The arrested development of Welsh

Colin Miles says the future of our ancient tongue lies with the next generation

Very few people beyond the age of 10 have the natural ability with languages that they had up to the age of about 5. I am certainly not a natural linguist and just passed French and Latin at O-level. I also did a year of German before dropping it in favour of Music. I also tried to teach myself Russian in the 6th form, but never got much beyond the alphabet!

In the past 30 years I have had, through computer programming, what is best described as a nodding acquaintance with other European languages like Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, Italian, Swedish, Dutch and Norwegian. Nowadays the main tasks as far as Welsh is concerned are overseeing the translation of a constantly changing web site into Welsh and trying to extend my vocabulary and understanding by reading.

Welsh is a difficult language and it needs all the help it can get to survive in a world where English, for better or worse, is dominant. Yes, if you are good at languages, which some clearly are, then you will learn it and become fluent. However, most people over the age of 10 aren’t. This is a major stumbling block. Most people who are native speakers or good at languages don’t understand the problems that the rest of us have.

It reminds me of the two mathematics teachers I had in the sixth form. One was a natural mathematician who could never understand why us students found the perfectly ‘obvious’ so difficult. The other teacher struggled like the rest of us and we learnt far more from him. Think back, if not maths, then you will have surely encountered this situation in some other subject.

Most people learning Welsh, young or old, will already be English speaking. Wales is a small country with a small population. It is difficult to get a critical mass of numbers in anything, whether it is supporting a TV station or a football team in a country where the main passion lies in another sport. Of course, English has many peculiarities and deficiencies, as all languages have. But it doesn’t suffer from mutations, myriads of yeses and noes, innumerable ways of forming plurals, and overabundance of apostrophes. Pointing out English language deficiencies may possibly generate a better tolerance of Welsh peculiarities but actually does little to help the English speaker learning Welsh.

All languages are ‘valuable’ as they represent both variety in culture and different ways of thinking. Sadly, not all survive or will survive. Nowadays all languages face the problem of the dominance of English in a very interconnected world. I could cite endless examples of where different nationalities converse in English, including one where the languages were sufficiently similar to for the participants to understand each, but chose to use English not to lose face. But that is all irrelevant.

To me the biggest stumbling block in the survival of Welsh is the attitude of native Welsh speakers to their own language. Undoubtedly, people feel under pressure, but the worst thing you can do is take up an extreme position. This merely alienates the rest of us and polarises everything – as some of the comments on a previous article I contributed to ClickonWales demonstrate here.

Let me mention a couple of the strengths of English, both of which cause problems for other languages like Welsh. Firstly it has an absolutely enormous vocabulary. It has many words which can be used to describe a situation – OK, we bow down to the Welsh regarding rain. This causes problems in translation, but I do feel that Welsh translators are either unduly cavalier or careless in their approach such that the end results are mistranslations. And I am not just thinking of TV sub-titles where that is the overall impression. Even if the Welsh is slang the English has to be ‘tidy’.

The other strength is the ‘use’ of other languages. If we English like a foreign word or term we use it. Maybe we Anglicise it a bit but often we don’t. For some reason Welsh translators don’t seem to want to do this and dutifully translate non-English words or phrases which are perfectly acceptable to English speakers. As a chess player I am totally happy with the term ‘en passant’. When looking up foreign terms in the big Welsh dictionary I see this is translated. Why? I can’t even think of what I would say in English. In a similar vein we have Welsh translators dutifully translating ‘Speaking Welsh’ into – Welsh!

One of the problems the Welsh language has faced over the past 150 years could best be described as ‘arrested development’. By that I mean it hasn’t had the chance to ‘modernise’ itself. Indeed, until the revival of the 1960s its very survival was in doubt. Since then, if you look at the developments that have taken place, some ‘modernisation’ and ‘standardisation’ has occurred. But it is very much just tinkering and creates problems with regard to older, but relatively recent texts. Reading a 1950s history of a Welsh chapel is a bit like trying to read Chaucerian English.

The future of Welsh lies with the younger generation. If sufficient numbers are genuinely fluent and continue to use the language outside the school and beyond when they become adults, then it will survive. But too often the language is being left at the school gates, and if you don’t use it you lose it.

