The Welsh Not or Welsh Note was a piece of wood, inscribed with the letters "WN", that was hung round the necks of children who spoke Welsh in some schools in the 19th century. The "not" was given to any child overheard speaking Welsh, who would pass it to a different child if overheard speaking Welsh. By the end of the day, the wearer of the "not" would be given a lashing. The idea of the "not" was to discourage pupils from speaking Welsh, at a time when English was considered by some to be the only suitable medium of instruction.
The use of the "not" was recorded in the 18th century; it was also commonly known as the 'cwstom', the 'Welsh stick' and the 'Welsh lead' (a lump of lead). The practice was mentioned in the 1847 Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales. Though highly critical of many aspects of Welsh culture, some of the inspectors commented on the existence of the practice of using "nots" as being arbitrary and cruel. The report did not endorse the practice. Since education in this period was neither free nor compulsory it must be assumed that parents did endorse the practice where it was used. The reports also clearly show that the vast majority of education in Welsh Wales was still conducted in Welsh.
In the later decades of the 19th century, education was compulsory but the Welsh "not" was used only in a minority of schools, and after the school boards were absorbed by the county councils following the Local Government Act 1888, instruction in Welsh in elementary schools became the norm in Welsh-speaking areas. There is no evidence that the intermediate schools, in which instruction was almost universally in English, made use of the "not".
Similar policies in other countries
- Vergonha, French suppression of regional languages
- Punishment of elementary school students in Finnish schools for speaking Sami
- 方言札 (ほうげんふだ hōgenhuda, dialect card), suppression of Ryukyuan languages and dialects of the Tōhoku region in Japan
- Punishment of students who spoke their mother tongue in European grammar schools where only Latin was spoken
- The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008
- John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-1401-4581-8, p 455
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