Forefronting Welsh through English
Translating and Translanguaging in Alys Conran’s Pigeon
Alys Conran’s first novel, Pigeon, (2016), relates the misadventure of a disaffected young Welsh boy, partly through the eyes of his friend and accomplice Iola, who, like Pigeon, comes from a broken family. Both are growing up in a bleak post industrial village in North Wales, never named, possibly Bethesda, the setting for one of the finest novels ever written in Welsh, Caradog Prichard’s Un nos ola leuad, which also charts the psychological undercurrents of a pre-adolescent boy trying to make sense of the world in which he finds himself, as he wanders innocently along a path of self-destruction. Prichard’s novel, written half a century ago, is in Welsh. Conran, a native speaker of Welsh, writes in English. In choosing to do so, she offers insights into the way in which the two languages of Wales have been brought together through the media, through a bilingual educational system, and through changed attitudes towards both English and Welsh in the wake of devolution, more functional and less emotively charged. Pigeon and Iola are Welsh speakers, but they resort to English not just to interact with Pigeon’s monolingual step-sister, brought to the village by a violent Englishman who moves in with Pigeon’s mother, but also to play out their own fantasies, fueled by the language of films and social media. In short, Pigeon, with its continual reference to the language use of its protagonists, can be seen as an exploration of ‘translanguaging’, a term that first appeared in Welsh as trawsieithu (Williams 1994) and has been defined by Canagarajah (2011) as “the ability of multilingual speakers to shuttle between languages, treating the diverse languages that form their repertoire as an integrated system”.