Colin Miles was educated Cheltenham Grammar School, attended Swansea University, studied Chemical Engineering at Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, and Hull, and lived in Hemel Hempstead between 1968 to 2004, before retiring to Llannon in Ceredigion.

29 thoughts on “The arrested development of Welsh

  1. As a speaker of four languages, namely Welsh, English, French and Italian, of which I am also a teacher with 11 years experience of teaching in Britain and abroad, I refute Colin Miles’ assertion that Welsh (which happens to be my mother tongue) faces the problem of arrested development. In my professional experience, its complexities are no more challenging to my students than the complexities inherent in the other three languages that I teach. The complexities of Welsh do not exist as a consequence of ‘arrested development’ any more than the complexities of French, English or Italian do; they exist simply as a consequence of the centuries-long, sometimes millennia-long, on-going organic evolution of the language in question. A given language community, be it Welsh, French, English or other could, of course – should it wish – simplify certain complexities of its language. For instance, French and Italian could do away with the subjunctive tenses and still function as tools of communication and expression. Likewise, English could rationalise its completely illogical spelling and create rules of pronunciation. Welsh might do away with mutations. I have never, ever, heard anyone express the opinion that French, English or Italian suffered from arrested development. Probably because such an assertion would be considered by the speakers of those languages as absurd, not to mention ignorant and offensive. To claim that Welsh does is equally absurd and to me and I suspect many others, also offensive.

  2. I’m not sure of the ‘evidence’ about the gift of language learning beyond a magic age – in this article, picked as 10 years old. I think it’s more about the time you are exposed to a language, and the effort expended in getting you to learn it.

    People think it’s easy as a child; perhaps if, as adults, we were fully immersed in a new language for more than 12 hours every day, with one-to-one tuition by one or more god-like individuals (parents in a child’s case) we would also progress quickly.

    I don’t disagree that Welsh needs to be used far more readily by those who can speak it (I am an ‘advanced learner’, and sometimes have to be very militant in pushing my fluent friends in using it with me even though I’m perfectly capable of holding a conversation), but let’s not perpetuate the myth that somehow your language learning ability greatly shrinks with age. It’s simply not true.

  3. I can’t help wondering if part of Colin’s problem with learning Welsh is within himself.

    I may be misinterpreting his comments, but there appear to be a lot of camparison between Welsh and English none of which is particularly favourable. English is more expressive than Welsh, he says, because it has a bigger vocabulary, Welsh is difficult to learn because of a complicated grammar. However, to me, the grammar is what makes Welsh so expressive, and a large vocabulary should surely make a language difficult to learn (at least from the point of view of understanding). These are not strengths and weaknesses, merely differences.

    I re-read the previous article, and would love to know which of the comments he considers are Welsh speakers taking extreme positions – is this a self-perceived barrier to blame for a lack of progress? I don’t know.

  4. I started learning languages at the age of 16 after leaving school. I speak fluent French, German, Italian and Welsh (sometimes fluent English!). Welsh was learned much later (in my thirties). Having an incentive to learn determines whether or not you are going to be successful in my experience. Every language has it’s own pecularities, German has four cases, three genders and like French and Welsh it has lots of different plurals. I found Italian the easiest of languages for some reason.

    The reason I learned Welsh was the realisation of a promise I made to myself when I was on scout camp in Snowdonia. I was in awe of the fact that all around me people were using a language that i had been told was dead. You say that the language is difficult? No more than other languages.. it’s a myth. I recently spent a few days in the Bala area with my friend from Bavaria who has also learned Welsh throught the SSIW (say something in Welsh online course) We hardly used any English (or German) for four days.

    Another thing you mention is the fact that school children tend not to use Welsh outside of the school gate. Many have English speaking families who do not know much Welsh and a lot has to do with the influence of English media too. The proof of the pudding will be in later years when this current tide of very young Welsh speakers decide for themselves which language they will use. It is very important that social/sport events in the Welsh language are offered to them, and this is an area that Welsh speakers today can pave the way for the future of the language. I think it is wrong to place all the responsibility on their shoulders.

