Placing Welsh at the heart of government

Richard Wyn Jones argues that the creation of Dyfodol offers a chance to create a ‘genuinely effective’ language movement

The establishment of Dyfodol i’r Iaith is a response to the revolution that has taken place in Wales over the past half century, most obviously in terms of our country’s political institutions but also in terms of popular attitutes towards the Welsh language.

Sadly this revolution  has not so far been mirrored in the attitudes, organisation and methods of the language movement. Too many Welsh speakers and supporters of the language seem to view themselves as being marginal and marginalised. They talk, think and behave as if they still had no state institutions of their own. This is despite the fact that no single part of Welsh society has been more crucial to the process of creating our national democratic institutions than Welsh-speaking Wales.

Dyfodol’s first AGM

Over sixty members and supporters gathered in Aberystwyth in late October for the first general meeting of the language organisation Dyfodol. Bethan Jones Parry was elected unopposed as the first President of the organisation. In addition ten members were elected to be directors and will operate as the Executive Committee. They are: Heini Gruffudd, Simon Brooks, Elin Walker Jones, Elin Wyn, Emyr Lewis, Eifion Lloyd Jones, Meirion Llywelyn, Richard Wyn Jones, Huw Ll. Edwards, and Angharad Mair. Heini Gruffudd will be Chair of the Board. It was also agreed that Myrddin ap Dafydd, Cynog Dafis, Angharad Dafis and Robat Gruffudd are designated core members. The organisation will not be able to change its objective of working for the Welsh language without the agreement of the core members.

Indeed, the cruel irony of the present situation is that it is difficult to think of a significant group in Welsh life that has made less use of the opportunities afforded by the creation of the National Assembly and Welsh Government than supporters of the Welsh language.  Although the interests of a myriad of causes are represented by various lobbyists in Cardiff Bay, there is no civil society body there working full time to raise a voice on behalf of the Welsh language.

Dyfodol’s vision is simple. Our aim is to be a constant, energetic and effective presence in and around our national political institutions arguing the cause of the Welsh language.

In making that case, the National Assembly and Welsh Government’s wide range of responsibilities pose as many challenges as they generate possibilities. If we simply consider the present government’s legislative programme, Dyfodol will need to be able to respond on matters of planning, sustainable development, education and more in order to make the most of the opportunities available.   Furthermore, work is required to ensure that the ‘standards’ that flesh out the 2011 Language Measure are truly challenging. And as well as reacting there is also a need for proactive intervention to put positive ideas on the political agenda.

None of this will be achieved without sufficient financial resources to employ professional staff who can continually lobby politicians and civil servants. Intervening successfully across the 20 devolved policy fields will require four or five full time members of staff. In turn that means that an annual income of some £200,000 will need to be generated.

Achieving this will be no mean feat. But those of us who support the Welsh language need to ask ourselves a blunt question: what financial value do we place on seeing the well-being of the language becoming a central consideration in the formulation and implemention of public policy in Wales? Are we really content to play a central and honourable role in establishing Welsh democratic political institutions and then not make use of them to build a truly bilingual Wales?

Since 1999, many opportunities to promote the language have been lost as the language movement has refused to adjust to changing realities. The establishment of Dyfodol offers a chance to step out of this rut and create a genuinely effective language movement. A language movement whose ethos and activities echo the enthusiastic support that Welsh-speaking Wales has given to self government.  But this new venture cannot succeed without the generous and whole-hearted backing of all those people who cherish the Welsh language.  Please consider what contribution you can make as Dyfodol seeks to give our language a voice.

Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, is one of Dyfodol’s directors.

