Katie Harris argues this is a major issue the First Minister’s ‘national conversation’ should address
For those who were expecting the proliferation of Welsh medium schools and Welsh classes for adults to have furthered the spread of the language, the results of the 2011 census proved disappointing. Published in December 2012, they highlighted an overall national decline in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales, from 21 per cent in 2001 to 19 per cent ten years later.
A national conversation on the future of the Welsh language was kick-started by Carwyn Jones on 31 May. It was an attempt to address the “fragile” state of the language and the First Minister pledged to generate constructive dialogue about its future.
“We want to know how people with all abilities of Welsh currently use the language,” he explained at the outset. “We also want to understand why some people either don’t want to use Welsh, or don’t feel confident using it. Most importantly, we want to find out what people think could be done to increase the opportunities to use Welsh in their everyday lives.”
The use of Welsh in everyday life is certainly undergoing fundamental changes. One commonly cited reason for this is that Welsh has become the language of the classroom rather than of the home. Rhys Lewis, a 32-year-old teacher from Ystrad Mynach, was educated through the medium of Welsh but grew up speaking English at home with his family. Today, although he is proud of the fact he can speak his national language, he hardly ever uses it in his daily life.
“I like the fact I can speak Welsh – it’s part of my identity, part of who I am,” he says. “But I’ve always spoken English in social situations and it’s not really natural for me to speak Welsh – even with other Welsh speakers, I tend to resort to English.”
Lewis is not unusual in this respect. Ten years ago, the census found that 40 per cent of school-age children could speak Welsh. But a decade further on, only 24 per cent of that same group of people say they can still speak the language. So while the education system may be exposing a far greater number to the Welsh language, it seems that it can be easily lost when it is not used beyond the realm of the classroom.
However, another reason for the disheartening census results lies with the issue of inward migration by non-Welsh speakers, the vast majority of whom are English. Overall, 26 per cent of the population of Wales weren’t born in the country, making it one of the most diverse populations in Europe.
Gwennan Higham, a 27-year-old PhD student at Cardiff University, is conducting research on teaching Welsh to migrants and ethnic minorities. Over the past couple of years, she has piloted Welsh taster courses geared towards individuals from ethnic minority communities, which have been met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
“My argument is that it’s a way of both enhancing integration into Wales and enhancing Welsh citizenship,” she explains. “For me, language is a door into another culture – you see the world through someone else’s eyes. And with Wales, the history of the nation is in the language and I think the way to truly understand where you live is to learn the language.”
Higham adds that she would like to see improvements in government policy, making Welsh courses more readily available for immigrants in Wales. “There’s nothing to stop Welsh from developing as a modern, multi-ethnic language,” she argues. “We do, however, need the support of the government and the citizens of Wales, that they would value the language – and not just passively.”
Dr Lynda Pritchard Newcombe, who has conducted in-depth research into Welsh learners in Cardiff, agrees that people should be encouraged to learn Welsh. However, she points out that people rarely become fluent unless they have a strong personal commitment. As a Welsh tutor at Cardiff University with over 20 years experience of teaching Welsh to adults, she admits that she has seen disappointingly few learners become fluent in the language.
“As with all language learning, there’s a big dropout rate,” she says. “People have got to learn Welsh for themselves – they’ve got to want to do it. It’s often linked with identity – people who sustain motivation and become fluent tend to have family members who speak Welsh or children who go to Welsh school.”
She added that she believes the national conversation was a step in the right direction. “I’m sure it will bring a lot of dialogue and a higher profile to the Welsh language,” she says. “Hopefully it will bring the interest back.”
The conversation served its purpose in that it provided opportunities for people across Wales to express their opinions and ideas through community groups, social media, an online forum and an Aberystwyth-based conference held on 4 July. But the evidence suggests that if the Welsh language is to see positive growth, the people of Wales need to ensure it moves beyond the perimeters of the classroom and penetrates diverse communities the length and breadth of Wales. The First Minister’s ‘national conversation’ now needs to be translated into action.
49 thoughts on “Welsh more a language of the classroom than the home”
“Hopefully it will bring the interest back.”
But what if it doesn’t? And what if we eventually all agree to call it a day. What will happen to all those ‘losers’ who spent time learning the language for personal gain but gained nought. Who’s going to compensate them?
I fear some may say we have sacrificed the future for the sake of the past.
This is a timely article which either provides the opportunity for a broad and long overdue discussion or opens a can of worms, whichever your perspective.
It’s true to say that the results of the Census were disappointing and the reasons for this unexpected fall will need to be analysed over the coming years. We await the next report from Aitchinson and Carter with eager anticipation.
What can be said is that it is now proved that a relevant and high quality education can be provided through the medium of Welsh for pupils up to the age of 18 and that it is possible for the average person to learn Welsh as an adult up to ‘A’ level standard within about 5 years. A shorter path is available in about 3.
Therefore the next question is that stated in the article; what next?
There are two basic perspectives on this: one has education as its starting point, the other the economy.
If you start in the classroom, then the next logical question is what can be offered outside the classroom.
Young people have already expressed an interest in having sports organised through the medium of Welsh. This is to some extent already on offer but the provision is patchy certainly within the Cardiff area.
But what if you’re not sports minded? To what extent is there provision for those interested in contemporary culture including a thriving music scene? The latter comes and goes with the tide though there is also a stand-up culture to be found if you know where to look as well as the burgeoning Stomp scene.
For adults, there appears to be a limited choice. If you are an adult student, then informal learning is available which usually comprises reading clubs or a place to chat over coffee. Occasionally events such as skittles nights are organised but there are only so many skittles nights one can take in the cause of learning a language.
Another approach could be to analyse the leisure patterns of adults in general and then offer the most popular in Welsh. This would have the advantage of being decided by popular demand rather than a prescriptive approach which offers what it thinks people will want.
