In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, Welsh children who used their native tongue in schools were subject to a particular form of punishment and humiliation – the Welsh Not.

The Welsh Not (also Welsh Knot, Welsh Note, Welsh Stick, Welsh Lead or Cwstom) was an item used in Welsh schools in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to stigmatise and punish children using the Welsh language, according to Wikipedia.

Welsh NotTypically “The Not” was a piece of wood, a ruler or a stick, often inscribed with “WN“. On any schoolday, it was given to be worn round the neck to the first pupil to be heard speaking Welsh. When another child was heard using Welsh, “The Not” was passed to the new offender: and on it went. Pupils were encouraged to inform on their classmates. The pupil in possession of “The Not” at the end of the lesson, school day or week – depending on the school – received additional punishment besides the initial shaming and humiliation.

In recent times the Welsh Not seems to have transformed from being a physical object to a mental one, but one that is nevertheless still used to stigmatise speakers of one of the country’s oldest languages – one that was already old when Old English (which some call Anglo-Saxon. Ed.) first became established as England’s common tongue.

The persistence of stigmatisation is just one matter covered in a Metro opinion piece by Lowri Llewelyn entitled Why the Welsh language deserves respect not ridicule.

Looking specifically at stigmatisation, Lowri, who learned Welsh as a child and grew up in a bilingual household, writes:

I can’t count how many times English folk have jeered about my ‘dead language’.

At least it wasn’t referred to as “gibberish“, Lowri!

To reinforce her point, she continues:

Fuelled by anti-Welsh sentiment from England, the Welsh even came to oppress and disrespect themselves.
She then goes on to point out how, as a teenager she would only speak English to friends and be dismissive of her native culture, before going on to point out how she has since changed her attitude and welcomes efforts to increase the presence of Welsh.

Lowri concludes by pointing out some of the encouraging signs of a renewed interest in Welsh.

For instance, in recent times Welsh has become the fastest growing language in the UK on the Duolingo language learning platform. One explanation might be a renewed interest in the cultures and history of the nations that make up Great Britain, given the severe restrictions on foreign travel imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.