19 thoughts on “Placing Welsh at the heart of government

  1. “Too many Welsh speakers and supporters of the language seem to view themselves as being marginal and marginalised.” What a classic piece of elitist rhetoric from a Cardiff Professor. The reality – on the ground and not in the ivory tower – is that people expressing themselves in their indigenous language are indeed marginalised; not seemingly so, but in actuality. They are marginalised, purely and simply, because of the English hegemomy that prevails. Those supporting devolution, including the author, buy into the lobbyist approach: i.e. talk nicely to Welsh Ministers, the Wales Office, and the Westminster Secretary of State and all will be rosy in the Brit regionalist garden. Wake up, for heaven’s sake! There is a ‘real world’ out there, far away from the cosy, academia-politico bubble, which moves from grant application to grant application. Being a Welsh speaker, on the streets, and trying to lead your life through your mother tongue, is a damn hard task. Last time I visited Cardiff, to attend a ‘politics’ seminar at Cardiff University incidentally, I had nothing but bewildered looks when I tried to introduce myself to staff through the medium of Welsh. The “mote in your eye” is evident within Wales’ (supposedly) premier university, based in the heart of its capital. The revolution starts at grassroots, not in the wine bars of Cardiff Bay, where academics, lobbyists and tame politicians gather to conjure up their next initiative. Ultimately, Dyfodol is a vehicle for appeasers. How sad, and the very last thing our nation needs at this time.

  2. With all due respect Richard Wyn Jones what you call ‘our language’ is not my language and certainly it’s not the language of the vast majority of Welsh people.

    I as an individual have immense respect and value for any culture but in the context of Wales we are seeing inverse democracy and elevation of a minority language and culture above all else.

    Welsh language is nothing more than the language of a minority. Its use and application varies considerably across Wales and as statistics tell us some 20% of Welsh population have the ability to speak the language.

    As I know the Welsh speaking heartland especially well (North West Wales), where Welsh is used as the first language by a significant number of Welsh people, most of them do not have complete Welsh language literacy and are unable to read it or write it and use their language as a cultural language that they themselves call ‘Wenglish’.

    In other words a language heavily reliant on English input and in my experience none of these people share the hard-nosed and often irrational Welsh language lobby attitudes and approach, which often appears to lack all sense of reality.

    The Welsh speaking majority are Welsh patriots who are happy to speak Welsh and English with no baggage or hang-ups that the Welsh language lobby seem to have in abundance. These people use English to read and write and in most cases have their children educated in English Medium streams that still exist in secondary education within Anglesey, Ceredigion and Gwynedd and the streams that outstrip Welsh medium ‘demand’.

    With some 10 years behind us of unprecedented Welsh language promotion on the part of the Welsh Government we are not seeing any increase in the Welsh language uptake or interest in it by the vast majority of our young people who are used as guinea pigs or experimental laboratory animals to make them into something that they do not want to be or never can be and at the expense and quality of their education.

    The facts behind the above assertion are overwhelming and in spite of Billions of public moneys used to achieve a Bilingual Nation we are not seeing any ‘pay back’.

    Welsh language still does not have any newspapers that even remotely suggest that there is a demand for Welsh language. Welsh language TV broadcasting is still irrelevant to the vast majority of Welsh people. Use of Welsh language in public dealing with ‘Welsh Authorities’, Banking and Utilities is insignificant and around 1% of all written communications.

    The only sector in Wales thriving is the public employment of Welsh speakers where a minority of so called ‘Welsh Language Missionaries’ are seen as an essential requirement to deliver Welsh language demand to anyone who may not wish to speak English or who wants to make a political point that one can’t be a true Welshman unless they speak the Welsh language.

    The questions should be asked can this be legal or even rational and above all answers sought via the public consultation if the inverse democracy and forced assimilation into a language and culture foreign to most people of Wales is acceptable in a democracy?

    Finally I congratulate Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru Education spokesman) for having the integrity and honesty to state in the public domain that Welsh children do not want to learn the Welsh language.

  3. ‘A fo ben, bid bont’ [trans: ‘He would be a leader, let him be a bridge’]. MBJ should try it!

  4. “… I had nothing but bewildered looks when I tried to introduce myself to staff through the medium of Welsh.”

    Ah well Mike, that would possibly be because those people didn’t understand Welsh. Strangely enough very few people in Wales do understand Welsh to a sophisticated level…by that I mean fluency sufficient to do what you want to do; live every aspect of your life through the medium of Welsh.

    What is never examined is the reality of what it means to give Welsh and English “Equality”. Since only 12% of the population is fluent in Welsh and since (evidence suggests) less than 5% of the population actually wish to use Welsh exclusively or in their everyday communication, what degree of equality of provision is reasonable in Wales without inpinging on the rights and freedoms of those people who have no desire to speak or understand Welsh?

