Welsh-language community needs a Senedd

Simon Brooks asks why the language has not flourished in devolved Wales

Every society is defined by what can and cannot be said. Wales is defined by words such as devolved, civic, bilingual, equitable and equal – but also neoliberal, social democratic, markets and Left. It is the result of our hybrid, dual polity, with its inherent tensions between Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

This is a Wales obsessed with ‘rights’, an attempt to defend individuals from the economic effects of neo-liberalism, but which, paradoxically, also stems from it. These are rights which can only be held by the individual and which therefore affirm our identities as atomised, apart in society. And so minorities in Wales, superficially at least, are blessed. Wales is friendly towards minorities, not because the Welsh are more ‘tolerant’ than others, but because Civic Wales demands that this is so. However, these minorities come to the nation as individuals, not as groups.

Yet there is one minority which has not flourished in devolved Wales, the Welsh-speaking minority. Why is this? It is because members of linguistic minorities require the presence of other minority members in order to interact. Individual rights are no good to them. Furthermore, linguistic minorities need lots of speakers in very high and close density in order for their language to be seen as normal, and for it to flourish. The Welsh language is in essence a communitarian creature. This has proved a challenge for post-devolution, Civic Wales for whom the idea of a community within a community is difficult to concede.

Of course, individual Welsh-speakers of a certain background have made it good – we have yet to have a non-Welsh-speaking First Minister! But the Welsh-speaking community, as a ‘social group’, is on the way out. The Welsh language will never face the same fate as all those Amerindian and aboriginal languages which are fading away. It will never die. But Welsh-speaking society is disintegrating, breaking up.

Historically this process has been driven by market forces and migration, as well as by the ideology of ‘Britishness’. But there is now a third force at work, the values and assumptions inherent to Civic Wales. Civic Welsh identities claim to be unsullied by ‘identity politics’, but in doing so favour the default language, namely English.

This could lead one to am extremely radical analysis of devolution from a Welsh-language perspective, namely to reject it completely. Might it be better for Welsh-speakers to regard themselves as a linguistic minority within Britain, rather than as part of a Welsh majority in Wales, some of whose members happen to speak a minority language? In Pa beth yr aethoch allan i’w achub? (‘What did you go out to save?’), published today, Richard Glyn Roberts argues that Welsh-speaking communities should define themselves in opposition to Welsh civic nationalism. Although this is not a view I share, it is not irrational.

My own opinion is that all societies are made of nationalisms, and while Welsh civic nationalism has not been particularly friendly to Welsh, British ‘one nation’ nationalism has not been in the bar handing out free drinks either. I remain a supporter of devolution.
However, we need to ask some fundamental questions about how ‘Welsh-speakers’ can be imagined as a discrete social group once again. As the Census figures show, language groups which do not also identify as social groups are apt to disappear.

Firstly, and most controversially, the Welsh-speaking community needs a proper name. In Welsh until the early 20th Century, ‘Welsh-speakers’ have only ever been called Cymry (the term was linguistic, and as such included those of non-Welsh as well as Welsh ethnic backgrounds). Subsequently, the term mutated to become Cymry Cymraeg, to acknowledge the existence of Cymry without Cymraeg. Unfortunately this presumes that all Cymry are Welsh (which they are not). Hardly the stuff of inclusive, 21st Century Wales.

The answer in official discourse has been for Cymry Cymraeg to become siaradwyr Cymraeg, speakers of Welsh. This, however, is a weak identity. Nor has it been developed, organically, from within the Welsh-language community itself. Speaking Welsh has become a consumer choice, akin to deciding whether to eat in McDonalds or KFC (not that readers of ClickonWales eat in either!). Welsh is therefore expendable. The change is subtle, but far-reaching. The very nomenclature of devolution has been melting away the Welsh-language community. What the Welsh-speaking community needs is a term similar to Gael.

Then there is the question of bilingualism. It is the sacred cow before which all of us kneel. But what does it mean in real, everyday life? Even the National Assembly, the very heart of Civic Wales, is unprepared to keep all its Records in bilingual fashion. Languages may be equal in Civic Wales, but some are more equal than others.

