — as in reality they often do — on that point.

What else might these people actually have in common? For one, they were all part of a social experiment whose purpose they did not understand. Presumably they were paid to participate. In other words, if anything actually binds these people together is that they have to work for a living, and really could use the money.

Finally: just how many pairs of people do you suppose Toby Dye actually had to film before he got a handful that could serve as beer ad posterchildren in ways that played to all the right demographics' sensibilities without actually saying anything dangerously substantive?

Publicis London's slogan of “You have to lead the change, if you don’t want to be led by change” sounds rather unintentionally sinister in this light.

If you wonder what the full unedited substance of these people's conversations was, too bad. As like as not, they probably were made at some point to sign away the rights to publicly disclose any of it.

It's true. Heineken is indeed Socially Aware. This ad proves it. All the social awareness of a highly successful sociopath.

Ever Livid In The Tide

I have walked out of step with my time these past few years
Or so. No I must not fall out of tune.
The streets of home are walked by the old fears
Of neolithics praying to the moon.

Yeah, right. Yet out of tune the towns do seem to go
As land razed under rising seas till oh
Say can you feel the strangeness of the tides
At dawn, the ebb of mourning on all sides

Of your now little isle, where lions court the soul
Where the wolf skins you, to parade in human pelt.
A sea-changed island amid miles of shoal
That life will little defend. So having felt

The times, I cannot think I do not feel
The preying tonguewaves of unwavering tides,
And lie in ruin in the realms of the real,
With little less than life on all sides.

Call to Action

Let us devote ourselves to the cause of eliminating all witch hunters. Anyone who does not agree to my program of eradicating witch hunters is under suspicion of being a witch hunter themselves.

Immemorabilia

No greater memory we have
Than of all things that were not so
Stock footage dug out of the grave
Of mind to make the old days grow

Good. Glimmering coasts of might-have-been
Are there for having not been once.
The ugly statue rots to green
Before you sigh at thoughts of bronze.

Forget the way that lovers lie
To each other through their teeth
Pulled to be gentle You And I.
Recall his smile, her human breath.

Blindsight is 20/20, then.
You knew what you can't bear to know.
A gaping wound of 2010
No 2020 would dare show.

Fiction Spéculative

I find there is a curious flavor to French Speculative Fiction from the 80s onward written under the overwhelming influence of a peculiarly French brand of postmodernism. If you read this wall, you know how I feel about French postmodernism. But SF written under its influence, by people like Roland Wagner, is interesting. There's a lot of Weird For Weird's Sake, to be sure. And it is irritating. But there is more than that. I don't think "weird" quite describes it. An overall air of unreality seems to suffuse the writing of SF authors in France who came to their craft in the 80s and 90s. Demands placed upon the reader's suspension of disbelief are much greater and of a subtly different nature. I can see why Norman Spinrad felt some affinity for French SF.

The stories are sometimes outright silly in ways that are used to quite grave effect. Deadly serious in its silliness one might say. It's something that one used to Anglophone SF would not expect, and I doubt that much of this would even sell well in translation in the US outside very select circles, like Yale literary critics — most of whom I assume read French anyway.

Overall these stories aren't worse, or better, than those I've read from the previous generation, I think. They're just different. An increasing dose of of the outright fantastical permeates the stories as well. When they take their breaks from plausibility, what really disturbs me is that I don't think the authors even realize that that's what they're doing. One could be forgiven for thinking the writers themselves were sometimes prey to the Philip K Dick syndrome of not being able to grasp reality.

Some of the best stories from this period that I've found aren't even strictly speaking SF at all. Gonthier's stories such as "Le Dernier Mot" are of this type. The speculative possibilities are neither confirmed nor disconfirmed. They are eerie. They force (or affect to force) one to question what is and isn't real, leaving open disturbing possibilities of what might actually be true about the world. They make you think a thing is true in this world, but make you realize that that is your own assumption. The story suggests, but refuses to confirm.

Nightenment

Black the night. Deep seamless oh-dark-thirty.
Armor. Eyes in a gunbarrel. Unseen
Black falls from overhead upon the head
I think, and kills the view— a guillotine.

Black like a facelift given by the blind,
Thick to the eye, to breath. Black dense as bars
That block all wind and cloud or shape of mind
That could discover such a thing as stars.

Opaque tar black. Heading from overhead
Or ground up from the ground? I wouldn't know.
Black jets gushed, hardened to obsidian.
A firm-surged wall. Whether I come or go

Black ramparts close in, solitarily
Confine me and corral me. Blind and dumb
I grope and cling against the wall. I feel
Bastille about me, whether I go or come.

Benighted thus against this wall and faced
With tar that has killed space, I can't be right
To think I do not disbelieve in life
In noise, in light. I burrow. Black the night.

Not Much Left

People for whom the left is little more than a cultural sensibility, whose idea of social justice doesn't go beyond disparities between ascriptively reified groups, sometimes irritate me on a deeper level than libertarian conservative intellectuals. Why? Probably because I am fed up with the weaselish hypocrisy, the racial bad faith, the ease with which they rationalize the substantially inhumane for the sake of the symbolically satisfying. Few things are more emblematic of modern political dishonesty than a transparently narrow-minded person screaming that the only way to truly be openminded is to agree with them.

I once knew an asshole in college who would treat the dining hall staff like dogshit and insisted that true "oppression" was the absence of halal food from the dining hall. I have far more contempt for him than I do for Milton Friedman.