  5. Interesting piece, though not sure I agree with many of your assertions. As a learner now teaching Welsh, I wish you every success with your efforts to learn the language. Welsh presents many challenges to the learner, but over emphasis of mutations etc. is a common distraction, it doesn’t really matter if you get it wrong, over time you start to correct yourself where it does matter. I learnt in my 40’s having failed miserably at all languages in school, there’s hope for anyone with enough interest and commitment. Pob lwc yn y dyfodol!

  6. James – there is no ‘magic’ age at which you stop being able to learn a language, but all the evidence shows that the younger you are the more able you are. As you must know, the very young are capable of learning any language, but as we learn the brain ‘prunes’ the networks which enable us to hear and pronounce sounds which are not relevant to the language we are learning. Or it does in most people, the exceptions being natural linguists – like Boyd Williams and yourself.

    Although I have spoken of my problems in learning the language, this is only because I believe these to be the problems that most English people face in learning it. That is the result of listening and talking to other people over the past 8 years – and experiencing at first hand the problems of dual language web sites. It is, for instance, very difficult to justify the economic cost of Welsh translation in a country where everyone can read English – and the actual use of the Welsh sites is so small.

    In case it wasn’t clear I repeat again that Welsh speakers – and natural linguists – need to appreciate the difficulties which English speakers face in learning Welsh – other languages are only incidental to the problem, namely the survival of Welsh.

  7. Interesting article and unsurprising comments from the ‘Fro Cymraeg’ fraternity but one important point seems to be missed as to learn any foreign language at any age you must hold the individual’s interest and language exposure. As a dad to two kids (Ages 14 & 8) being educated in the heartland of Fro Cymraeg neither of them nor any of their mates can put together a simple sentence in Welsh and have no interest in the language what so ever. I have also noticed that many kids from Welsh speaking homes refuse to talk to their parents in Welsh and always reply in English… Wales is never going to become a bilingual nation as the vast majority of its little people or the new generation do not see Welsh language as relevant or important… (Recent study by Bangor University carried out for the Gwynedd LEA clearly shows that the playground and social language of primary school kids is English and they have no answers as to how to change this)! In my opinion the only option is freedom of choice for Welsh people to live and work here either through English or Welsh language as they wish. There must be no compulsion what so ever and no bias of public employment going to Welsh speakers only and provisions made for separate English or Welsh medium education with parental choice being sacrosanct.

  8. Jon Jones in response to Ken Richards elsewhere comments that there is a heavy emphasis on spoken Welsh in schools and I can confirm that adult learners are also told that Welsh is primarily a spoken language. Along with the comments of Jaques Protic above the future for the language isn’t very promising. Unfortunately it is not PC to question the role of the Welsh language despite the obvious problems that exist both in education and the wider world of business, tourism, etc., and we seem to be faced with the prospect of yet more legislation. It is, for instance, ridiculous that charities and other bodies who receive a certain amount of subsidy from the Welsh government should then be required to have a dual language site. They are all strapped for cash and it diverts a vast amount of time and energy into something which yields almost nothing in return. Flexibility is what is needed on a case by case basis, but I have little hope that any such rational approach will occur.

    As for solving the problems – re English being the language of the playground, etc., – it is certainly not going to be solved by outsiders such as myself. But until you face the problems, analyse them properly, you have little chance of solving them. It would be a pity if the epitaph for Welsh was ‘spoken in heaven, written in hell’.

  9. It is clear that the Welsh language does require the ‘goodwill’ of Welsh people to survive, particularly those living in the most populous areas who in the main are English only speakers. I can understand that people who grew up in Welsh speaking communities wish to retain their language, however the sheer ‘weight’ of the English language means that it’s going to be an uphill struggle. The drive for WM has been impressive, mainly because it has been based on ‘self interest’ and its casualties have been English only speaking children who have been used as canon fodder. I know people with grandchildren in a pretty poor area which must have been 99% English only speaking, and in their opinion it has been a waste of time/money to have them educated through the Welsh language which the children now neither like or use in day to day life. Other than for the well educated elite of Welsh speakers whose job opportunities in Welsh Government/S4C/BBC Cymru etc have multiplied out of all rational analysis what is the point of teaching children in what is to many extents a foreign language. The drive for the Welsh language through a) road signs, b) announcements of railway stations, c) leaflets etc has produced a silent anger that people who are too polite to articulate when questioned about polls etc.

