YOUR MP WRITES: Torfaen MP Paul Murphy
I RECENTLY learned about a consultation on Welsh place names that Torfaen Council has been required to run. I responded to the consultation as the local MP, pointing out my concerns.
Councils like Torfaen have rightly placed education and social care at the top of their priorities, at a time when money is short. In recent weeks, we’ve all seen some of the tough choices that councils are having to make, as the result of cuts being made by the UK government, and in the face of rising demand on the services councils provide.
So in this climate of austerity, while I value the Welsh Language as part of our rich cultural heritage, I am keen to guard against directives that risk diverting money away from vital frontline services. I hope that the Welsh language commissioner and those who decide these things recognise that financial reality and avoid imposing undue burdens upon hardpressed councils.
Leaving concerns about money to one side though, I am deeply sceptical about the whole concept of ‘Welsh’ place-names. So-called standardisation of place names may seem on the surface to be sensible, but it risks ignoring the tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity of Wales. The Eastern Valley of Gwent in particular has been one of Wales’ great cultural melting pots. As the first valley to be industrialised, thousands of people, including my own ancestors, came here in the 19th and 20th centuries to find work, bringing with them their cultures and heritage – from Italy, Ireland, the West of England, Scotland and elsewhere.
When these people arrived, they merged with an indigenous Gwent population who had their own cultural and linguistic identity. This great cultural richness ought not to be swamped by a rush to a bland and meaningless standardisation, otherwise we risk obliterating hundreds of years of our local history.
Many of our Welsh place names may not conform to a standard interpretation, but they are local, they are used and most importantly, they are ours. Try telling someone that Cwmynyscoy is not a proper Welsh place name – or Griffithstown, or even Blaenavon!
These are parts of our valley whose names hark back to our proud industrial past.
The future of the Welsh language is best served through the continued success of Welsh-medium education and by strengthening the economies of Welsh-language communities – not by ignoring our cultural diversity within Wales. If regional variation in Wales is to be submerged to a stifling uniformity, then much of what we have done to encourage and foster the Welsh language could be jeopardised.
That would be a great pity.