Bilingualism has become a dead end for the Welsh-language community. It promotes parity between languages, but forgets that language groups are inherently unequal. It paints the thinnest of Welsh glosses over life in much of Wales. Yet its ideology allows the English language to penetrate all parts of the country, and all activities, including those preserved for the minority language. And so it is debated whether the Eisteddfod, Radio Cymru and S4C might be more bilingual in order to be ‘inclusive’. Meanwhile, the Hay Festival, Radio Wales and English-language television carry on in English, unperturbed.

Bilingualism permits in-migrants to Welsh-speaking Wales to refuse to learn Welsh (“It is a bilingual society, we have the right to speak English!”), but migrants to English-speaking parts of Wales have to learn and use English, of necessity.

Finally, there is the small matter of Welsh democracy. In the volume’s closing essay, Ned Thomas attempts to square the circle between linguistic and civic versions of Welshness. He argues that the Welsh-speaking community is a social group, with an identifiable past as a national group, and as such deserves a representative institution – for want of a better word, a Senedd. No longer would the community be spoken for by placemen appointed by Government Ministers, themselves elected by a largely non-Welsh-speaking electorate. No longer could activists presume that their particular pressure group is the Voice of the People. The Welsh-speaking community could finally speak for itself.

It is an intriguing idea. Similar bodies exist for some other small linguistic groups, such as the Folketing, a consultative parliament for the Swedish-speaking community in Finland. This perhaps could be devolution within devolution. Cardiff Bay would remain sovereign, and be the proper parliament of all Welsh people, whether Welsh-speaking or not. But those individuals chosen to be the voice of Welsh-speakers on matters pertaining to the Welsh language would be elected by the Welsh-language community itself. What Welsh democrat, believing in representation of the people by the people, could possibly disagree?

Simon Brooks is an academic and journalist. With Richard Glyn Roberts he has edited Pa beth yr aethoch allan i’w achub? (‘What did you go out to save?’) which is published today by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.

40 thoughts on “Welsh-language community needs a Senedd

  1. Simon Brooks always has an interesting point to make and while I do not for one moment question the sincerity of his motives I feel bound to ask after reading his piece wouldnt moves to confine discussions on the Welsh language to Assembly Members elected exclusively by what he terms the ‘Welsh language community’ risk dividing Wales and the Assembly along linguistic lines? Which of course has been the very long term aim of those reactionary forces in Wales hostile to both devolution and the Welsh language itself. And that is without of course even beginning the hugely problematic task of trying to determine who exactly in Wales constitutes the ‘Welsh language’ community’.

    Further, wouldn’t a direct conseqence of Simon’s proposal be that those people in Wales who might not speak Welsh, but who are nevertheless well disposed towards the language, would have no democratic input into decision making about and discussion of the Welsh language at the Senedd? This would hardly be ‘represenation of the people by the people’.

  2. This is broad-thinking at its best. Although based on some shaky assumptions, it acknowledges two great truths. The first is that it is no coincidence that the green shots of recovery for the Welsh language seen towards the end of the last century have shrivelled under devolution: whether one agreed with it or not, the UK Establishment had a paternalistic attitude to the language in recent years – establishing S4C, the Welsh Language Board, and a national curriculum that included Welsh – but the English-speaking majority in Wales are at best ambivalent towards the language itself, and at worst positively hostile to the Welsh-language lobby and to what is widely seen as a Welsh-language Establishment with disproportionate power. The second is that there is actually a better case for a Welsh-language Senedd, which would represent a distinct cultural entity, than for a Senedd covering the existing area of Wales, which is no more than a traditional entity that is meaningless in terms of economic geography. The best thing about a language-based Senedd is that it would be without distinct geographical borders and therefore require voluntary subscription: if this could be organised successfully, it could be a model for solving other ethnic and cultural conflicts throughout the world, as well as providing a way for both Welsh Nationalists and Unionists to co-exist.