  10. With regard to ‘announcements of railway stations’ may I quote an example of the problem. I was at a transport meeting and a Welsh speaker asked that a request be put back to the relevant authorities that announcements should first be made in English. Why? He cited an example which he had witnessed whereby the Welsh announcement had taken so long that the English speaker had missed the connection. Similarly, there are no standards regarding which language comes first on road signs and research shows that having to read 2 signs slows down reaction – would therefore seem to be a safety hazard. I may be wrong but I think the same research showed that having Welsh first was also detrimental to reading time.

  11. Colin. I couldn’t agree more that both a) railway stations, b) road signs are at best an a) irritation, and b) dangerous, particularly for an ageing population with traffic seemingly going faster, and with less civility on the roads these days. I have several friends who grew up in a totally Welsh speaking world and it gives a certain amount of pleasure to hear them conversing in Welsh, however the political drive by seemingly all parties to force Welsh will in the end be very counterproductive. It is difficult to get costings, however the recent Welsh language enforcement division must have a long term impact on getting talented people/wealth creators to move into Wales. Why would people want to move over the bridge into Wales when if they receive public funding the police will be after them for Welsh language policies/employment etc.

  12. Bangor University report that I mentioned earlier on the social language of children in the Welsh speaking heartland (Gwynedd) should have wider airing and I have attached the web link: It should be remembered that Gwynedd has operated total Welsh language immersion policy for more than 20 years and has little tolerance for anything English. Certain findings in this report regarding compulsion can be deemed as abuse of the little kids and if Gwynedd can’t make them use and speak Welsh it can be argued that no one else can anywhere in Wales. It’s long overdue to examine the Welsh Government’s Welsh language policies and bring back sanity and fairness into Welsh society. Respect and coexistence of the two cultures but never forced assimilation!

  13. There isn’t a single documented case of an accident due to a bilingual roadsign in Wales, to suggest this is even an issue is simply scaremongering. Especially when considering other nations (like quadrilingual Switzerland) have multiple languages on their signs…to suggest we should have difficulties with a mere two is doing our abilities as road users a disservice I think.

    “I have also noticed that many kids from Welsh speaking homes refuse to talk to their parents in Welsh and always reply in English”

    Please provide some evidence of this as its quite a spectacular statement to make.

    You cannot use that report to suggest Gwynedd’s children are willingly shunning the Welsh language in in the ‘fro Gymraeg’ as you state. The vast majority of the schools featured in that report aren’t actually located in the traditional ‘fro Gymraeg’. Not a single school from, for example, Caernarfon, Bontnewydd, Waunfawr, Llanrug, Penygroes etc…but rather Bangor, Pwllheli and Tywyn, where the language of the home is more likely to be English in the current climate…some of the schools featured even had as little as 13 pupils on their enrolment, one school cited as having only 22% of its children coming from a Welsh speaking home actually only had 26 pupils in total! (source:Estyn)

    Even so, that report still suggests in its conclusion that the vast majority of children featured were overwhelmingly supportive of Welsh, even with those who didn’t use it outside the context of education. They were positive about their language skills with 62% hoping to speak Welsh/English equally well upon leaving school…hardly the despairing cries of bullied and surpressed children!

    What needs to be remembered of course is that English lessons still take place in these schools, children aren’t denied the opportunity of being taught the English language. Yet some would have us believe that English is being systematically eroded from the minds of our children…an utterly false notion.

    If your fears about the oppressive and forced nature of immersive Welsh language education are to be believed however Jacques, I’m very impressed how your two children and their friends have so far managed to live their lives in the ‘fro Gymraeg’ without absorbing any of it whatsoever!

  14. Shon – it is hardly surprising that there are no documented cases of accidents due to bilingual road signs. It is not exactly a ‘believable excuse milord’ and if you’re dead you can’t speak up anyway. As for the comments elsewhere about fluent Welsh speakers also being able to read and write the language, this is not what the surveys show. And I know this to be the case from personal experience of trying to persuade Welsh speakers to do translations. It’s one thing to speak fluent Welsh, quite another to write it.

