Protest is Passe (article for IWA website)

By Heini Gruffudd, Chair Dyfodol

The recently published 2011 Census figures for the Welsh language are but one of many indicators of the language’s health. Some people have responded in a chorus of wailing.  While this reaction may not be entirely misplaced, a superficial analysis should immediately dispute some of the findings.

There is a very unlikely percentage of 40.3% for Welsh speakers among the  5 – 15 age group. We know from other sources that around 21% of primary school children attend Welsh medium primary schools, and that these schools are the only ones which genuinely present pupils with a full range of bilingual skills.  Parents’ view of what is an ability to speak Welsh is very subjective, so in spite of the general desire for this to be the case for a child, we must erase around 85,000 from the total number of Welsh speakers. Nevertheless, the demand for Welsh medium education in less Welsh speaking parts of Wales is around 40%, and the unlikely percentage of 40.3% can be construed as part fact, part aspiration.

Although this would lower the percentage of Welsh speakers from 20.8% to around 16.6%, this is no longer a cause for wailing.  For the first time, the percentage of genuine young speakers of Welsh is considerably higher than the overall percentage, and this must be a source of pleasure for those who have ensured the success of Welsh medium education.  The demand for this type of education is forever increasing so one can envisage real growth in future years.

Not shown in the statistics are those who are not confident enough in their Welsh language skills to claim ability. These can range from learners to dialect speakers, and I have come across many such people who nevertheless take pleasure in speaking the language. These have never been quantified.

There are, however, issues of concern to those involved in language planning.  These are in at least three fields:

  1. Population movements and housing policies
  2. Home language transmission
  3. Social networks and spheres of language use

500,000 Welsh born people live in England, and around 600,000 English born people live in Wales.  90% of the increase in Wales’s population since 2001 has been caused by in-migration. Gwynedd reflects this movement. For many years the vast majority of pupils in Gwynedd have been educated through the medium of Welsh but just 64% of Gwynedd’s population speak Welsh. While Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire have lost actual numbers of Welsh speakers, Gwynedd has kept its numbers but its percentage has declined. Without an adequate language integration scheme there is a clear societal language shift. We should not be shy in insisting on language learning opportunities for incomers, nor should we avoid developing housing policies which favour local people, many of whom are economically disadvantaged.

Several studies have shown that the pattern of Welsh language transmission in the home is around an inadequate 80% where both parents are Welsh speaking and around 50% in other circumstances. Whereas such parents tend to send their children to Welsh medium schools, the link between home language and the child’s Welsh language skills is imperfect.  A successful link is fundamental in attempts at language sustainability and as a basis for positive future patterns of language use.

The erosion of parts of the country where Welsh is a majority language (studies have shown that 70% or even 80% Welsh speakers are needed for general confidence in language use) will doubtless see Welsh losing its place as the natural language of society.  In less Welsh speaking parts of Wales there is a dearth of opportunity to use Welsh for the thousands of school leavers and learners. An increase in Welsh speakers can be foreseen  in future, and this must be associated with providing adequate spheres of language use.

So to where do we go from here?  The answer is no longer the sole responsibility Welsh language bodies such as the Language Commissioner’s. We were lulled into a state of inertia by the very existence of the Welsh Language Board, whose sphere of influence was always restricted.  It is now starkly clear that language policies per se belong to the past. The days of protest and reaction are over.

Ten years ago Professor Colin Williams wrote that efforts at language promotion would need to be in the field of social engineering in the twenty first century. Add to this economic engineering.  Housing policies need to prioritise effects on language; public bodies which use Welsh to a substantial extent can be relocated to Welsh speaking parts of Wales and economic action needs to be taken to establish largely Welsh speaking growth areas so that these become attractive for the young. Link to this adequate north-south transport and economic infrastructure and support for home-grown industries.

Other courses of action are needed in less Welsh speaking areas.  The provision of Welsh medium education needs to correspond to the demand.  Scores of Welsh language centres need to be established in urban areas for language learning and entertainment; local authorities should provide Welsh activities for young people and a thorough and intense programme of teaching Welsh to parents and public employees needs to be established.