On the issue of culture, Gwennan Higham’s work points up that in order for the language to widen its boundaries, then it will have to embrace other cultures to do so. This point is more obvious when considered in the context of ethnic minorites but there are other cultures for which the point is equally valid. For myself, I come from and live in a culture which is British-Welsh. It is the culture of the majority of people in the area in which I live. But for some Welsh speakers, it is not a ‘proper’ Welsh culture. For them, Welsh culture is Cymreictod represented at its pinnacle by the National Eisteddfod and it is the only valid culture in the Welsh language. Britishness is anathema to Welshness and must not be allowed to water down Cymreictod. I can understand the defensiveness of this position given the attacks the language has suffered down the centuries but in the current context in which the language finds itself, I believe it is profoundly misguided and damaging to the prospects of the Welsh language in the long-term. It should be perfectly possible to be British and Welsh speaker and for this to be recognised as a valid culture, just as it is perfectly possible to be Welsh without being a Welsh speaker. How this plays out in the development of the language in the future remains to be seen.
But for me, the second perspective is the more important one, namely the economy. For Welsh to thirive, it needs to develop into a language of the economy. This can be started by looking at demand for Welsh services. In the public sector, the provision of Welsh language services is on a statutory basis but the evidence of their being used is once again disappointing. The DVLA offers a full bilingual service but, in spite of 20% of the population being Welsh speaking, only 2% of the applications from Wales are requested in Welsh. This is where people start to ask legitimate questions about the cost of providing such services. In the private sector, particularly the retail sector, we should be moving towards developing a bilingual workforce that interacts with the public to the point where it is not necessary to ask whether the member of staff speaks Welsh in order to receive the service required. It is also the case that most of the private sector is happy to provide bilingual services provided that a demand can be demonstrated. But if public sector services are anything to go by, the prospects are not promising. The current thinking is that ‘nudging policies’ encouraging Welsh speakers to use Welsh language services is the best way forward here.
The final aspect of the economy is the use of Welsh in the workplace. It is often the case that an organisation has paid for Welsh language training but that the member of staff is not provided with the opportunity to use it in their place of work. A survey and some detailed discussion would prove useful in identifying areas where these opportunities could be provided.
I have merely outlined some of the areas where development needs to take place; to elaborate further would involve outstaying my welcome, if I haven’t done so already. But the way forward, it seems to me, looks tentative rather than promising. At some point, the Government is going to have to take some important policy decisions if there is to be any substance to the aspirations outlined in the article.
As a fairly fluent Welsh learner who moved to Wales from abroad I feel I know a bit about this subject. I was particularly struck by Rhys Lewis’ comment that he turns to English in social settings. This highlights the problem of Welsh people being too considerate of others and therefore too willing to change to English. If Welsh people continued to speak to Mr Lewis in Welsh, even when he changes to English it would help him to use Welsh more often.
I’ve experienced this myself and although it can initially be a little uncomfortable for both parties the eventual outcome is far better than propagating the use of English in social settings that would otherwise be in Welsh. This is a way of taking the language out of the classroom. I would not be fluent today if people continually spoke English to me at work and in social settings.
The problem is not just about the learner and their motivations, although that is of course important, it is also about how Welsh speakers interact with non-Welsh speakers and learners. Each and every Welsh speaker has a duty of care over the language and how, when, where it’s used. Only when Welsh speakers make a concerted effort to help and encourage learners will the language begin to flourish again.
Not a bad article, and it does highlight a problem in the south- a language used to educate children in will not always be what they will speak when they leave education, unless they have a strong personal will to do so. A world expert on language revitalization, Joshua Fishman, whose seminal work on the issue is the cornerstone of any language policy, makes it quite clear that inter-generational mother-child transmission is essential if the child is to use that language, but it is not essential in giving the language to the child in the first place. The underlying point therefore is that the child will use the language it most often uses at home, having been given it by its family. For proof of this, one could look at how immigrant communities world wide still use their native language despite being a linguistic minority.
We have already made good progress, but much more needs to be done. While a lot of children of WM schools may not use English outside of school, others do and opportunities to use it provided by the local council or mentrau iaith have been key in doing this.
Other people currently more qualified than me may suggest how we go about getting more of our children to embrace Welsh, but for me there is a fundamental problem- 19% of Wales has an ability in Welsh, whereas 26% where born outside of Wales. There are more English-born people here than there are Welsh-speakers. This debate cannot be had whilst opponents of change throw around accusations of anti-Englishess and accuse others of racism (look at how the media treated Seimon Glyn). Being a Welsh-speaker in my 20s who does speak, read and write Welsh in the south-east and does use it socially all the time in the area with other speakers (Blaenau Gwent), and does live a bilingual life, some may be surprised that I would not prioritize my area for revitalization but in fact would rather see the traditional Welsh-speaking areas in the West being restored to the rightful place as the cornerstone of Welsh speaking Wales. A good deal of the geography of Wales would still be Welsh-speaking today if it weren’t for inward migration and a weak economy forcing people to leave. In this respect we should remember that about over a quarter of a million people who speak Welsh still live in the traditional Welsh speaking West and so any efforts would have a solid base. Of all Welsh born people (as an ethnic/national group), not the population who inhabit Wales, the two are different, about 40% have an ability in Welsh. We have to address this, and I hope new efforts highlighted above by Gwennan Higham will do that. Gwynedd and Anglesey today would be around 75%-80% Welsh speaking as well. This is not saying I believe people moving to Wales must stop necessarily, but efforts must be made to insure people learn Welsh there.
It is worth pointing out a few facts about the situation to finish:-
1. The language will not be dead by next tuesday.
2. More people speak Welsh than some other languages that are a majority in their own country
3.Whilst a lot of children do not use it socially, some do as well
4.The recent census showed stabilization in Cardiff (38,000 is a lot of people)
4.There are still more speakers than there was in 1981 and 1991, as language growth will take its time.
5. There are 60,000+ more speakers than 20 years ago
6.Welsh is still used- let’s just be glad of that!
““We want to know how people with all abilities of Welsh currently use the language,” he explained at the outset. “We also want to understand why some people either don’t want to use Welsh,..”