  15. No it isn’t surprising at all…because there aren’t any!

    Current research exists simply to analyse any potential and/or theoretical risks involved with bilingual signage, with the aim of investigating how to make them clearer and more defined to benefit the road-user. People of a certain mindset in Wales however, have often taken such research at face value and presented it as factual evidence of an already existing problem, they wield it like a weapon with which to berate the very existence of Welsh on roadsigns at all…completely misrepresenting the entire purpose of such research in the first place.

    The plain fact remains…there isn’t a single case of an accident due to bilingual signage. If there were a flood of motorists reporting incidents left, right and centre with a regular public outcry there may be an issue that might require addressing…but there simply aren’t any!

  16. Shon – I think the issue of bilingual/multilingual roads signs is a bit of a ‘red dragon’ is you’ll excuse the ‘pub’. As I recall the research highlighted both the increased reaction times due to them and the problem of which came first – Welsh or English. The current situation is a mess and untidy to say the least. But I note that you didn’t respond to the comment that ‘It’s one thing to speak fluent Welsh, quite another to write it. ‘ Welsh may well be the language of heaven when sung, but it is in many ways ill-suited to the written medium. Until some genius sorts this out I fear the unfortunate conflict and problems that exist between Welsh speakers and native non-Welsh speakers, will continue.

  17. Mr Miles you seem to believe that the ‘distraction’ of bilingual road signs in Wales constitute a traffic hazard. The facts are that a recommendation was made by the Roderic Bowen Committee in 1972 “That the provision of bilingual signs should be mandatory on all highway authorities in Wales and should apply to all classes of road and all categories of sign.” The Government implemented these by the mid-1970s, following consultations with the Road Research Laboratory.

    Bilingual signs have now been in place for nearly 40 years. Throughout that time, I have not heard of a single instance where anyone, in any court, has argued that an accident occurred due to road signs being bilingual. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Had anyone done so, you can bet your bottom dollar the press and media would have given the matter great publicity. So, Mr Miles, don’t conjure up hazards where none exist.

    Recently Transport Scotland commissioned consultants TRL to review what effect bilingual signs may have on drivers. And the report concluded, that road signs with place names in English and Gaelic do not raise the chances of drivers having an accident. Here’s the link:-

    It’s no surprise that Mr Protic is spouting his irrational typical nonsense about Welsh speakers, the same person behind the Glasnost/Gogwatch websites infamy.

    The Welsh language is a cultural treasure – one of Europe’s finest. Its worst enemies are not in England, they’re at home in Wales. As Mr Protic proves it. But times have changed and those of us who love and cherish Welsh are happy to tell its enemies where to go. We should have had the courage long ago.

    As for those questioning the benefits of bilingualism in Wales here are just a small sample of links that will I’m sure will make interesting reading, nos da:

  18. Mr. Owen – the red dragon analogy perhaps passed you by. And noone doubts the value of bilingualism. However, this doesn’t address the problem of the difference between speaking and writing a language. Welsh is a cultural treasure – absolutely. When sung it is liquid heaven, but its very strengths causes enormous problems when it comes to the written word. When you speak to the older generation about mutation the typical response is – ‘oh we don’t bother with that’. And indeed when speaking person to person it often doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t since the context will sort it all out. But writing it down is an entirely different matter. And of course it is not just mutations, but plurals, word endings, etc. Not surprising that fluent Welsh speakers can be rather hesitant when it comes to writing.

    I don’t know what the answers are, but until the Welsh language activists come to terms with these facts and address them then all the money that has been poured into the language will prove fruitless. As it is it looks very much like a bottomless pit and a source of social division.

  19. I agree with you about some points you raise, don’t worry about mutations that will come with practice. The best way to improve Welsh skills is to read, read and read. I’m a learner myself and found that learning improved my vocab and my writing, you absorb so much as you read. And there’s such a vast range of Welsh language books available these days, there is something for everyone from Sports to aubobiogs. One thing I would get rid of is the “double n” in Welsh, there’s no need for it, need to scrap that.

