No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.
(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)
There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.
It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?
The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.
I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.
There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.
I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.
That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.
Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.