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Animated Edition - Summer 2006
The shadow of a language
'How does the word community resonate within the specific context of the Welsh speaking west of Wales? Why does 'community' as a word and notion of affirmation only produce symptoms of unease and awkwardness in me and other colleagues? These are questions that inform my work in Dawns Dyfed the Community dance Project for the West of Wales and Theatr Felinfach (1), where our office is based. In considering answers we must understand that we are working through translation'. Margaret Ames of Dawns Dyfed takes an in-depth look at this central question in relation to her work and the context of west of Wales
The interplay between the Welsh and English languages is on the one hand a commitment to the oldest living language in Europe, and on the other an unequal partnership between the ever changing language of the dominant ideology that is English, and a minority language evolved to communicate alternative experiences that lie outside the dominant ideology and may in fact challenge it. This article considers the need for a more relevant definition of the word 'community', in the Welsh rural context, one that challenges the ease with which we accept the shifts in meaning that occur through the agency of ideology.

As a dance practitioner working in the West of Wales I have a duty and a responsibility to the culture that sustains me. As part of that dialogue of give and take, I am a member of Y Ffwrwm (2), the policy and research group that seeks to provide and discover positive responses to the crisis that is submerging the Welsh speaking cultures of Wales. In Y Ffwrwm we have debated these issues long and hard. The debate is a result of the intense pressure all of us experience regularly in daily life and the strange experiences of invisibility and 'otherness' that characterise the symptoms of this pressure. The culture is a minority and this alone is a crisis. This is furthered by the dominant forms of the majority that, through Anglo-American urban ideology, has become the standard by which everything is assessed and the only possible lens through which we are supposed to understand the world. We consider that other words are more representative of our experiences, knowledge and identities as Welsh speakers, but they are not easily translated into English.

'My soul frets in the shadow of his language' (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce 1993, 166), and so it is. The shadow is long and so constant we hardly notice it. It is only obvious when we are forced to confront this unease because action is required in a particular circumstance, because we are unable to meet the requirements that the current ideology of late capitalism (as Jameson defines as a 'vision of a world capitalist system fundamentally distinct from the older imperialism (Jameson 1991, xviii), organises as reasonable behaviour. We are suddenly unreasonable, irrational and problematized and in order to be otherwise we must defer our culture to the manifestations of the majority. This is when the use of the word community becomes intolerable as it brings with it an ideology at odds with the values of this specific culture yet demands that we; as a reasonable people, own it and represent it.

This dynamic requires a closer look at language and ideology. It is about different groups trying to talk with each other, yet one group always, and before anything is actually said, 'knows' the other, and speaks 'for' it, through the authority of its ideology. I should be clear that nothing in my experience suggests that one group is 'better' or 'worse' than the other. The driving force underlying all these transactions, negotiations and experiences is ideology. We are all subjects of and to ideology. Welsh society that understands the world through two languages has other experiences that are normally either reduced or rendered inconsequential through the ideological currency of exoticism, part of the capitalist project to market and to undermine the specific differences between cultures and experiences. We are then reduced to stereotype.

So what terms can we use in place of this word 'community' that we find at odds with the experience it seeks to define?

Once again, in the context of rural, Welsh speaking Wales, we see that the process of translation has led to complications. As an interpretation of the post-war state-management usage of 'community' the newly created 'cymuned - a number of people living in the same place' seems adequate enough. But, you don't need to be particularly culturally sensitive to realise that, as a descriptor of the depth and complexity of Welsh speaking social patterns it is woefully inadequate. In what way can people living in the same place be said to be forming a single unit? Is there something more than a geography of chance connecting them to each other? Shouldn't there be some denotation of belonging? Some mention of responsibilities?

'Cymdogaeth' resonates with experiences of closeness and immediate responsibility. The English translation of this word is 'neighbourhood' which feels strangely empty in comparison, conjuring an environment of uncertain size and unknown inhabitants. 'cymdeithas' resonates with a larger notion of group, and yet even closer as it carries a sense of responsibility deep in its meaning. In English, 'society' is the translation and again it is not equivalent as it carries a formality and abstractness. 'Cymdeithas' has a close and immediate sense of belonging that enables one to actually name its members.