  20. Mr Owen – it is not my ability or lack of it that is the problem. It is the general point with regard to the differences between spoken and written Welsh and the difficulties that these cause, not least in the ability of those who claim to be fluent Welsh speakers to actually write the language. I note that academics have even stated that there is a case for regarding them as separate languages – bit extreme but it does emphasise my point. When you have WAG baulking at the cost of translating all their proceedings it is difficult to understand why other organisations should be forced to bear the additional costs of producing literature which is only read by a very small minority.

    On a personal note I gave up Welsh classes after about 6 years as I was not gaining anything from them. But I do continue to learn the language. Most days when sitting down for coffee or tea, my wife and I read at least a page of Welsh. Don’t have any particular problems with mutations but we do spend too much time looking up words in various dictionaries and not finding them. Mostly we can infer the meanings from the context, but not always. Maybe it is poor proof-reading, maybe simple mistakes or alternate spellings and endings, maybe invented Welshified English words – who knows.

  21. “But I note that you didn’t respond to the comment that ‘It’s one thing to speak fluent Welsh, quite another to write it.”

    No I didn’t, seeing as I made no reference to it in any way in either of my previous posts I wasn’t aware you were expecting a response from me on it.

    However seeing as you have mentioned it… I fail to understand your point, I’ve never seen any survey or statistic claiming 1st language Welsh speakers cannot write through the same medium, prior to your mentioning it I’d never even thought such a phenomenon existed! Sure I’ve met people who hesitate to write Welsh in an official capacity for fear of making an error, some within my own family, however the very same is true of them when writing in English. Indeed the same accusation can be leveled at large swathes of monoglot English speakers I’ve met over the years.

    I’ve worked with written correspondence from the general British public from all over the UK for a number of years in a professional capacity. During this time time I’ve seen innumerable examples of apparent 1st language English speakers displaying horriffic signs of illiteracy. The excuse? “Well I haven’t written anything ‘official’ since school!”

    I think this is more a case of the worker blaming his tools. This phenomenon isn’t the result of the Welsh language being unsuitable for written medium, it’s rather the product of a lack of practice!

  22. Anyone who has studied Russian – one more case than the five in Latin, two verb conjugations with two verbs in Russian for every one in English, liberal use of the subjunctive mood and irregulat plurals as in Welsh – knows that Welsh grammar is child’s play in comparison. Did that make Russian unsuitable as a medium for written communication? Someone forgot to tell Tolstoy and Pasternak. Bishop Morgan wrote the bible in Welsh and Mihangel Morgan writes contemporary comic novels in Welsh. Colin Miles position on that is, I’m sorry to say, risible.

    As for bilingual road signs, here in south Wales they always lead with the English. When I go to north or west Wales I notice they often lead in Welsh. So there seems to be a perfectly sensible pragmatic policy of leading with the local majority language.

  23. Shon – Yes – illiteracy in any language is a terrible thing but the fate of the English language is not an issue here. Welsh has a very small base to start with and with only 58% of fluent Welsh speakers claiming to be able to write Welsh very well, and only 31% claiming to write it well, there is indeed cause for concern. I am referring here to the Welsh Language board survey of 2004

    Lack of practice – maybe? But I think the problems run much deeper. The Welsh language survived largely because of the translation of the Bible. There is nothing comparable to glue the nation together in the same way. Attacking the English language won’t help the Welsh language survive.

  24. There are at least two authotitative estimates of literacy amongst Welsh speakers; Welsh Language usage survey 2004-2006 produced by the Welsh Language Board and the Adult Skills survey of Wales 2011.

    The adult skills survey found that 88% of over 16s in Wales were functionally literate in English and that 74% of all adults who decribed themselves as “Fluent” Welsh speakers were functionally literate. The percentage in Wales who describe themselves as Fluent in Welsh is 12% and so the functionally literate figure is something over 9% (It’s slightly higher because some adults who didn’t consider themselves Fluent nevertheless tested as literate.)

    As for the literacy of First Language Welsh speakers in English; it’s lower than average but numeracy is markedly lower than average amongst first language Welsh speakers.

