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The  Welsh Language in Patagonia

This article was written by Jeremy Wood, to be serialized in 'Ninnau', the Welsh North American newspaper.


When  the  Mimosa  dropped  anchor  in  New  Bay  (close  to  where  the town  of  Porth Madryn  now  lies)  on  July  26,  1865,  the  lingua  franca  of  the  150  or  so  settlers  on board was Welsh: pure, unadulterated  Welsh, equal in  origin from north and south, with no English  pollutants. The same  is true today. The language  is still unsullied by English  (although  slightly  tarnished  by  Spanish)  and  now  spoken  with  accents  more akin  to  Caernarfon  than  Caerfyrddin  (towns  in  the  north  and  south  of  Wales respectively, with similar sounding names, but with dramatically different Welsh).

In  the  intervening  years,  however,  the  language  went  through  one  crisis  after another and, without the timely help from an unlikely source, South American Welsh could  well  have  disappeared  and  joined  Cornish  and  Manx  in  the roll-call  of  once common, but now almost deceased, Celtic tongues.

The  Welsh  had  been  invited  by  the  Argentine  Government  to  settle  a  land  that  few Europeans had ever seen and into which few Argentineans dared go for fear of being slaughtered by merciless natives. But they were there on their own. No one had ever settled in this remote place and it had only ever been visited by the odd passing ship, cattle   hunters   and   nomadic   Indians.   With   encouragement   from   the Argentine government  who,  at  the  time,  had  no  desire  to  join  the  Welsh  in  such  inhospitable regions,  this  band  of  colliers,  labourers,  clergymen  and  clerks  organised  their communities professionally, even to the extent of devising their own courts system. The  construction  of  chapels,  which  doubled  as  schools,  gave  them  the  foundations, through  religion  and  secular  education,  upon  which  their "New  Wales"  could  be built.  Those  memories  from  Wales  of  religious  suppression, language  intolerance, absentee landlords and interference from politicians in remote capitals were to be a thing of the past.

Or so they thought.

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