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Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Polishing up the Welsh connection
Pope John Paul II
The Pope's homeland is learning Welsh

The pleasures and pains of learning Welsh, the constant questioning of identity and culture...

This post-lecture pub conversation was the same as wherever students of Wales' ancient language get together.

Except that these students are not Welsh, and this is not a town in Wales - but, rather, the distinguished university town of Lublin in south eastern Poland.

People who travel here from as far afield as Warsaw just to attend the Celtic language classes

Aled Llion, Lublin Welsh tutor
For around two decades - unique in former eastern bloc countries - the Catholic University of Lublin, where Karol Wojtyla taught before he became Pope, has taught Welsh alongside the more usual courses of British and American literature.

By now, as part of a wider course in English, hundreds of Polish students have studied the language and literature of Wales, along with those of Ireland, as a part of their understanding of the culture of the British Isles.

A number of students have also visited Wales to pursue their studies.

Polish outpost

The Welsh lecturer, Aled Llion, 28, from Rhandirmwyn in mid Wales, is in his fourth year in Lublin.

By now a fluent Polish speaker, he explained how this Celtic outpost came into being.

Aled Llion, Welsh lecturer in Lublin.
Aled Llion, Welsh lecturer in Lublin.
"It all began in Communist times," he said.

"At that period, the university was very much an island of 'free thinking', and it's nice to think of the teaching of Celtic languages as a part of that somewhat 'western' orientation.

"The teaching has continued ever since.

"Any student who chooses English has to learn at least one Celtic language for two years.

"On the whole, the students enjoy it. The Celtic languages are seen understandably as very exotic.

"Everybody has heard of Tolkien, of course, and learning these languages gives them an insight into the linguistic background of his work.

"This is one of the many features which then provide them with an incentive to go on and study the wider literatures of those languages...

"Among them, of course, the Irish and Welsh legends such as the Mabinogion, from which Tolkien drew so much inspiration."

Celtic festival

Over the last few days, Lublin has played host to a series of Celtic events.

As part of a British Council-sponsored festival, the university hosted events.

  • A lecture on post-devolution literature in Wales by Professor M. Wynn Thomas of Swansea University.

  • A Welsh, Irish and Polish symposium chaired by Welsh-speaking Dr Sabine Heinz of Berlin.

  • Professor Emeritus Norman Davies of University College London as a special guest.

    The festival also featured readings by visiting Welsh poets.

    One inescapable fact of life in Lublin, as in many other countries, is the great desire of people to learn English because of the economic advantages it brings.
    Sign for English language course.
    English courses are advertised widely in Lublin

    Almost every street seems to have a sign advertising an English-language class. It all raises the question of the relevance of Celtic-language courses.

    "Some of the students obviously question the practicality of the courses," says Aled Llion.

    "But it's rare that they fail to appreciate the opportunity to do it.

    "And there are many students who come to Lublin because they know the Celtic languages are available here.

    Certainly, the large numbers attending the festival, and the enthusiasm of the students for Celtic matters, seem to assure that Lublin will continue to provide a window on Wales for future generations.

  • See also:

    03 Jul 02 | Wales
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