    The bigger question I always think is; “How many people, given a free choice, select services in the Welsh Medium?” There is an attempst to answer this in the Welsh Language usage survey. The answer is not straight forward because fluent Welsh speakers will use Welsh in a shop where the staff are well known but English in response to an official (bilingual) form. Where there is an obvious choice of Language, the uptake of Welsh Language service across Wales is usually less than 4% of all users for spoken services and less than 1% for written services. This suggests that even literate Welsh speakers generally consider themselves more literate in English.

    56% of all fluent Welsh speakers are living in the Fro Cymraeg but the highest standard of literacy amongst Welsh speakers is found in the South East. Maybe an indication of the migration of highly educated Welsh speakers to the employment honeypot around Cardiff.

  25. Mr Miles,
    It strikes me that you are missing the important point here when you talk about low rates of Welsh language literacy that most Welsh speakers over the age of about thirty were educated solely through English. If you have never been educated in a language, even if you speak it fluently, how are you supposed to be highly literate in it? As regards the old people who apparently told you that they don’t bother with mutations thats news to me, in my entire life I have only ever met one Welsh speaker who considered mutations expendable, and she was twenty, second language, and also thought that there was no need to decline the pronouns either. Hardly the sort of example to be taking as proof of Welsh linguistic trends.

  26. The truth of Jon Jones’s comment – ‘This suggests that even literate Welsh speakers generally consider themselves more literate in English.’ – is what struck me when I first started learning Welsh. On a Welsh walk the fluent Welsh speakers carried their dictionaries with them and in the pub afterwards were busily engaged in discussing what Welsh words to use for certain English words. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that they are more literate in English than Welsh, but many would not admit or even recognise/realise that fact.

  27. Since Jon Jones finds it so trying to live among all those Welsh speakers in Gwynedd, why does he not join the ‘honeypot’ around Cardiff where, unless he makes an effort, he won’t hear Welsh spoken from one week to the next. I am sure there are opportunities for someone as thorough with data as he evidently is. Furthermore he’ll find plenty of English language schools who barely maintain the pretence of teaching any Welsh to their pupils. Mysteriously, though, he will not find that that leads to wonderful standards in all other subjects. In fact, he’ll find standards are often alarmingly low.

  28. Tredwyn seems to be able to draw some strange conclusions about me from whatever dry piece that I write. Far from finding it “trying” to live and work in Gwynedd, I am quite content here and, indeed, know no other place…particularly not Cardiff. I have visited Barcelona on ten times as many occasions but still….why should I move from home?

    I will never argue that standards are particularly high, on average, in any Welsh schools (or English schools) although there are clearly outstanding exceptions. If he means to suggest that English medium schools in Cardiff have worse examination outcomes than Welsh Medium schools I would expect that the actual outcomes pretty well follow the level of free school meals of the individual schools. As I have often said very few pupils in WM schools are on Free School meals and very few pupils in those schools have a language other than English or Welsh as a home language. The EM schools in Cardiff have difficulties that the WM schools do not have…and they aren’t blessed with the extra Welsh Medium supplement that WM schools receive.

    That isn’t the end of the story however. Not only are the parents of pupils in WM schools not unemployed…those that are Welsh speaking are more likely to be educated to degree level than anywhere else in Wales. What you should be considering Tredwyn is whether WM schools are as successful as they SHOULD be in Cardiff. Certainly WM schools underachieve (on average) throughout Wales.

  29. Mr McCann – it may be news to you regarding old folk not bothering with mutations, but that is certainly true here in Carmarthenshire. But then again they were largely taught in English so they don’t know the rules and even if they do apply them in speech, they wouldn’t recognise that fact.

    And Tredwyn – As for the difficulty of Welsh and Russian, I well remember an aunt of my wife’s who told us that she ‘didn’t realise how difficult Welsh was until she came to teach it’. And she is a good teacher.

    One of the main points that I have been trying to make is that in order for the Welsh language to progress and survive, Welsh language activists and those who care about the language, need to look closely at the language itself and to understand the difficulties that it poses when compared with the English language – which is the one it has to compete with (not Russian or Latin). The chances of solving any problem if you don’t understand the causes are small.

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