'rude and Ignorant People' ; Stigmatising Minority Language in the Formation of the United Kingdom

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:15
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Robert MEARS, Bath Spa University, United Kingdom
The paper takes an historical approach to understanding the dynamics of UK nation-state formation and the role of a minority language in a centralising, linguistically homogenising nation-state. Sociologists have used Goffman’s concept of stigma to understand how shame and an inferior status may be internalised with particular consequences for social groups. Wacquant has described ‘discourses of vilification’ and a’ blemish of place’ surrounding spatialized inequality. The paper begins with an account of the legislative process which incorporated Wales into the emerging UK in the sixteenth century, and the role that the persistence of the minority language plays in the characterisation of the ‘outsider’ group. In official documents spanning two centuries, the minority language is associated with ‘backwardness’, ignorance, squalor, licentiousness, etc. The negative associations are so compelling that action is required to eradicate it.  In the words of one offical document,  ‘Great discord variance, debate, division, murmur and sedition hath grown possible because the people of the same domain have and do daily use a speech nothing like, nor consonant to the natural mother tongue used within this realm.’  The paper reviews legislative and parliamentary documents that explore the consequences of the persistence of a minority language in the context of a rapidly centralising, linguistically homogenising nation-state. Such documents also purport to tackle the ‘problem’ of a minority language and its unwanted persistence into the era of modernity. The dominant discourse surrounding the minority/majority languages serves to promote the English tongue as associated with ‘civilisation’ and a host of desirable traits. As Elias comments with reference to insider-outsider group dynamics more generally, ‘Everywhere group charisma attributed to oneself and group disgrace attributed to outsiders are complementary phenomenon.’ The paper concludes with a brief summary of the condition of the Welsh language in the UK up to the present.