  3. I think Simon Brooks raises some very interesting questions.

    We have lived under the assumption for the last 14 years that devolution is somehow uniquely ‘on trial’ with the English-speaking, devolution-sceptic section of Welsh society. A very modest level of devolution to start with, a very gradual, evolutionary process of obtaining more autonomy, and a softly-softly, don’t rock the boat, approach to linguistic policy, have characterised an overall project ‘mission’ of ‘bringing everyone with us.’ Or at least that seems to have been the overall mood music.

    I think what Simon suggests is that what many seem to have forgotten is that devolution is also ‘on trial’ with the section of Welsh society (and their communities) concerned with the future of the language as a living, vibrant community language. It is by no means causally inevitable that their best interests are served by a devolved all-Wales polity. It is not unthinkable, for example, that either a benevolent UK unitary state or a sort of semi-independent ‘offshore’ Bro Gymraeg jurisdiction could provide a more rigorous defence of the language in, say, its geographic heartlands where a more radical consensus for linguistic intervention may be achieved. It may not be most people’s first, second or third choice, but it is rationally possible, and with the necessary degree of imagination and good will needn’t be illiberal, retrograde, or economically impossible.

    It seems to me that perhaps all Simon is suggesting is that there are actually policy alternatives (albeit radical) WITHIN the framework of devolution that could be considered before accepting the binary opposites of either the inevitable slow death of the language under the auspices of a timid Welsh polity compromised by fear of the unknown or the nuclear option of some sort of cultural partition (whether within or without a unitary British (England and Wales) state).

    That taking Bro Gymraeg support for the status quo for granted is a little short-sighted, is perhaps then, his key message.

    His observations deserve close and careful consideration.

  4. Such a system would invite hostility imposed from the top down, and would be regarded by Cymry both Cymraeg and di-Cymraeg as a sop to the former. The system can work only if created bottom-up. What is to prevent the people and local authorities of y Fro Cymraeg renting premises and organising their own elections to such a body? It would be without legislative basis but would have great authority in speaking for y Fro. Groups of Welsh speakers living elsewhere in Wales could register to vote postally or on-line. The message is one Welsh people need to hear more: if you want something, don’t ask someone else for a favour, do it yourself.

  5. As a Welsh learner of no political persuasion, Simon Brooks article hits the nail on the head on many issues. I find in 2013 that Welsh speakers are still treated as almost 2nd class citizens and that inequality shames us all. There must be parity with the investment in minority languages in other areas of Europe such as Catalonia and the Basque Country. A Senedd style assembly for Welsh speakers could be the way to go. It’s certainly worth exploring. My kids are now learning Welsh in school so they’re helping me with Welsh – great teachers they are too.

  6. I’m confused….

    so you’re saying the fully bilingual establishment in Cardiff bay with an incredibly well staffed (and paid!) translation department, instant translation, state of the art audio equipment and all backed up by a large civil service and QUANGOs where Welsh speakers are given priority in candidate selection isn’t a senedd for Welsh speakers?

    actually I’m not really confused… this article is subjective nonsense!

  7. The Welsh language is now so near death’s door that it has to be propped up by a growing group of vociferous Welsh learners – many are “in-migrants” from England and beyond. Like Simon Brooks… People who often make a good living from the Welsh language and who somehow feel they have the right to tell the rest of us how to live our own lives…

    Meanwhile, kids from Welsh speaking homes will continue to migrate naturally towards English at around age 8 as they have been doing for the ~30 years I’ve been watching them do it, despite the growing mainstreaming of rather ugly social engineering education policies designed to prevent them from doing so.

    But I suppose a Welsh language “representative institution” is not impossible – all we need is an equivalent English language “representative institution” with pro-rata proportional representation and we can all be happy. After all this is all about representative democracy – right?