Cymdogaeth, (neighbourhood) cymdeithas (Society) and cymuned (community), all share the common prefix 'cym' which works to convey a meaning of coming together, or of being together or of togetherness, in other words, 'with'. In the word cymdeithas the verb teithio 'to travel' linked with the prefix resonates with meanings of journeying together, a far cry from the formal English of 'society'. The word cymuned, whilst having the same prefix is a relative newcomer in the language. Raymond Williams said that the modern meaning of the word community differentiates between the formal state and institutional references and the more 'direct, more total and therefore more significant relationships.' (Williams 1976, p76). He notes how it never gives rise to negative connotations and has no opposing term.

Our current experience in the Welsh speaking context is that through translation the word 'community' becoming 'cymuned', we do indeed find negative connotations due to the shift in meaning and use of the English word. As we have a translation that was not needed for some considerable length of time, this word is unable to convey the meanings which describe the actual experience of living in a Welsh speaking community. The meaning and use of the Welsh word is uncertain in terms of living, but conveys the new English concept, which is very subtle - covert even - as 'community' has now become the territory of government, a new hegemony, a shift from the direct and significant towards the discourse of power. Cynog Dafis, former Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, states:

'Had Raymond Williams been writing in the Welsh language, I do not believe he would have tarried long over the word cymuned (for 'community'). As is the case with the word cyfrifiadur (computer), cymuned is not listed in the first edition of the Dictionary of the Welsh Language (University of Wales). In the 1950s when those sections of the dictionary which deal with words beginning with the letter C were published, computers barely existed. The same can hardly be said of communities!' (Dafis 1999, p1-2) and; 'What, in reality, is the meaning of the word cymuned? Perhaps it is little more than a rather clumsy gloss on the English word.' (Dafis 1999, p2)

Embedded in the meanings of the two alternative welsh words Cymdeithas and Cymdogaeth are the dynamics that drive our creative processes and responses. Cymuned, meaning community in Welsh is a recent word, created through a process of direct translation. It has no pedigree or foundation in either the practical daily experiences nor the intra-psychic of imagining, dreaming, longing, hating, and loving etc. All these things and more being part of the weft and weave of what we know as being alive, all determined within the context of ideology.

Again Cynog Dafis argues regarding the Welsh word for community 'cymuned' that 'It was, indeed some time before the perceived need arose for a Welsh word which would convey the English word for community in its most abstract sense, and possibly most superficial at that.' (Dafis 1999, p2)

I would argue that in the complex weave of this specific Welsh culture, dancing is both essential and irrelevant. It is not a rooted aspect of the culture, but it may be a method of powerful embodiment, a subversive statement, dependant upon the ideological framework. Ideology is 'both fantasised and concretely lived and developed, it is embraced and understood as normal life'. (Eagelton 1994, p18-19). In my cultural context therefore the reasons for dancing must be specific. The generalized question - 'what does the community want?' so often asked in the context of our work, usually in conference, or policy meetings is not useful because it is not specific. Again, when we are advised by Arts Council officers to 'deliver' certain styles, or are informed in 'gaps in our provision' we are faced with the same generalisations that actually problematize the cultural context we operate in rather than address its specificities through creative responses. That is, these gaps are defined by the dominant ideology that does not see the totality of that it seeks to control. This 'conversation' of one group talking to the other is based on a set of values founded on generalisations that are only functional in the context of policy documents and management teams who are far removed from the lived realities of the societies they are discussing. The recommendations therefore are very biased, vague and/or drawn from a knowledge base that is entirely managed by the media and therefore we become propagandists. We have not only given permission to the ideology of late capitalism to affect our living, we believe it to be the only way things are.

