What was Welsh Not?
‘Welsh Not’, or sometimes just the initials ‘WN’, was a phrase etched onto a wooden board, designed to be worn around the neck. These were used in Welsh schools during the C19th as a way to shame any child who was caught speaking Welsh.
The pupil would be made to wear the sign until another child was caught and the board would be passed on to the culprit. At the end of the school day, the child wearing the Welsh Not would often be beaten or punished in some way.
It was a practice which started at a time when the Welsh language had been diagnosed as a kind of ‘sickness’ that was harming the nation. This view was officially endorsed by the UK government with the publication of an 1847 report into the state of Welsh education – commonly known as the Blue Books. It concluded that the Welsh language was the cause of stupidity, sexual promiscuity and unruly behaviour.
The cure was to completely remove the Welsh language from schooling – despite it being the everyday language of the majority. And this idea took hold, it became generally accepted that the Welsh language was a ‘problem’ and the practice of Welsh Not was borne.
It wasn’t imposed on schools from above; it was a self-inflicted ‘medicine’.
Parents and teachers accepted what they were told and saw it as a practical way to remove Welsh from the classroom. This general mindset shaped the creation of a Welsh education system designed to remove the ‘danger’ of children being exposed to their own language and culture.
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