    When someone visits Cardiff University should they legitimately expect everyone from the principal to the janitor to understand them and respond in Welsh? When we give Meri Huws the legal right to dictate to Myrthyr Council that they employ staff to oversee and enforce their Welsh Language policy are we taking anything away from the rights of any other employee in the same council to hold on to their job in a time when every penny is counted and public sector workers live under the threat of redundancy?

    When Wales creates a powerful post of “Commissioner for the Welsh langauge”, a person who will redress any wrongs suffered by Welsh speakers, is it still an “Equal” country that does not provide any means of redress for those people who do not speak (or wish to speak) Welsh when Welsh Language laws discriminate against them?

    I think that we in Wales have misunderstood what equality means. Certainly we have lost sight of the meaning of “Reasonable” compliance with Language measures.

  5. Well, I don’t really want to lecture here, English is not my first language, 2 other European languages come for me emotionally before English, and at the moment (I am sure I will be adding more languages, hopefully next one will be Welsh) another 1 comes after. Language is richness and culture, it opens your mind and I must say that the English attitude towards languages is that of a loser. Concepts and emotions are so different from language to language, if you think that everything can be translated… well, you are going to miss out very important details and nuances. Any effort put into a successful development of a minority language is more than welcome. What I believe needs to be changed is the attitude of Welsh speakers towards their own language, there is not enough pride, and if there is some it is wrongly on the side of arrogance and exclusivity. It is absolutely correct to start any conversation in Wales in Welsh assuming that the person you are talking to can speak and understand the language and then, if necessary, switch to a common language spoken by both party. My point of view here is purely about the “society”, about culture and opportunities, I don’t want to enter in any legal aspect. I understand the necessity for public documents to be bilingual, but as you might have guessed I don’t like translations. From personal experience strict legal requirement for this, risks to radicalise and polarise the community (btw I’ve just read an article about the meaning of “Cymuned”), I come from a part of Europe where bilingualism is a very strict legal rule to the point that, not only everything needs to be in both languages, but also for working in many sectors one has to pass a language test, depending on the sector and on function and level of the job from a basic knowledge of the language that is considered minority (but it’s not, at the moment is just a barrier to immigration, the real minority language is a third one, much older than the other two) up to high fluency. This really works against integration and against the emergence of a community.

  6. The question you should be asking is can we build a truly bilingual Wales, when current Welsh language policies alienate and discriminate against a large majority of the Welsh population?

  7. It is interesting that people on both sides of this discussion feel discriminated against and hard done by. Everybody can’t be persecuting everyone else. The question is how do we foster and preserve a rich and unique minority language in a era of admass communication without making the majority of non-speakers feel excluded or discriminated against? Can’t we discuss that with mutual goodwill and a bit less heat and exaggeration?

  8. Here we have a President, 10 Directors, and 4 Core Members and my question is this – do any of these named people have what I would call a ‘proper job’ or are (or were) they all on the taxpayer-funded payroll?

    The creation of a Welsh language campaigning organisation which has publicly promised not to break the law, and not to take public funding, is actually a major step forward but I can’t help wondering if the main players actually understand the ‘value of money’, that has to be earned by adding value, and the concept that spending several hundred million pounds a year on a language which is only really fully useable by around 50-60,000 people actually represents ‘best value’ in the sense that public bodies are legally and morally required to operate?

    Even in Gwynedd, when faced with an equal choice of language and logistics to complete a simple web-form, only 20% have chosen to do so in Welsh over the last 5 years. In Wales the aggregated figure is likely to be less than 5% and it could easily be as low as 2%. This means something in excess of 95% of Welsh language ‘design and print’ spending is already pure waste. We pay to produce it then we pay again to dispose of it. This is utter madness which could easily be avoided with a language preference field in every database. The Welsh Office did this successfully in the 1980s! But the Welsh language activists in power demand, dictate, and impose their agenda – they don’t want the people to have a free choice… Will Dyfodol be any different?

