Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Business Lingua Franca

I happened across an article on the use of the Welsh language and although I should have been doing other things I got sidetracked. There lies the path of procrastination which is one of those concepts anyone starting in business needs to be wary about and manage carefully. Time is your biggest resource.
But what an interesting debate! Most of the major arguments are being aired here. http://cambriapolitico.com/2009/02/welsh-language-lco-a-plea-for-sanity/ is the on line link.
There are one or two observations I have and I do not pretend to a debatable opinion. They all stem from an in- principle opposition to positive discrimination of any sort. I find it equates to a negative discrimination against a majority view. We see enough of that with no reference to languages.
I believe it is in the interests and to the economic and cultural advantage of Wales to encourage the use of Welsh language wherever possible. I do not believe the existing blunderbuss approach is helpful however. Much of the post that arrives from what used to be known as public services – that is Utilities and Government agencies of many kinds have the whole message repeated in Welsh either in a separate copy or in a reverse section of the booklet. I think it is economically perverse to assume everyone wants this. I am all for communication in Welsh where it is wanted . It is surely not beyond the modern technological wit to have either an opt out or an opt in (there’s another argument!) and distribute these communications appropriately from the likes of SWALEC, DVLA, HMRC, Companies House, Local Authorities etc etc .
A couple of further points of interest. The major bank I used to work for had most of the main leaflets available in Welsh placed in the Public Space. In SE Wales in all the branches I worked the only time they were taken was when children scribbled on them.

As a business consultant I helped and advised a Welsh speaking secondary school as part of a scheme where there was a business plan competition. They (not me) decided the plan needed to be presented in English. The plan was good, the ideas were good and the English was not. There were words that would have sounded right but used the wrong version when written. The grammar was ’spoken’ and of course the spelling was all over the place. They could not communicate effectively in English. It was “English, as she is spoke”.
There is a comment about place names cobbled in to spurious Welsh. I happen to live in a Welsh place that until the late 1800s was Welsh speaking. However its name is derived from Old Norman French for many reasons. You can’t do much with that. There are a number of Welsh place names that appear to have been manufactured and to a non Welsh speaker that just seems fatuous and trying to make a silly point.
There are areas of Wales where the demand for Welsh is seen as an obstacle. Monmouthshire and Newport itself has been in and out of England through the centuries. That does not mean we should not have some Welsh speaking schools but there is an argument about compulsory Welsh in schools in the border towns. To accommodate such feeling in some secondary schools the compulsory lesson is given lip service (no pun) and scant regard. Where is the sense in that?
One thing the University in Newport does have a good reputation for is Teaching and the students all have Welsh lessons starting from zero. How many recruits from that bigger place next door or abroad are going to be put off I wonder? Important income for the University shot in the foot it seems to me. Perhaps they should have an opt in or opt out and award a different degree accordingly.
A point is made by one of the contributors about multi cultural communication in our diverse world. That opens the door to exchanges citing English as the lingua franca of the modern commercial world. ( It is odd that the term for such a language should strictly refer to French instead.) In fact the debate veers away from there. Working for one of the local authorities a while ago I was given a card with 54 languages on it saying translation facilities were available. All very laudable except that translation facilities were not available as no one had asked for the service for a number of years. If anyone ever did we would have had to go looking. Such considerations do not apply to Welsh as there are no speakers that do not also speak English.
So is it good for Welsh business to have the language? Probably it is so long as the 90% majority are not disadvantaged by it. Historical and cultural facts of life should be influenced and encouraged one way or another for all sorts of good reasons and if valid will find their own substance in a modern alternative. Trying to force the issue is always wrong. I have no evidence that positive discrimination is a good thing.
For a practical outside view on business and the path you might take see Bob Shepherd Associates.

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