I really do hope Comrade Carwyn takes this DON’T WANT TO USE WELSH part seriously…
Welsh is spoken by too few to survive long term although it will be around for some time yet in western fringes. What I detest is the forced assumption that we are all content with our children’s education being wasted attending lessons of no practical use to them.
Wales is never going to be bilingual that is a fact, the world is shrinking and everybody wants to speak English…except the Welsh language society and its fanatics.
As usual they resort to blaming British people for moving around their own country. England is full of Welsh, Scottish and Irish it has become part of the fabric of everyday life to hear regional accents, only here in Wales does discrimination still rear its ugly head.
I have just received the 50th edition of the IWA magazine and was pleased to see that Rhys David, someone who I would describe as ‘inside the Welsh language community’, actually addressing the ‘internal’ problems of the language. Thus he says, ‘… consider the first point, the difficulty of Welsh. The grammar is highly complex with particularly awkward ways of making all forms of subordinate clauses, complex negatives, archaic declensions……’ and so on (and he doesn’t even mention plurals – or word order!). He also mentions that’ Many proficient speakers will not write in Welsh’.
The suggested solution – ‘A Welsh equivalent of the Academie Francaise…’. Maybe. As he says. ‘In principle, languages should always evolve dynamically but Welsh is not currently strong enough to allow this to happen and some guidance is required.’ True, but modernisation, which is what this really means, raises all sorts of problems.
My wife and I usually read a bit of Welsh when we have our morning coffee. Having laboured through a highly convoluted and flowery work on the history of a Welsh chapel by one of its ministers in what could be described as ‘old Welsh’, that is 1950’s, it was a relief to read a recent article covering some of the same period – start of the twentieth century – with relative ease. But one of the main reasons why it was so much easier was word order. Basically it looked as if it had originally been written in English and I think that spoken Welsh is increasingly going that way – that is following English word order.
However, with ‘proper’ written Welsh demanding the Welsh word order, this creates an ever increasing divide between the spoken and written language. And to bow to what may seem inevitable is going to make it even harder to read ‘older’ works.
It’s a step forward that this ‘conversation’ is occurring. However, I would like them to also have and ‘international conversation’ and find out what the Catalans and the Basques are doing which is increasing the numbers of speakers in their respective languages. Good practice from those nations should then be taken on board here. It cannot be a case of taking on board a fraction of what they are doing; we have to match them.
@A dose of reality- how can you claim to be giving a dose of reality with the comment ”the world is shrinking and everybody wants to speak English”? No, they do not. How absurd. Tell that to the French, Germans, Italians and god knows how many other peoples around the world. Unbelievable that people have the arrogance to assert that they believe they are at an advantage to be monolingual, it is normal to be monolingual, and everyone wants to speak your language. For a real dose of reality, I suggest you travel more. It always amazes me how those who do not speak it feel so confident to condemn it to an early grave.
@Colin Miles- There has always been a gap between literary Welsh and the spoken language; it is historic. But now that more learners use it as well whose first language is English and with its increasing use in different domains, it is changing. For example, take the possessive pronoun ‘fy’ (or what Peter Wynn Thomas calls the rhagenw blaen rhydd), and the nasal mutation it triggers. When I write it in formal setting I retain the nasal mutation, but in speech I omit the mutation. Many younger speakers to do it as it is easier to pronounce. Another example may be using the past or future inflected forms of the verb ‘gwneud’ as an auxiliary verb to form the past or future tense, rather than infecting the verb-noun e.g. nes i yfed not yfais i. It saves having to add the endings to the stem of the word, especially when they are not known, and is a new and increasingly universal development. All these changes are positive and proves it is being use. I wouldn;t say therefore that the standard written forms have too much of a stanglehold; you only have to hear it spoken or read any recent novel by Dewi Prysor or Llwyd Owen to see or read that. It is a possibility of course that older works become more difficult to read; languages change however, that is an inevitability.
‘Bad’ English is written, and I emphasise the word written, by millions of people all over the world. Yet most of the time we can understand it. If the same were possible in Welsh – is it possible to write understandable ‘bad’ Welsh? – then that might be a step forward. After all, you don’t hear Welsh speakers saying that there English isn’t good enough or refusing to write in English. As the situation stands the emphasis on speaking Welsh merely accentuates the divide between the written and spoken languages. And mainly oral languages will never survive in the modern world, especially in an area where of the dominant world language.
****** A dose of reality- how can you claim to be giving a dose of reality with the comment ”the world is shrinking and everybody wants to speak English”? No, they do not. How absurd. Tell that to the French, Germans, Italians and god knows how many other peoples around the world. Unbelievable that people have the arrogance to assert that they believe they are at an advantage to be monolingual, it is normal to be monolingual, and everyone wants to speak your language. What is so wonderful about being able to speak and understand one single language? Why take so much pleasure from the apparent decline of another’s language? For a real dose of reality, I suggest you travel more. It always amazes me how those who do not speak Welsh feel so confident to condemn it to an early grave.
@Colin Miles- There has always been a gap between literary Welsh and the spoken language; it is historic. The changes are a positive thing and go well beyond syntax. In fact, I’m unsure as to what you mean exactly when you mention ”old word order”. Essentially the sentence structures used orally and in the written language are quite consistent. The real changes are to be seen at the level of the mutation, verb forms and vocabulary. But now that more learners use it as well whose first language is English and with its increasing use in different domains, it is changing.
For example, take the possessive pronoun ‘fy’ (or what Peter Wynn Thomas calls the rhagenw blaen rhydd), and the nasal mutation it triggers. When I write it in formal setting I retain the nasal mutation, but in speech I omit the mutation. Many younger speakers to do it as it is easier to pronounce. Another example may be using the past or future inflected forms of the verb ‘gwneud’ as an auxiliary verb to form the past or future tense, rather than inflecting the verb-noun e.g. nes i yfed not yfais i. It saves having to add the endings to the stem of the word, especially when they are not known, and is a new and increasingly universal development. All these changes are positive and proves it is being use. I wouldn’t say therefore that the standard written forms have too much of a stranglehold; you only have to hear it spoken or read any recent novel by Dewi Prysor or Llwyd Owen to see or read that. It is a possibility of course that older works become more difficult to read; languages change however, that is an inevitability.
