Saunders Lewis, the celebrated Welsh writer, public intellectual, and nationalist, delivered his rousing speech, “Tynged yr Iaith” (“The Fate of the Language”) on BBC on February 13, 1962. Lewis was a passionate advocate for the Welsh language and the culture it embodies, and sought to both revive the language and craft his own literary contributions in it.
In the speech, Lewis lays out the historical suppression of the Welsh language and defines its history as one not only of linguistic or cultural importance, but one firmly motivated by political ends. This has led to the current “crisis” of the late 20th century, a time when, based on a decline of Welsh speakers in a recent census, Lewis views Welsh to be a fading language of a minoritized population. He suggests that although the English were responsible for Welsh’s marginalization, more recently it is the Welsh themselves who have allowed the language to fade, and it is their responsibility to save it.
Lewis was born in Wales in 1893 and spoke Welsh growing up. He fought in World War I and served alongside Irish soldiers, which may have influenced his ideas about nationalism and language. He went on to become a professor of literature and an activist, forming a nationalist party for Wales, Plaid [Genedlaethol] Cymru, that is still active today. As a writer, he is most known for his Welsh-language dramatic plays, but he also wrote extensively in fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and essays. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1970, and his legacy lives on as one of the most important figures in Welsh literature and culture.
Contribution by Stacy Reardon
Literatures and Digital Humanities Librarian, Doe Library
Special thanks to Kathryn Klar
Lecturer Emerita, Celtic Studies Program
Title: Tynged yr Iaith
Title in English: Fate of the Language
Author: Lewis, Saunders, 1893-1985.
Imprint: February 13, 1962
Language Family: Indo-European, Celtic, Brittonic
Source: BBC Radio Cymru
URL: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00d4lk2 [only transcript available in U.S.]
Other online editions:
- “Saunders Lewis – Tynged yr Iaith ” in four parts with transcription in Welsh, YouTube. (accessed 8/5/2020)
- “Tynged yr Iaith / The Fate of the Language Saunders Lewis” with English textual translation, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnqylLCe85Q (accessed 8/5/2020)
Select print editions at Berkeley:
- Presenting Saunders Lewis edited by Alun R. Jones and Gwyn Thomas. Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1973. Includes the English translation of “Tynged yr Iaith.”
The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).