“These at the bottom rung of the ladder, the innumerable, dispossessed and hopeless whose life stories no one ever hears”
Ai Wei Wei
Overcoming a psychological barrier.
Folk Text is a concept I have developed for myself as a derivative from folk art, which is a term that was developed in the nineteenth century. Folk Text describes the writing of those in society who do not perform to elite standards. For instance, the poorly educated, those who learn differently and those who lack confidence and whose self-expression in writing has been suppressed and ridiculed.
Folk Text is the text of the common people of a nation, reflecting their cultural issues, in a method that is rarely accepted or exposed.
I see it as a stepping-stone to reach my potential; it is not a replacement for hard work and effort, it is an outlet of expression for a lower standard. I need such a thing to exist in order to make my aims and intentions possible, without it I am paralyzed with fear and flashbacks of bad experiences. The term allows for language to be written without fear of correction. It brings into existence a community where society’s outcasts can express thoughts, ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or intimidation. Folk Text accepts their written language as it is and offers them a new lease of life.
“So when in such a position, when your language is so poor, you often find yourself aching with emotion. You feel something deep inside but you don’t know what it is you feel…. this is how they shrink the human being”
Ai Wei Wei
About a year ago I came across a Facebook post of a graffiti in Welsh on a public wall in the village I was brought up in. I cannot remember exactly what it said, but the comments of the readers were critical and harsh. Understandably some people’s view of this was that it was vandalism, which they found upsetting. The graffiti had poor grammar, which meant that its critics complained about how disgraceful it was and they felt that it gave them justification in ridiculing it; this was the way that many people reacted.
But they failed to recognize that their response was a statement about the education of the graffiti artist, which is likely to be the case of many others of that village, myself included. They also failed to acknowledge that it was an attempt to do and say something, to express feelings and thoughts in a public space. They definitely did not see art. If this is the state of the graffiti artist’s written skills, I may be presumptuous, but it is likely that the graffiti artist comes from an environment where the education system has not met his/her needs. It is likely that the society the graffiti artist is a part of does not often express itself in discussions and in written media. If so, then this person’s views are almost definitely never heard. The opinions that are expressed are equally as important as any other view or perhaps more so in the current desperate state of the Welsh language. What is a person in that situation to do? What conclusions can we draw from the reactions of the readers of the artist’s message and the effects of their reactions? Do their responses create a situation where no one feels able to express their thoughts or ideas unless it is in Welsh language that is perfectly correct?
A personal experience of mine may answer the latter. Back in 2009 I wrote a letter to Y Cymro newspaper, expressing my concern and annoyance regarding a First World War poet’s home. Six of his bardic chairs from the National Eisteddfod are kept in his home, which has been kept almost exactly as it was when the poet lived there. Its future was uncertain, while twelve other historical buildings were given grants to maintain their condition. To my surprise, my letter made it to front page. It was a confidence boost and the start to my strong belief in the importance of voicing my opinions regardless of any weaknesses in grammar, spelling or form.
As a result the Welsh news channel and radio station contacted me asking for an interview, I refused both, believing my linguistic skills were far from good enough for Welsh broadcasting. I feared people would only comment on this rather than what was said. At the time I did not realize that just being a young Welsh person who gave a damn made me good enough. The sad fact is that the majority of people in Wales also fail to realize this. They also do not realize that this fear of writing or speaking Welsh incorrectly is a form of self-harming to one’s own language, regardless of their own personal ability. I opted to hide behind a popular ‘Achub Yr Ysgwrn’ Facebook page instead. Today I would accept such opportunities.
Another experience and missed opportunity was when I camped outside the BBC building at Upper Bangor, Gwynedd in 2011 for a week, in protest to save S4C, Wales’s only Welsh language television channel. We, the Welsh Language Society (WLS) were interviewed by Gwilym Owen, who is known and respected for his straight talking and uncomfortable questions. As far as I remember, from a distance in time, he criticized the WLS for keeping the issue within their own circle by camping on a site that was out of public sight, which made it an attack on the BBC, rather than an act of public protest.
But I was a new member, I am a Welsh person who is not in the elite circle of the usual WLS member and I had taken it upon myself to get involved and do something. I missed out on an opportunity to reach out to people who may have never even considered this to be an option, or to the people who did not want to go on feeling isolated, being the only one whose language was of a lower standard. I prevented a positive dialogue within the media, being from a background that is overlooked in Welsh language circles.
How many of us live this way and how many opportunities are missed each day, each year and each decade? This is the weakest link in society for the continuation and expansion of the Welsh language. This will keep happening if nothing exists to encourage people like myself. Folk Text seems to me to be an immediate necessity to the Welsh language’s future, giving people confidence to express themselves in language that isn’t ‘perfect’.