The Welsh language society claimed it to be clear “everybody in Wales wants to speak Welsh”
I don’t have any desire to speak the language when we all speak English…a language with full vocabulary.
As for the children…you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!
Unlike Rhys David to make a mistake like saying Welsh has declensions. Not in fact. its verbs conjugate (as do some prepositions, which is unusual) but its nouns do not decline – unlike those in Irish Gaelic which retains a genitive case. Welsh plurals can be a fiddle to learn but Welsh grammar is no more involved than German (whose word order is much less intuitive) and rather simpler than Slav languages like Polish or Russian which do have declensions with 6 or 7 cases.
I agree with Grant P. Practice makes perfect but the diffidence of Welsh people makes practice difficult in parts of the country and those parts are expanding.
@ Ben. what I write now isn’t intended to wind you up, make you angry or intend to offend, if it does, it’s not intentional and I apologise now.
My major concern about Carwyn’s conversation is, as the saying goes “I’m talking about you, not to you”. I’ve yet to see anyone ask the likes of me “What worries you about this?” rahter than condemning me for even questioning the whys and wherefores of the policy, approach and implementation.
I feel like a Victorian child being dosed with castor oil and being told it’s good for you, without being allowed to ask why, or if I do am admonished, told to stand in the corner and think about what I’ve done.
I want Welsh Government to explain better, I want CiG to explain better. Explain it, don’t just demand it. All I’m asking for is an explanation and I’ll shut up. “It’s the right thing to do” isn’t an explanation, it’s a stand point. We all know ignorance breeds fear, so lets take away the ignorance and hopefully my fear will go.
Very good post Sioned…. let’s see if anyone can give you a straight answer without calling you a ‘bigot’ or ‘anti-welsh’.
I agree with most of what you say except the part about fear. I dont think there is anything to fear about the Welsh language, certainly not from my point of view… half my family and probably all my ancestors speak/spoke Welsh. I can assure you that the language by itself is completely harmless… however, if you were referring more to the language in the hands of certain groups then you may have a point.
Out of interest, what would like adressed in this ‘explanation’? because for me, at some point in the explanation I would want to see cost/benefit analysis. My view of almost all public expenditure has to (particularly in current times) at some point boil down to value for money….and I suspect many other non Welsh speaking Welsh would feel the same. For example, the Welsh government/NHS could dispatch Welsh speaking doctors to elderly patients struggling to communicate in English by Lear jet or Apache helicopter for all I care! I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow! If it something a person needs then there is a clear benefit to it! However, so much of what is trying to be achieved in non welsh speaking areas is pure social engineering with no clear benefit.
In Treboeth, Swansea, in the 1920’s and 30, English was the language of the classroom and Welsh was the language of the street and the Chapel. Business and Government ignored the fact that Welsh was the majority language at that time. So my father who had an English speaking mother and a Welsh speaking father was first language Welsh. And damn good Welsh at that considering that the classroom gave him very little Welsh language education (he went to Bishop Gore, then in the centre of town).
To cut a long story short some of your contributors unwittingly show the problem currently facing our language – status. Not legal status. That has been dealt with – but mental status.
Languages are as they are. None are better or easier than another. They all have their quirks, all have their difficulties. English is very difficult. Very few speaks it proper and even supposedly well educated monoglot English speakers can’t write it. Incidentally, it’s Spanish that’s rising as a rate of knots. Imagine what will happen when it becomes the majority language of the USA.
The English language establishment has been putting Welsh down and attacking it for generations, based on naked prejudice. It’s time to turn that around. Support Welsh, praise it and start putting it to the fore in advertising, the press, TV and radio. Also get it included in instruction/handbooks for cars, electronic equipment and so on.
Do what the English and French (to name but two) do for their languages, praise them to the hilt, even though they’re just ordinary with very poor poetry. Not a patch on ours.
@ Sioned Jones
What is it that you want explained?
@Sioned= maybe you would get an explanation if you stated what you want ax explanation of? I’m having trouble understanding your point…
“What is so wonderful about being able to speak and understand one single language?”
Indeed Ben, but children in Wales are no further towards being able to communicate with European Nations by having a Welsh Medium Education. Just look at the figures; WM pupils in the Fro Cymraeg taking a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE 2012:-
Ynys Mon 17%
It can usually be said that pupils from schools with a high percentage on Free School Meals are much less likely to take a Modern Foreign Language but in these WM schools there are small percentages on Free School Meals but little interest in Foreign Languages.
Gwyn, It’s fun to tease the monoglots but let’s not get carried away. Some languages do have a greater vocabulary, more synonyms and therefore greater flexibility in expressing nuance than others do. Welsh stands up well among European languages on that score and has its own sonority but English stands out as exceptional in those regards. The pay-back is that it can be notoriously imprecise and ambiguous in many contexts. I don’t think you can call a poetry that includes Shakespeare, Pope, Auden and such Welsh giants as George Herbert, David Vaughan, Dylan and RS Thomas ‘poor’. Nor would that be fair of the language of Baudelaire, Corneille, Mallarme, Moliere, Racine etc.
@ Jon Jones
They’re learning a far more important language, their own. I don’t see anyone else picking up on your doctrine of self-hatred, teaching children to regard their language and themselves as something second-class in comparison to continental languages, apart from those, of course, who hate Welsh speakers already.
Gwyn, I think the Welsh language sounds as ugly as speech can get and Shakespeare was a fairly good poet… which Welsh ones do they read in the USA?
There is an assumption by those contributing to this discussion that English enjoys international superiority as well as their use of arguments that have the origins in the days of Empire, rather than being located in a modern multi-lingual Europe.
Yet the most widely spoken language by far is Mandarin with some 955 million native speakers and more to the point an emerging and powerful economy to sustain it. After that the most widely spoken language is Spanish with 407 million native speakers located in Europe, South America and North America. English comes in third with 359 million native speakers, not of course because of speakers in England but because of English native speakers in the United States who number some 225.5 million. Its standing as a superpower with a wealthy economy is the central reason for the popularity of English as a second language. England is able to ride on the coat tails of America’s success in this regard. It is also the case that the international norm is the ability to speak more than one language. Multilingual speakers now outnumber monolingual speakers in world population terms.