    Available ‘actual use’ figures also represent an utter and complete failure for the Welsh language activists whether they have operated ethically and legally, or not. It is also a damning indictment of Welsh language policy since the late 1980s because the numbers show clearly that there isn’t actually the demos that has repeatedly been claimed for the Welsh language.

    I am at a loss to understand the mindset of anybody who thinks it is acceptable to deprive failing front-line services, and people who are experiencing real hardships and actual suffering, of further funding in order to pursue a dream which all the empirical evidence from unbiased sources suggests is going to fail in perpetuity.

    I have nothing against the Welsh language for its historical and cultural value but I cannot condone the amount of money that is being squandered on it or the abuses which are being carried out in its name. By all means campaign to fund Welsh language and culture in its own limited boundaries but please stop campaigning to waste public money ‘at the heart of government’, which can be better spent, while simultaneously alienating the rest of us who have absolutely zero interest in your little local language or its fabled claimed benefits. It’s time to get real!

  9. “…… The question is how do we foster and preserve a rich and unique minority language.” Well Tredwyn, I can tell you how it’s being done at the moment… coercion and deception on a monumental scale. John Walker above points out one of the major fallacies current in Wales today; that Welsh first language speakers are discriminated against because they cannot access services through the medium of Welsh. These days, whenever there is a survey of public opinion, respondents are given the opportunity to respond in Welsh or English. Over and over again the result is the same; the equivalent of less than 4% of the population actually wants to respond in Welsh. Don’t waste time re-hashing all the tired old theories about why this is the case…..I’ve heard them a thousand times. Here’s a radical NEW theory; even Welsh first language speakers find English more useful in conveying their meaning in all but casual social conversation.

    Have a look at some of the deception and veiled coercion being used; this is from one of my favourite perfideous documents generated by the WAG: “Promoting linguistic progression…….”

    “• The economic benefits of being proficient in both English and Welsh are obvious as more jobs than ever in Wales require bilingual skills.”

    This line is being used to persuade parents to keep their children in WM secondary schools after they have been in WM primaries but what is being said? As John Walker has said there is no REAL increasing requirement for bilingual skills what there is is a tiny vociferous group of organisations who endlessly DEMAND more services that hardly anyone uses. There is also a totally subservient political body that dare not utter one word against such organisations for fear that they will be branded “Language Haters” or, worse, “English”.

    We know that only 12% of the population is capable of Welsh Fluency and we know that Welsh speakers are less numerate and less literate in English than non Welsh speakers but nevertheless we are determined to make sure that every man and his dog is educated in Welsh.

    Dyfodol, Cymdeithas, Cefn, Rhag The Language Commissioner…..the list seems endless but it’s time that we looked at these organisations in a different light; as trade bodies dedicated to ensuring that Welsh/ English translators and all the other people who hold their employment by virtue of their Welsh Language background, remain in gainful employment and to ensure that no one from outside Wales is employed in a public service position within Wales, particularly (heaven forbid!) within the teaching profession in the Fro Cymraeg.

  10. I’m curious about this Mick Roner:-

    “I come from a part of Europe where bilingualism is a very strict legal rule to the point that, not only everything needs to be in both languages, but also for working in many sectors one has to pass a language test…….”

    What languages are we talking about and where is it? I thought that you were Italian with German, English and French speaking capabilities. You don’t appear to have a minority language.

    I’m also interested in this part of your post: “at the moment is just a barrier to immigration”. Of course that situation is rapidly becoming the case in Wales; already,quite deliberately, in the Welsh speaking areas where non Welsh speakers are employed exclusively in the private sector…or unemployed of course. Their children then obliged to find work in England or the East of Wales.

  11. Ah! perhaps you come from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy Mick Roner? So German is your “Minority Language”. But even so (and I wish German was the minority language in Wales that we all would have to learn) I don’t think that the bi-lingual policy that you refer to is a National, Italian policy. Surely it’s a regional policy……much like Gwynedd in Wales deciding on Bi-lingual requirements for state employees. Not at all like the situation in Wales where areas where Welsh is never heard are still subject to laws on Welsh services provision.

  12. “Jacques Protic says:

    With all due respect Richard Wyn Jones what you call ‘our language’ is not my language and certainly it’s not the language of the vast majority of Welsh people.”