The answers to the question 'what does the community want?' will be irrelevant as in this context, the 'community' is a uniform entity modelled along English urban lines. The answers will also undermine creative response and the meaning-laden disciplines of artists. So many artists feel they must turn themselves into all manner of experts concerned with health and social services in the name of work in the community. My work 'in the community' is a non-sense. The necessity of dance becomes irrelevant, as it cannot address the crisis in this minority context. The word 'community' or 'cymuned' does not manage to define what is actually there. Instead it defines another context and so renders my dance inarticulate and a mimic of how dance is supposed to be 'in the community'. If I am to subvert this crisis, I must turn to the specific and use language carefully, placing these specific people and my specific actions and our specific shared meanings in the reports, assessments, policies and applications. But of course - there is no room, and bureaucracy will not read these words, or understand they are borne of context not cliché. We are not talking about the same thing as we cannot translate an equivalent.

Our bodies are denied their cultural specificities. All this in the name of capitalist multi-culturalism. We may make a list of all the various social hooks that we have been urged to hang our art on by the ideology of capitalism as expressed by government.

There is no longer a meaningful dialogue between policy makers and those of us who actually do the work as words such as community have been divested of any meaning attached to the lived experience of their origins. I believe that I am working as an artist alongside other artists, (that is, the 'rural Welsh community') and we are all members of a cymdeithas that creates through dialogue in order to further discussion. It is a self-reflexive art form and discussion and of immediate use. It does not come from or belong to the abstracted sense of the word community, which has been appropriated by layers of government and administration. This word is now jargon and as such only carries meaning within the bureaucratic context. The dialogue between groups is now only one side talking at the other, and one side being unable to literally see or hear the other in its difference.

The world of the bureaucrat is both sealed from the outside yet leaks constantly in dis-organisation causing major problems of disorder in precisely these contexts - the act of daily living - it seeks to order, collate and define. The result is a depression and apathy, a retreat from 'cymdogaeth' and we so often hear people referring to 'cymdeithas' as if it is gone, a thing of the past and the 'good old days'. Bureaucracy is sealed from us who are its objects, we cannot hope to repair the leaks and so defend our cultural context from the inevitable flood. When I hear artists are working on a project 'with the community' I know this is not happening with Welsh speakers through the language, as how would they be found? How would they identify themselves as being a part of that amorphous mass? Here is the cultural activist writer and theatre director Euros Lewis addresses this problem of leakage mis-definition and relevance:

An interesting experiment for Welsh speakers would be to partner the word 'addysg' (education) with the word 'cymdogaethol' (neighbourhood) rather than 'cymunedol' (community). The substitution effects quite a change. The picture is so much clearer. Immediately, the ambiguity has disappeared and, in its stead, a sense of place is forming in the mind. Similarly, by using 'Cymdogaethau'n Gyntaf' (neighbourhoods first) instead of 'Cymunedau'n Gyntaf' (communities first) Welsh speakers will see people where previously they saw but a map. And they understand - instinctively - that those people must be in some sort of relationship with each other. And if you say: 'But we couldn't do that because, in English, 'Neighbourhoods First' doesn't mean quite the same thing' I think you're missing the point. (Lewis 2005, 2) (4)

And so I fret in the shadow of this language. 'Community' in this language implies a seamless, and faceless whole, that is always to be managed and never to be left alone, to determine its own future. In reality there are so many of them and they are so fluid in their condition that some are rendered invisible by the ideology that exists to determine them. It is easier to control something that has no voice or presence within the language of bureaucracy. Our Welsh culture and communities are in such a situation.

'The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.'

(Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce, 1993, p169)

This shadow is that of policy and centralized government that belies that fact of difference because of the perceived need to homogenize in order to affect change. Categories are devised in order to service the market. The capitalist project is at the very heart of this emptying of meaning. Through dis-investing lived meaning, the ideology of late capitalism may structure the hearts and minds of us all, and 'the community' means absolutely nothing at all. To industry, commerce and government it means money, and we may read all such jargon as synonymous with trade. This is a trade in values and lived experience and the currency is culture.