And in the bastion of the English language, the USA, the number of Spanish speakers is on the increase. In 2010 it stood at 16% of the population which does not sound like a large figure, lower than the percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales, for example. However, when you consider that, only 10 years previously, it stood at 12.5%, that’s a 43% increase in a decade. This means that several US states, mainly in the South West, are well on the way to becoming bilingual: New Mexico (46%), California and Texas (38%) and Arizona (30%).
The point is that going in search of the monolingual English speaking world is becoming increasingly hard to do as memories of Empire fade. In India, for example the number of English speakers is registered as being in the region of 125 million. That’s a pretty impressive figure. However, the number of standard Hindi speakers is 258 million, a figure which rises to 422 million when non-standard Hindi is included. And of the 125 million speaking English there, only 226 thousand speak English as their first language.
The unpalatable truth therefore for the ranters on this blog is that we live in a multi-lingual world, in a Europe which has multilingualism as its central language policy, part of which is a bilingual Wales and a multilingual Cardiff. This cultural richness is not only the future but is something to be celebrated in the here and now. When we live in a world of such rich colour, who on earth would be to swap that for the monochrome monotony of a monlingual English-speaking only ghetto?
Fair points made above by Jon Jones/ Belowlandsker. But I have to pick up one absurd comment from ‘a dose of reality”?
”English…a language with full vocabulary”= how on earth are you qualified to make a value judgement on a the wideness of a language’s vocabulary, when you don’t even speak it and have no knowledge of it?! It beggers belief.
Rhobat Bryn Jones – you are welcome to celebrate multilingualism in Europe and the world, and denigrate the English language, but it doesn’t answer the problems facing the Welsh language in Wales. The ‘lack of evolution’ of the language itself, the difference between the spoken and written versions, the attitudes of Welsh speakers themselves,and so on. Until these are acknowledged and addressed the decline of the language will continue.
JP Jones “I think the Welsh language sounds as ugly as speech can get and Shakespeare was a fairly good poet.”
Welsh ugly??? What rubbish! It has a music to it that English can’t compete with. Scientists have proved that if you can speak Welsh you’re much more likely to be better at music. Also, Shakespeare (whoever he was) couldn’t even manage without Welsh. Some of his plays have large chunks labelled as “Welsh Spoken here”
“… which Welsh ones do they read in the USA? ” – What does that mean? Are Americans authorities on World poetry? A country that thinks the World Series is the World?
Haven’t you ever read Aneurin, Taliesyn, Dafydd ap Gwilym, Lleucu Llwyd, Gwenallt etc? There are no English poets who can match them.
You just prove my point. No Englishman would say what you said about English but you feel comfortable to attack your own language from the standpoint of ignorance.
@ Colin Miles
Celebrating multilingualism is the context in which we celebrate the Welsh language and seek to develop its future. That context takes it out of the stale comparison between Welsh and English which tends to lead to the bigoted ranting of which there are many examples on this very blog.
Before answering your points, I have a few questions:
In what way have I denigrated the English language (a language in which I’m fluent and is also my mother’s language)?
Why do you say that there has been a “lack of evolution” in the Welsh language?
Your point about the difference between oral and written Welsh is misconceived. It is possible to write informally (as one would speak) or formally; the formal version is much more economic in its use of grammar and vocabulary. Why do you see that difference as being a problem? Or do you believe that because English has taken the path of seeking to eliminate those differences that Welsh should follow suit?
In the second comment under the above article, I have attempted to offer an analysis of the language’s current predicament and some suggestions for the way forward. Perhaps you could let me know in which ways I have not addressed the points to which you refer.
Just imagine, if Welsh had had time to evolve and ‘modernise’. What would it look like now? My ‘starter for 10’, in no particular order – take yeses and noes. The current forms belong to the formality of the nineteenth century and would now be a single ie and na, or something similar. Mutations would have disappeared, certainly in the written language, as would Gender. Plurals – well something would have had to be done about those as the current inconsistency is mind-boggling. Similarly with many of the prefixes and suffixes. And once you start on this process what would happen to all the apostrophes and missing words? As for the north/south divide in terms of the words used, would it really matter?
Rhobat Bryn Jones – In answer to your questions.
‘In what way have I denigrated the English language (a language in which I’m fluent and is also my mother’s language)?’ – This was the impression that I got from your comments on the number of speakers. I apologise – denigrate was probably the wrong term. I think misleading is more apt. I would strongly recommend you read ‘Is there a fish in your ear’ by David Bellos for information on the use and translation of languages for an idea of the relative numbers using different languages in different modes.
‘Why do you say that there has been a “lack of evolution” in the Welsh language?’ – again I was imprecise. It is not that it hasn’t evolved, but that it hasn’t evolved anywhere near as quickly as it might have done if it had not suffered from the ‘contact’ and use of English since the late nineteenth century.
‘Your point about the difference between oral and written Welsh is misconceived. It is possible to write informally (as one would speak) or formally; the formal version is much more economic in its use of grammar and vocabulary. Why do you see that difference as being a problem? Or do you believe that because English has taken the path of seeking to eliminate those differences that Welsh should follow suit?’ – basically yes – if it is to survive.
‘In the second comment under the above article, I have attempted to offer an analysis of the language’s current predicament and some suggestions for the way forward. Perhaps you could let me know in which ways I have not addressed the points to which you refer. ‘ Many of the points are fine in theory, whether practical or not is another matter. But the analysis doesn’t go deep enough as I am trying to point out. The basic problem lies within the language itself – hence my comments on the IWA article by Rhys David. If people can’t or won’t use the language it won’t survive long-term.