Between someone who is honestly wrong, and someone who is dishonestly half-right, I'm not so sure that the latter is always preferable.

At least the honestly wrong can —some of the time — have honest discussions, and may be open to new information.

The dishonestly half-right are on a steady diet of bromides.

Studying Down and Never Up

The more marginalized, disenfranchised or downtrodden a group is, the more likely they are to be an object of scholarly study. The Amish, the Roma, Middle Eastern Doms, Israeli Mizraḥim, Native American nations, Irish Travellers, Chukchis and dozens of other groups spring to mind off the top of my head.

The poor and the underclass in any modern industrialized country are objects of perennial fascination to sociologists and anthropologists, in everything from their speech habits to their driving styles. Conventional sociology of the well-bred, well-read and well fed is rife with bromides about the poor.

Few attempt to study the rich and powerful.

Fewer still of those who make the attempt have managed to gain a useful amount of access to really succeed.

And almost none of those who succeed have any impact in the larger culture. An anthropologist working in Beverly Hills is unlikely to gain much renown or notice for whatever work they put out. Such a work will simply not be read or heard of by policy-makers, anymore than was Ronald Dore's analysis of relations between large firms in Japan, or Mark Granovetter's study of the agents and executives of large American corporate firms.

The rich and powerful have historically had the means to craft their image to their liking, and every reason to divert as much attention as possible from the more discreditable aspects of their own behavior.

I often feel that societal curiosity of the academe is directed in precisely the wrong direction.

His Love Poem

My eyes had long forgotten how to see,
Blind tired of everything already known,
Until your sight knew them. You were for me
Water. There is such pain in drinking stone.

Some things will fall away from me: this hair,
These cheeks the years caress even in our bed.
Last night's sex will fall lost in mind, and there
Will come a day when one of us is dead.

Some things will fall away from me, not you
Who are as much as I could be of me.
Some things fall false, and others may come true
But I cannot forget now how to see.

Or so I wrote two years ago. Today
I got the stuff of mine you sent by mail.
Jack-moments jump from all boxes to bray
"Some things fall false. Others just fail."

Now all you were has left, remains in me
A memoir for my future to parse out.
I know, beyond our shadow, of a doubt
That I can not forget now how to see. 

Future Ex-Husband

"This is the therapy of the insecure
Pretending we are younger than we were" 

On Turning Thirty

The thought pursues me down my childhood streets
where every winter is colder than the last
and where a single car horn gores the ear
out of its desperate escape from things.
The lanterns flick upon a weird collage
Of life en l'an trentiesme de mon age

So soon come thirty years of restlessness,
of boredom, pain, frustration and surprise
quick as a downtown snowfall. Quickening wind
has buffeted me about in all my bluster.
A time shall come when time is gone. I have
Strained for the hands of loved ones and been torn
Through nations, made my old haunts of the strange,
a stranger in the strained land of my berth
now ripped by its own talons till I grasp...
The apple trees in the yard died long ago.

About my brow the years rise in a swarm.
Nothing has happened otherwise. This is
The work we do together and alone -
Walking the roads, discovery and rue.
It is the moment seized on like a star
Shot down on the horizon. It is learned
From every lover ever to have lost you,
From all you wish you had not overlooked,
To get things clearer toward the final act.
Know what you're made of. Or go to pieces.

I cannot start again. I simply start
Resolved into the company of living
and dead, of all I read and think and wish
to be. So let me end in ash or dust
but in remembrance be a boon to live with.
Our funerals are never for the dead.

Now Is The Winter Of Approximately 1592

Another Shakespearean monologue in 16th century English. Click below to download

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

Little Left

I see little political consciousness whatsoever in my circles. Least of all among the most "politically-minded." There is such personalization of structural issues, a profound failure to think strategically, and a near-total inability to see politics as something other than a mere mode of self-expression and self-affirmation.

Now that Trump has won, even some of the more sensible have hopelessly devolved.


Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me?

You ask for more and so more I deliver.

The "Dagger of the Mind" speech from MacBeth in 16th century English

Click to Download

Enjoy. 

The Poem Not Itself

Opinions like this make me headdesk.
"The poem's lyric qualities can hardly be brought over into English. The clear strong articulation of the Spanish vowels gives them a beauty not easily reproducible in Northern tongues"-Paul Rogers (The Poem Itself)
Leaving aside the fact that "clear" vowels are indeed to be found in more northerly languages (such as Welsh) and that complex phonology and many slurred or reduced vowels can be found in other southerly Mediterranean languages (such as European Portuguese, or Moroccan Arabic), stuff like this pisses me off because it assumes that native or native-like Spanish speakers aestheticize their vowel inventory in the same way a non-native would.

English vowels often seem complex and varied and reduced even to Spanish speakers who are fluent in it. But when we Anglophones read, say, Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson we do not experience their sound-play in terms of varied complex or unclear sounds.

There are some aesthetic universals related to phonology. For example high front unrounded vowels (as in the "ee" of sheen) have been experimentally demonstrated to sound more sprightly and happy (and, in names, more feminine) than low back rounded vowels (like the oo of boom) which in turn sound slow, heavy and sad (and, in names, more masculine) in a variety of different cultures from Scotland to Japan to Lebanon.

But such constancies are few and far between.

In understanding the sound-texture of verbal art in another language, it is important to not look at the sounds of one language in terms of another.