Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Dead?

‘Your language is dead!’ I remember it as vividly as when it happened. The voice shouted out very loudly from somewhere above my head and went ringing out across the great spaces of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a man’s voice and the brief silence that followed felt nervous and chilly. Wisely, no response came from the stage below where Welsh musician, Cerys Matthews was performing. Cerys is a Welsh speaker. She did not respond to the man who’d shouted. Instead and very wisely, she simply went on to the song she’d just announced as a song that comes from Wales and is in Welsh.

This incident happened a few years ago. I still remember the mixture of hurt and rage I felt. ‘How could such a thing  happen?’ I asked myself. ‘How could such racism be so openly held and declared?’ Behind language racism lies a bigger racism, an inability to tolerate difference. In this particular situation, the racism of the man sitting above me was especially keenly felt by me, a Welsh woman, because I knew about Cerys Matthews in a personal way. Her parents were living in Pembrokeshire at that time and I knew Cerys to be a good friend of the daughter of one of my oldest friends. In one recent year, they’d been in the same little team doing the same summer job, cleaning up litter from beaches.

Language can be such a sensitive issue and in so many different ways. As a storyteller, I’ve numerous times heard from adult participants in workshops that they’ve not been telling their children the stories that they’d come to know as children themselves. The reason for their silence in this respect would always boil down to the fact of a difference in language. The stories would be ones they’d originally learned not in English but in their home language, Bangladeshi or Urdu or whatever. Could they now tell those stories in English? Their question would always be followed by deeply felt discussion. My view was always that they could and should tell them. Stories move across the world, in and out of different languages. But more important is that their stories were stories they had carried with them from their own childhoods. It would not just be interesting but important for their children to hear them.

The situation applies to me in a personal way. My father was Welsh-speaking. My mother wasn’t. She made every attempt to learn it but her attempts did not bear fruit. My father didn’t talk with me in Welsh, I think because my mother would not have understood. I missed out in that way. Fortunately I grew up understanding Welsh but I never could speak it until I learned to do so as an adult. My feelings about the language now are strong. The language has every right to live. Besides, it is a beautiful language with a great heritage behind it including of song. Pity the man that shouted out wasn’t in the next seat to me. I’d have told him a thing or two!

P.S. Daffodils are of course one of the two national Welsh emblems. In school, the girls wore daffodils on St David’s Day. The boys wore leeks and chewed them up during the course of the day. In my bottom picture, the daffodils, narcissi and tulips have been planted in my bit of Wales in a spot with a marvellous view.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Dead?”

  1. Karen Tovell Says:

    I like in my mind’s eye, Mary,to fancy that the man unwittingly gave us a pointer to one of the things language and storytelling IS (alive) rather than what it is not (dead) … but, sadly for him, he got the letters in his head all mixed up before uttering them. As you shall find (from any Anagram Maker) what he meant to say was:”Yea, aural guided song!” Thereby, alluding to the effect that a story/song has on the ear, and referencing the fact that language imposes a structure onto words that they need in order to fly through the air, guided on rhythms and cadences from the storyteller/singer to the listener, like the song of a bird filled with the beauty of truth and on the wings of wisdom.

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