@Colin Miles ”The ‘lack of evolution’ of the language itself, the difference between the spoken and written versions, the attitudes of Welsh speakers themselves,and so on. Until these are acknowledged and addressed the decline of the language will continue”
In what way is has standard written Welsh a stanglehold on spoken Welsh? As a Welsh speaker and as someone who studies Welsh, the change in Welsh in the past 20 years has been immense and is only happening due to the fact that it is a spoken language; it is harder for a dead language to change. In my previous comment many new variations in the language are leading to wholesale grammatical changes, and these are represented in written work. I do not accept that the divide is as huge and problematic as you say, and I said above I speak, read and write Welsh.
Ben: Quite right!
I speak and read Welsh, English, French and Italian. Of all of them the ones with the largest gulf between the wrtten and spoken are English and French. All languages have this gulf. They work in different media, so it’s to be expected.
Monoglot English speakers are not aware how great the gulf is in English. They just accept it. Common words like “height, sight, light, night, straight” are from pre 16C English (German) pronounciation (roughly). The “gh” is the English spelling of the Welsh “ch”. Even words like “knee” and “knight” if you pronounce the “k” you get the 16C (German) pronounciation. Vastly different from the spoken language, if your eyes are open.
No! Welsh continues to evolve. It’s the bees knees.
I remember Donald Sindon on Radio Wales saying that English is dying. “Many sounds in English” he pointed out ” are being replaced by the ‘epiglottal grunt’. and it is destroying English.”
“Thank god “he said “that you in Welsh still gave rich sounds.”
Colin Miles: “The basic problem lies within the language itself…”
This is just ridiculas. Welsh is in the position it is because the sword and gun of the English state. English spread around the world by force of arms not by any qualities of the language. The same was true for Latin, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and others I’m sure.
You, perhaps, think that English is superior to other languages. I, on the other hand, know that Welsh is superior to English in all but force of arms.
Ben – these aren’t problems for you precisely because you can speak and, more importantly, read and write Welsh. They are for the rest of us who are either learners, would-be learners or ‘merely’ speakers of the language. You refer to immense changes in the Welsh language over the past twenty years. Yes – there have been changes but hardly immense.
I don’t know if you have seen the Rhys David article in the current issue of the IWA’s the welsh agenda I have referred to but it is well worth reading.
@Gwyn- the sociolinguistic and demographic state it is in can be indeed traced back to one particular political class in one particular state, but the internal linguistic issues are not. In fact, we only have to look at how long and vast the literature of the Welsh language is to realize that until recently a very good deal of the Welsh speaking population was also literate in Welsh, thanks in no small part to people like Griffith Jones, Llanddowror and his travelling schools (that were hugely popular) and the Sunday Schools. The point in discussion (if I’m correct) is that there is a current gap between the written and spoken varieties of the language, and standard oral Welsh v colloqial Welsh (even today in S4C’s annual report, some audience members stated that the language the Welsh news is read in ought to be read in a different style). This is not saying that Welsh is inferior at all, and Colin Miles is not saying that all. In fact, it is true that there is a gulf between *standard* written Welsh and *ordinary spoken Welsh* on one hand, and *standard oral* and ordinary spoken Welsh as well.
@Colin- when I refer to changes, I mean the way in the way it is spoken by people, not changes in the actual standard language that would be described in a grammar or prescribed for a learner in a textbook. In fact, the most recent grammar for Welsh (written for university Welsh language students studying the modern language, and akin to German’s Duden Grammar for example) doesn’t accept any new changes as standard. This must change. The wholesale changes I mentioned above must be considered, within about 5-10 years, to be standard and thus taught and accepted. Otherwise the gulf will grow wider and we will be in what is called a ‘diglossic’ situation where you have an upper and lower variety of language used for different things, such as what one sees in Arabic or Greek. I’m sure purists will refuse this, but all languages have their purists. Languages change, and there are internal varities within them according to social class and also location of the speaker. Look at the ‘Chwedlau’, a collection of medieval Welsh works, Y Bardd Cwsc, a religious work written in the 17th century, the works of Williams Pantycelyn, then Gwenallt, Kate Roberts and then Llwyd Owen, Dewi Prysor, Mihangel Morgan or any contempory Welsh authpor- compare and see the huge changes that have happened. Maybe it’s time for a fresh look and what standard, official Welsh is in light of natural changes in it due to its use.
@ Colin Miles
So what exactly is your status vis-a-vis the Welsh language? Are you a learner, a would-be learner? And what do you mean by a ‘mere’ speaker?
You’re very good at making assertions but you don’t make the argument in support of them or produce evidence to support your argument.
Take for example your assertion that the differences between written Welsh and spoken Welsh have to be eliminated in order for the language to ‘survive’. I know of no academic or professional language planner who has stated or believes that the future survival of the language depends on having single words for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I wonder whether you realise how laughable your position is, however sincere you believe yourself to be, since it’s clearly based on a profound ignorance of the Welsh language and the people who both speak and learn it who have no difficulty with different ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’.
I can only conclude that you believe something to be true simply because you think it. I’m afraid you’re going to have to do a lot better than that if you want to be taken even half-seriously.
As for Rhys David’s article, I shall return to it at a later point when I’ve had a chance to read it properly and analyse it.
Gwyn – no I don’t think that English is superior to every other language. May I remind you that in the EU all 23 languages have equal status – that doesn’t stop English being the lingua franca in the corridors of Brussels, but that is another matter. And attacking me for what I say won’t alter the facts, one of which is that if Welsh were an easy language to learn we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. And you are obviously a linguist so there isn’t a problem for you. As for force of arms – as David Bellos points out, the huge expansion of the language coincided with the dismantling of Empire from 1947 onwards. No doubt America had a lot to do with that expansion, but relatively speaking it is an easy language for beginners to learn – hard no doubt to become fluent but this is true of all languages – and even if you speak and write it badly, you will usually be understood. Is the same true of Welsh?
Of course Welsh is the language of school not the language of home – at home the kids have a choice!
As soon as they get away from their guards most of them drop the dead donkey and move back into the 21st century. It’s like Dr Who but the Tardis is a school bus not an old Police phone box! With a bit of luck it won’t be long before the kids start rebelling in the classroom as well. It might help if parents would grow a spine and back their kids up when they say they don’t want to waste their lives being forced to speak a language that’s on life-support in school.
