Heledd Fychan says that unless decisive action is taken, the language will die as a community language
As the Census figures released this week have revealed, the number of strongholds where Welsh is spoken as a majority language has fallen. Undoubtedly, this should be extremely worrying for those of us who are concerned about the future of the Welsh language, and give a kick up the backside of those who believe there is no cause for concern to get to grips with the problem before things worsen.
The truth is – unless decisive action is taken, the language will die as a community language. If we want to prevent that from happening, we need to act now to ensure the future of the language as a living and dynamic language.
But, how do we achieve this? Many people have many different ideas, and there are others who believe nothing should be done at all. So who is right, and what should the next steps be? Indeed, should we bother to do anything at all, when there are other important challenges we face as a nation, such as strengthening a weak economy?
These questions need to be answered, and answered thoroughly. And this is why this week Plaid launched a consultation on the future of the Welsh language, which will last a year. We want to tackle the tough questions about the future of the language, and give everyone a chance to have their say – from those who speak the language fluently or are learners to those who are supportive but do not speak it or even those who feel hostile towards the language. Now is the time for us to have an open and honest discussion about it all. After all, the language belongs to everyone in Wales and it is important that everyone contributes to this important debate.
How will the consultation work in practice? The idea is to encourage people to contribute discussion papers on different topics related to the language, which will be published on a dedicated website. People will be able to respond to these papers, either with comments by e-mail or by writing their own papers which will also be published on the website. We will also organize public meetings throughout Wales that will be open for everyone to attend, with translation facilities, in order to discuss certain subjects. Details of the meetings will be available by the end of February. When the year has ended, a task force will be established to review all the comments and ideas received and formulate Paid Cymru’s plan to revive the language, to go before our annual conference in October 2014. If these proposals are accepted, this will be the basis of our language policies if we form a government following the 2016 election.
We also believe that concrete steps can be taken now to strengthen the Welsh language, as outlined in the paper which is published today. The Labour Party must review the current policies that are in place, and examine what works, what does not and make the adjustments as needed. One thing is clear – the way the Welsh language is being taught in schools is not working, and there are too few opportunities to use the language in a normalized, day-to-day manner. There is also too little support for adults who are learning Welsh. There are certain other things that should also be addressed such as reforming public sector procurement by applying Welsh language clauses as social clauses and ensuring that there is specific reference to the Welsh Language in the Sustainable Development Bill. As Leanne Wood says in her introduction to the paper:
“Securing a future for the Welsh language is a core part of our vision for an independent Wales, and we believe that plans to regenerate the Welsh economy can complement a plan to regenerate the Welsh language rather than be at odds with it. Further, we firmly believe that the Welsh language can play an important role in our vision for creating sustainable communities.” This is an important argument for strengthening the Welsh language, and one we must look at it in more detail over the coming months if we want to turn it into a reality.
We want to encourage people to suggest radical ideas and practical solutions as part of the consultation. Do not think that everything has to be able to be implemented within the current system. We want to hear your views, so take the time to think and contribute to the discussion.
I’m lucky. Welsh is my first language. I was brought up in Anglesey where the Welsh language was alive and a natural part of the community. When I was sixteen, we moved to Caernarfon – and there’s no avoiding the Welsh language there! Everything was available in Welsh – dentist, doctor, haircuts, food, drink – everything. In fact, I barely needed to speak English – something that’s true of Caernarfon to this day.
It’s easy for me to be a Welsh speaker, and take for granted the fact that I’m bilingual. But, this isn’t the time to rest on our laurels and hope for the best. The opportunities for people to be bilingual will continue to diminish if we do not take positive action now to ensure the future of the language.
That is why this consultation is truly important. We need to address the concerns and put together a plan that will provide a clear role for the Welsh language a modern and independent Wales. It is said in Welsh – Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon – A nation without a language, a nation without a heart. We cannot allow Wales to lose a language that is a central part of its very soul and essence.