Other ideas abound. It is time to move onwards from the self-satisfying but socially irrelevant demand for Welsh bills and suchlike. The pleasurable use of Welsh in an increasing number of sustainable social networks, emphasising the value of the language for personal and national identity, is the task for the present generation.

If one were to measure the efforts made to safeguard the Welsh language in the last fifty years, attempts at ensuring language status would rate highly, and so would efforts made in the field of entertainment.  Ensuring Welsh medium education would also score.  There has been however an increasing chasm between these efforts and the use of Welsh in social networks. Social engineering, and economic engineering must now make Welsh a main concern for all government departments, rather than the concern of just the department of the Minister for Education and the Welsh language.

3 thoughts on “Protest is Passe (article for IWA website)

  1. wedi cynnig syniad trwy drydar neithiwr. Mae’n bwysig i ni sylweddoli fod dyfodol yr iaith yn ein dwylo ni. Ein hiaith-ein cyfrifoldeb.
    Mae’r syniad yn un syml. Pob Cymro Cymraeg i fabwysiadu dysgwr. Y ddau i gyfarfod mewn tafarn neu gaffi dyweder hynny ydi awyrgylch
    anffurfiol. Gellir newid amser y cyfarfyddiad wythnosol fel bo’r galw. Byddai’r wers yn cael ei chynig
    yn ddidal a’r pwyslais ar siarad,siarad,siarad. Mae unrhyw un sy’n siarad yr iaith yn gymwys i’w
    throsglwyddo i eraill.
    Eisoes cafwyd ymateb cadarnhaol gan ddysgwyr ac unigolion sy’n llafurio yn y winllan ieithyddol i’r syniad. Ar nodyn personol Heini,buaswn yn gwerthfawrogi dy ymateb dithau.
    [email protected]

    throsglwyddo i eraitamgylchiadau yma

    anffurfiol unwaith yr wythnos am awr.

  2. Diolch iti am y nodyn a’r awgrym creadigol. Ar lefel bersonol mae’n siwr bod hyn yn digwydd yn anffurfiol, ond mae’n bendant yn werth trio ffurfioli hyn a rhoi rôl benodol i siaradwyr Cymraeg.
    Mae Catalwnia eisoes wedi rhoi cynnig ar hyn. Mae cynllun Voluntaris per la llengua wedi’i drefnu gan 22 o Gonsortia Catalaneg i Oedolion. Cynllun yw hwn sy’n cysylltu newydd-ddyfodiaid i’r iaith â siaradwyr brodorol. Mae 140 o swyddfeydd lleol yn cymryd rhan yn y cynllun, ac mae 400 o gyrff gwirfoddol yn helpu trwy ddewis gwirfoddolwyr addas. Yn 2004 (blin am roi hen wybodaeth) parwyd 5,000 o siaradwyr brodorol â dysgwyr mewn 58 o drefi.
    Gallai trefniant o’r fath fod yn effeithiol yng Nghymru. Mae gennym y Canolfannau Cymraeg i Oedolion a rhwydwaith o ddosbarthiadau, a hefyd rwydwaith o sefydliadau gwirfoddol lleol (e.e. Merched y Wawr, Clybiau Cinio, corau Cymraeg ac ati) a hefyd y Mentrau Iaith. Dylai hi fod yn bosibl rhoi rôl benodol i’r CiO gydgysylltu’r drefniadaeth gyda’r Mentrau Iaith. (Trueni na phriodolwyd rôl benodol yn ymwneud â dysgwyr i’r Mentrau Iaith o dan yr hen Fwrdd yr Iaith.)
    Bydd yn dda i ni (neu unrhyw un arall) gynnig model ar gyfer gweithgaredd o’r fath.
    Cofion,
    Heini

  3. Dwi i’n dysgu Cymraeg! I’m English but have lived in Porthmadog since January. I enrolled on the first available WLPAN course. I intend to continue my learning and sit GCSE and A level courses in the future and then study Welsh history 🙂
    I have many welsh speaking friends who are helping me with my ymarfer! Ymlaen! Cymru am byth!! x

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