Meanwhile, back in the home… Once again the latest Welsh media stats show another decline – no surprises there then. Radio Cymru is a sick joke – 19p per listener hour which is 3 times as expensive as BBC1 TV!!! With another drop in listeners… Not like that captive audience in school then…
S4C bombs again – another drop in both overall and Welsh-speaking viewers. If you can call 15 minutes a month a viewer because I don’t!
But that’s what happens in the home – Welsh is dying. Meanwhile the kids are being both demoralised and having their education damaged – in some cases seriously – in the ysgols so a handful of social engineers can justify their increasingly repressive and destructive existence.
Carwyn Jones needs to start listening to his own kids – they appear to be a lot closer to reality than the ‘Dear Leader’!
@ John R Walker
I can only assume that you had a very bad experience at school if you think that teachers are regarded as “guards” by their pupils.
Your accusation that childrens’ education is being damaged by Welsh language education is a more serious one. Welsh medium education enjoys a good reputation among parents and pupils based on its performance. It is also the view of educational specialists that a bilingual education has a more beneficial effect on a child’s development than a monolingual one because of the different models of understanding that it offers.
Now I expect that your response will be to make another set of baseless assertions about the future of the language. However, I would like to see your evidence of children being damaged by their education. If you are unable to do so, then I’m sure that you will retract the statement, as any reasonable person would do.
For some reason my reply to Rhobat Bryn Jones was lost, so here goes again. As Rhys David predicted, any suggestion that there is anything wrong with the Welsh language will raise hackles. I await Rhobat Bryn Jones response to his article with interest. As to my position this can be seen on the web site at http://www.clickonwales.org/2012/08/pidgin-welsh-confronts-mutations/ and http://www.clickonwales.org/2012/09/the-arrested-development-of-welsh/
Most languages have grammatical genders, two as in French or Italian or three, as in German or Russian. Many languages make plurals in different ways ( man, men, mouse, mice – what’s wrong with mans and mouses? ). No language depends for its survival on an absence of idiosyncrasies. English verbs, for example, have very irregular past tenses. I go but I didn’t goed, I went but when we talk of coming, I neither comed nor cent , I came. The wonderful and hilarious thing about the English is their magnificent lack of self awareness. They speak English from childhood so it is ‘easy’. Other languages take a bit of effort so they are ‘hard’ so perhaps don’t deserve to survive. Gentlemen you are talking rubbish or if you prefer an old English word – bollocks.
I’m not sure the Anglo-Saxon was completely necessary, but apart from that your point is well made.
Tredwyn – the comparisons are between Welsh and English as English speakers, whether born in Wales or the rest of the UK, are where most new Welsh speakers will come from, other than the youngsters in Welsh medium education. And if some of the stories are correct their Welsh is insufficient and soon lost. If Welsh is perceived to be more difficult than English then that is a problem, whether it be true or not. Of course all languages have their idiosyncracies, and yes, we English may well seem arrogant and lacking in self-awareness. But changing any of that, if it is possible, won’t help the Welsh language. As Rhys David says, ‘ the issues facing the language need to be looked at honestly and professionally, and in a much broader context’.
The difficulties of a language when it is being learnt depends entirely on two things- the linguistic ability of the learner in question and secondly the language that the learner has as his/her mother tongue. Welsh may be difficult if the learner is poor at language learning, and if the learner has English as a first and only language, a Germanic language that is not related to Welsh apart from the fact that it is an Indo-European language by birth. A Welsh speaker may well find Cornish easier, as an English speaker may find German easier. The point here then is that it has nothing at all to do with the language being learnt, nothing at all. The perceived difficulty of the language for the learner is completely external. In fact all languages are equal, there is not one single easy or difficult language, it’s called linguistic relativism. Welsh is no more complicated than any other human language. It is the linguistic ability and first language of the learner that causes it be difficult for that particular individual. I would struggle at Chinese, but that doesn’t make Chinese anymore difficult than English; it just that the language is so different from my own, but where I to start with German, Dutch, or even Cornish or Irish, I’d find somewhat easier.
Ben, you say ‘ In fact all languages are equal, there is not one single easy or difficult language, it’s called linguistic relativism’. This is true, for babies, but not for adults. I have just delved into the modern Welsh dictionary to look at plurals. Being a random person I selected them randomly, or at least to start with. Later on I couldn’t resist the more extreme examples.
lleuad – lleuadau
lleuen – llau
llew – llewod
llewes – llewesau
llawes – llewys
llidiart – llidiardau
llif – llifiau
llif – llifogydd
llifeiriant – llieiriannau
cangen – canhennau
cais – ceisiadau
calon – calonnau
cam – camau
camdrin – camdrini
camera – camerâu
camgymeriad – camgymeriadau
camp – campau
cân – caneuon
llan – llannau
llanc – llanciau
llances – llancesau
llannerch – llennyrch, llanerchau
llanw – llanwau
llaw – dwylo
punt – punnoedd, punnau
pwerty – pwerdai
pwnc – pynciau
mantais – manteision
maneg – menig
mamgu – mamguod
malwoden – malwod
llythyr – llythyrau, llythyron
Good point, Ben. English is a Germanic language and Welsh is a Celtic one; they are not about to change their integral nature.
I would also challenge the assumption that there is a such a thing as a poor language learner. If there is such a thing, how come everyone is capable of at least one language? No English speaker was born speaking English; they had to learn it. To learn another language, you simply repeat the process. People learn at different speeds and in different ways but the propensity to learn remains with us all our lives.
‘No English speaker was born speaking English; they had to learn it. To learn another language, you simply repeat the process.’ All babies are born with an ability to learn a language – any language – but the idea that as adults you simply repeat the process is just not true. For most people by a certain age the brain has pruned the connections such that sounds which are not required in the initial language are lost.
