Ask Amy: Wife Wants Husband to Stop Speaking Welsh
Is it rude to speak in your native tongue?
Dear Amy: My husband and I have been together for 20 years (married for 12). He is from the UK (Wales).
When we visit his relatives and friends in Wales, everyone is kind enough to speak English while I am in the room (Welsh is their native language).
When we are in the States, my husband speaks to his family and friends frequently on the phone — always in Welsh.
I find this rude, and when I mentioned it, he said he was not talking about me and that therefore it shouldn’t bother me.
I often hear my name mentioned in his conversations and although I am sure it is not malicious, I am still uncomfortable as he babbles on in his native language.
Is it too much to ask that he speak English while I am present and in my own house? What is the etiquette for these types of situations?
— Not from Wales
Dear Not from Wales: If someone can speak multiple languages, it is most polite to speak the language of the more linguistically limited speaker in the room. But this is Welsh!
If your husband was a Spanish speaker, he would have many opportunities to speak his native language in many different contexts, outside the home. Welsh, however — “dim cymaint” (not so much)!
Welsh is one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe, and, outside of Wales, it is extremely rare to hear it. (My research for your question revealed that there are only about 2,000 known Welsh speakers in the United States — many of them, curiously, living in Florida.) Furthermore, the language was in danger of dying out altogether until concentrated national efforts in Wales have resulted in something of a revival.
Your husband is not being deliberately rude. I think he is trying to communicate with his landsmen using expressions that are unique to a very small population. He is seeking a sort of verbal “cwtch” (a comforting hug). In doing so, he is also defying centuries of English cultural and language dominance (and often, outright oppression).
There are many Welsh primers available to study the language. I have also checked a popular language-learning app; Welsh is one of the languages they offer for instruction. It would serve multiple purposes for you to become conversant, and I hope you will. (I just finished my first lesson — so “lechyd da!”)
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