I have argued elsewhere (5), using Zizek that the dominant ideology will appropriate a-political terms, such as 'decency' and in this case 'community' and mobilise them to its own ends. If we think of the term 'community dance' in this way we may see that the terms 'community' and 'dance' have no inherent political meaning. However the discourse behind them through the English language is the notion of the universal and the non-specific. Our concept of Universalism is at work but this concept is formed from the privilege of the first world consumer and the liberal citizen. The body has been emptied of its particularities evolved through culture. Theoretical discourse often objectifies our bodies and for those of us who work with our own and others' real physicality and lived experience we must be wary of claims to universal meaning. Our meanings in both verbal language and physical time and place will differ. It is culture that conditions the nature of our communications.

The word community and its representative lack of lived meaning and its use within ideology, is a trouble. I am committed to 'community' or in Welsh 'cymdeithas' and 'cymdogaeth'. It is other people who have made it possible for me to be an artist, it is the cymdeithas, cymdogaeth, cylch (a circle) and cymuned that is my 'raison d'etre'. The community therefore is my sole inspiration and my necessity. This is a case for specificity and willingness to understand that we are different. Cultural contexts may be rendered invisible by dominant ideologies and capitalism can only deal, in the currency of a consensus of desire.

To disagree and refute this consensus in Welsh speaking rural contexts is a necessity if our art form is to be meaningful. Light entertainment, and providing what the 'community' wants is not art and neither is it empowering for the future. The commodification of the body renders it only an object of desire rather than the nuanced and complex medium of our first and last communications together. I will no longer use the term community with heart and certainty as the term has been appropriated; 'And this is where the ambiguity of the word 'cymuned' becomes dangerous. For it allows you, me, anyone to define it according to his or her own whim or fancy. The word is so loose; so open-ended'. (Lewis 2005, 2)

Funders, policy makers and government seem to have little idea of the personal and direct nature of 'cymdeithas' in Wales, of its specificities and its role in defining and sustaining our identities and culture. We cannot have a coherent conversation - with all listening and working to understand - until these inequalities of meaning and belief in equivalences are critically examined. It is a fact that the rural Welsh experience and language that conveys, disseminates and furthers that experience is not the same as the English experience and language. It may be that there are convergences and parallel experiences but they are not directly translatable. Our conversations will only continue through a recognition of the incompleteness and struggle of translation, and a willingness to critique and challenge the language of policy and governmental ideology through our 'other' lived language and knowledge.

Margaret Ames is Artistic Director of Dawns Dyfed - see for information and contacts.

(1) Theatr Felinfach, in the centre of Ceredigion, was built by the County Council on the Agricultural College Campus in 1972 for the purpose of education through the medium of drama and art. The senior post, in keeping with this prime educational remit was known as 'Lecturer in Charge' rather than the more usual job titles for arts centre managers. It is of special significance that the theatre has always served its remit through the medium of the Welsh language, providing a home and inspiration for generations of young people across the three counties of the west of Wales
(2) Y Ffwrwm a policy and research group with members from various walks of life in the west of Wales seeks to draw attention to and to find positive responses to the Welsh language cultural experience in an age of globalisation. Ffwrwm is one of the Welsh words for bench with connotations of chapel, pub and work place in the context of working class debate and discussion
(3) Author's translation
(4) Author's translation
(5) See bibliography

Ames, Margaret 2005 'Dawns Dyfed - A Response to Time and Place' New Welsh Review 69 Autumn 2005
Dafis, Cynog. 1999 The Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture NIACE and the Workers Education Association South East Wales http.//
Lewis, E 2005 Addysg Gymunedol a Datblygu Cymunedau Cynaladwy Cymraeg. Darlith Goffa Marie James. (Community Education and Developing Sustainable Welsh Communities. Marie James Memorial Lecture) Ceredigion. Y Ffwrwm a Theatr Felinfach
Eagelton, T 1994 Ideology. London. Longman Critical Readers
Zizek, S 1997 'Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism' New Left Review, no. 225, September/October.

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Animated: Summer 2006