To quote ‘ An infant’s brain has connections that allow her to hear sounds from all languages in the world. During the early years, the brain strengthens connections for sounds in the languages she hears regularly. Over time, the brain eliminates the connections for other sounds. This is why most adults have trouble distinguishing sounds that are not in our language. ‘
With regard to your method of learning patterns by rote and dispensing with grammar, this certainly didn’t work for me. The problem was that once I moved out of my comfort zone and was confronted with what seemed to be a different construction in English, I had no means of knowing if what I was saying made any sense in Welsh. So any conversations beyond the mundane every day chatter were severely constricted. Indeed, I see this most weeks when at Cydd. When the conversation develops you hear the phrase, ‘this is too complicated to say in Welsh so I’ll say it in English’.
And what about new words in Welsh. When I asked the question, ‘how is the gender decided’, the answer seemed to be ‘nobody knows’. Perhaps you can enlighten me.
@Rhobat- yes good point; humans, scientists think, have a propensity to learn language. This ‘language instinct’ is at its strongest when humans are babies up to the age of about 11 or 12. Following this, many people lose that ability to just absorb language. However, I would reiterate that there indeed people out there who struggle with language, our brains are all different. I am not a numbers man, in fact my mathematical skills are about average. I am much more word orientated though. This was my point; not everyone has the ability to just pick up a language. It may take years, given the skills of the individual. The points above, that Welsh is just more difficult than English, is nonsense. As I said, ones success and overall impression in learning a language rely on the two externals – linguistic background and natural ability or otherwise. The better at language you are, the better at learning another language you will be. The closer that other language is to yours, the easier and more ‘logical’ its grammatical rules will seem (Welsh speaker learning that Irish prepositions conjugate- no problem, entirely logical as it occurs in Welsh. English speaker learning about mutations due to syntactic environment of the word- very strange at first).
@ Colin Miles
The only difference between babies and adults is that babies have no language to start with, so they have to use other clues in order to discern the meaning of language: objects, body language and so on. Adults have the advantage of having acquired shortcuts in order to assimilate the required information. They do not acquire the language in the midst of a myriad of other things they need to learn in order to mature. Adults can simply concentrate on the task in hand with fewer distractions.
The pattern of learning is, however, the same: listen, copy, learn what it means, practice. If the brain requires new pathways, it will create them. The idea that the brain cells deteriorate with age has been shown to be a myth.
However, I recognise that you had difficulty with this method and I will say from the outset that not all people are suited to the same method of learning. I simply don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to life, let alone education and although the Wlpan method has demonstrated its success, very little research has been conducted into other methods of learning that could be used as an alternative to Wlpan. All cheques gratefully received.
You make an interesting point to which I’d like to respond. You state:
“The problem is that once I moved out of my comfort zone and was confronted by what seemed to me a different construction in English, I had no means of knowing whether what I was saying made any sense in Welsh.”
I’m a little confused by what you mean by a different construction in English; perhaps you could give me an example to illustrate the point. But the more general principle is that when you say something in any language and you’re not sure whether you’ve been understood properly, check out the feedback. If you ask someone their name and they reply with, “half past three”, then you have not made yourself understood. In which case you’d have to go back and find the pattern you wanted and practise it until you feel comfortable with it. If you get the reply, “I’m Siân”, then you have the information you were looking for and you can move onto other patterns.
If you’re making a point in a more complex sentence, again you look for feedback which confirms that you’ve made yourself understood. Of course it can be frustrating if you don’t get any feedback since that could mean that they haven’t understood and are too polite to say, or it could mean that they have understood you, don’t agree with you and hope that if they ignore you, you’ll go away.
Usually however if what you’ve said is not clear, then an interested person will ask you a question for clarity. If they’re not interested in what you have to say, then they’re not worth talking to in the first place.
With regards the gender of new vocabulary, this is usually decided by reference to existing vocabulary and is based on the education received at a higher education level. For example, the word for ‘laptop’ is ‘gliniadur’, a combination of ‘glin’ meaning ‘knee’ and ‘cyfrifiadur’ meaning ‘computer’. As both ‘glin’ and ‘cyfrifiadur’ are both masculine, then it’s likely that ‘gliniadur’ is masculine, which it is. Therefore if it’s not decided by academics, which it usually will be, it will certainly be decided on the basis of academic principles.
Yes, I agree with you Ben that everyone comes to a new language with a different set of presumptions and different hurdles to overcome to connect with the language of their choice. And I also agree that everyone learns in their own way and at their own pace; the judgment that needs to be made is how to teach a class that makes allowances for those differences and yet includes everyone in the same process. However, except in extreme cases, everyone is capable of learning even if it takes them longer than others.
You’re right, of course, that people who come from a language that doesn’t have mutations as one of its characteristics will find the concept puzzling because their own language does perfectly well without it. It is therefore capable of being a big deal. My response is to say that it isn’t a big deal because if you get it wrong, no-one is confused. If I say, “Wi’n mynd i Treorci” instead of “Wi’n mynd i Dreorci”, no-one is confused about where I’m going. The point is to make yourself understood and not worry about being correct. Language is about communication not exercises in correctness.
Between birth and five years of age, the human brain is hard-wired for learning multiple languages. After age five, this critical window begins to close and it gets much harder to acquire a new language and a good accent. This has nothing to do with brain cells deteriorating, just the way that that the brain develops. There is an overproduction of connections and synapses in the early years which are then pruned as required by the outside world, especially regarding language acquisition
So there is a big difference between the brain of an infant and an adult in this respect – and many others of course. Learning a new language is more difficult for adults because of this. Indeed, there is there is often a distinction made between language acquisition which happens in infants and young children, and language learning in adults. And yes, listen, copy, learn what it means and practice – I couldn’t agree more, especially practice. Indeed, total immersion in a language to the exclusion of all others is the ideal way of learning. But very, very few adults can spend the time doing that. And when you are surrounded by a dominant language like English then your chances of success are severely limited.
With regard to constructions outside the ‘comfort zone’, too often one is in the situation of a group who are also groping in the dark, hence the reversion to English. Can’t think off-hand of examples. Thank you for your elucidation of how gender is decided.
Comments are closed.