    Our language means the language of Wales. If you are Welsh, the Welsh language is part of your heritage whether you actually speak the language or not. Your negative attitude does seem to support the point of the commenter who argued that Welsh speakers are still marginalised.

    “As I know the Welsh speaking heartland especially well (North West Wales), where Welsh is used as the first language by a significant number of Welsh people, most of them do not have complete Welsh language literacy and are unable to read it or write it”

    You obviously only think you know the Welsh speaking heartland well. Welsh speaking people living in the Welsh heartland are able to read and write the language. Wherever did you get the impression that they can’t?

  13. A problem underlying the future of the language is a failure to agree on how we got here. Welsh speakers see Welsh as the native language almost exterminated by a relentless campaign of cultural/linguistic persecution. English unionists see English as the language of the majority, by choice or circumstance, and, like any consumer choice in a consumer society, that choice should be respected and left untouched.
    They can’t both be right.

  14. Welbru on Welsh Language ‘literacy’ I’ll give you a small example from personal experience and from Gwynedd:

    Not all that long ago a friend of mine from England (Not a Welsh speaker) decided to build his retirement house near Bangor as he has in my view an ‘unhealthy obsession with outdoors and perpetual mountain walks’ and wanted to be close to his beloved mountains.

    As a courtesy to his local community he decided to use a Caernarfon based architect to produce plans and specifications in Welsh. All well and good and he got the necessary planning and building regulation approvals from Gwynedd County Council with no problems what so ever.

    Then PROBLEMS as no local Welsh speaking builders either from Gwynedd or Anglesey could read or understand Welsh language building specifications and declined to tender.

    After considerable delay and frustration he had to ask his Architect to replace Welsh with English and from there on all went just fine!

    I could cite hundreds of other cases to underpin my observations but no matter what I say people like you will never accept the truth about the Welsh language reality.

    Perhaps you should take heed of John Walkers statistics above and note that only 20% of Gwynedd people use Welsh language to communicate with their council!!

  15. Great news! The more groups out there campaigning for equality for our language the better. I was at the Urdd National Eisteddfod in the summer, it was truly wonderful to see all the children from different social and ethnic backgrounds enjoying themselves in Welsh! Love it!! Da iawn!

  16. “Although the interests of a myriad of causes are represented by various lobbyists in Cardiff Bay, there is no civil society body there working full time to raise a voice on behalf of the Welsh language”.
    What the hell has the Welsh Language Board been doing with its over £110 MILLION budget been doing. Now we have a Welsh Language Commissioner (I don’t know his budget) AND the other functions of the WLB rolled into the Welsh Assembly Government (spending HOW much more) all with the objective of reducing our children’s proficiency with the WORLD’S Lingua Franca. If our government is serious about getting into the 21st Century and it’s technologies we should be improving the standards of English usage.

  17. Actually Joe Stoner, adult English literacy in Wales has made great strides recently . You can read it here:

    You may notice the comment that Welsh speakers have lower English literacy and lower numeracy levels than non Welsh speakers. You can also look at the Welsh literacy levels…sadly falling quite rapidly and much lower than English literacy levels in Wales.

    There is also a document on the Language Commissioners web site, written by Hywel Jones, that charts the fall in Welsh literacy in Wales.

    The overall picture is that more and more people in Wales can speak Welsh less and less whilst those who speak Welsh at all are less and less able in English and numeracy. An outstanding accomplishment for a country that was well ahead of England in educational standards fifteen years ago. Never mind ….bring on another Welsh Language pressure group!!

  18. Jacques: I understand a bit better now. What you’re saying is not that Welsh speakers can’t read and write in Welsh, but that some of them aren’t familiar with a particular kind of jargon in Welsh. English has been the language of work and officialdom for so long that people are not so familiar with these kinds of texts in Welsh. This is what comes from lack of recognition of the language and is something that is changing. I can give you an example of my old boss, a Dutch woman working in a European organisation in Brussels. This European organisation had English and French as a working language. This meant that my boss could talk about her current work better in those languages than she could in Dutch. It doesn’t at all mean that she’s not highly literate in her own language.

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