    Let’s start by having an English language “representative institution” debate about compulsory Welsh in school and compulsory Welsh-medium education Gwynedd Council style…

  8. A very interesting article and lots of great points made. I share Simon Brooks’ aspirations for the language. However I would like to point out that in my experience the difficulties faced by a second language Welsh speaker. In my current job I have 2 Welsh speaking colleagues, neither of whom have the patience to converse with me, a second language speaker, in Welsh. One told me to speak to her in English as it confuses her (however she speaks in Welsh to other colleagues). My Welsh language skills are quite good for a second language learner but I have been laughed at on occasion for making simple mistakes that any language learner could easily make. I have also encountered being responded to in English when speaking in Welsh to first language speakers (this is not in every instance I would like to add however).
    It seems to me that to preserve the language attitudes towards learners need to change and first language speakers should make it a priority to support second language learners. I hope this will happen.

  9. A thought-provoking piece, but I can’t see an answer to an unasked question: how do you define a “Welsh speaker”. The question is asked on each census, but the census results must be handled with care. I know as a former census officer that people sometimes use the question as a question about their goodwill towards the language, rather than their competence.

  10. Simon Brooks is right to flag up the perils of the “Civic Wales” project that most nationalists have signed up to. i.e a belief that incremental increases in Welsh devolution can only be good for Wales, and therefore the Welsh language itself

    His article brings to mind Saunders Lewis’s warning that unless Welsh was made the working language of public life in the Welsh speaking areas before self-government for Wales, it would subsequently wither more swiftly than under London rule. Well, we have had 14 years of devolution, and of the Welsh speaking areas, only Gwynedd council administers internally in Welsh, with no sign that Ynys Mon, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire are to follow its lead.

    But I would like to think there is still a possibility of of bringing Welsh speakers together and establishing some form of territorial integrity for Welsh speakers within the Civic Wales project, and this is why Simon Brooks’ s idea deserves a hearing. Although I’m not convinced that a formal “senedd” for Welsh speakers is the answer, the idea of encouraging Welsh speakers to elect delegates to some form of representative institution which deals with linguistic issues is certainly worth exploring. For all their worthiness, a group like Cymdeithas yr Iaith for example are never really representative of any Welsh-speaking community and their insistence that they “speak” for those communities are sometimes a source of irritation for members of such communities. Directly elected delegates from Welsh speaking communities would be a different matter entirely.

    But apart from this idea, another option would be to take advantage of the current local government review to provide Welsh Speaking Wales with a specific form of territorial integrity. The “Arfor” idea proposed by Adam Price could link the Welsh-speaking communities of the West together and could encourage the “Gwynedd model” to spread both north and south. Such an entity would help to establish Welsh as a working language in the West, and it could provide inspiration both for Welsh learners in other parts of Wales, and other Welsh people who, although they may not wish to lean the language itself, could be persuaded that it makes sense for a minority language like Welsh to have a defined heartland within Wales.

  11. The Swedish Assembly of Finland, or Folktinget, was founded in 1919 to safeguard the position of Swedish when the Constitution of Finland as an independent nation was being written. The Swedish Assembly of Finland protects the interests of the Swedish-speaking Finns and is a forum for political discussion and co-operation. The Assembly participates in the law drafting process and issues statements on topics involving the Swedish-speaking population. Folktinget is a cross-political body, of which all political parties with activities in Swedish are members.


  12. “…but the English-speaking majority in Wales are at best ambivalent towards the language itself, and at worst positively hostile to the Welsh-language lobby and to what is widely seen as a Welsh-language Establishment with disproportionate power” comments John Winterson Richards. A somewhat sweeping statement John – do you have evidence to back up this claim ? In my experience certainly this is far from the case, evidenced by the large numbers of non welsh speaking parents right across Wales eager for their children to attend welsh medium schools.

    Phil Davies – dont make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the the bathwater! Surely you cannot seriously be wanting to return Wales to the dark days when every important decision affecting our country was taken by the politicians not even elected in Wales? Surely you are not saying you woud entrust the future of the Welsh language to some future anthem stumbling John Redwood representing Wokingham or some other English shire constituency? I’m sure you don’t, as to put it bluntly that is not the ‘nuclear option’ – more like the True Wales ‘option’.

    As whatever your misgivings on this matter Phil I’m sure youll agree that the future of the Welsh language is best served by a democratic body fully accountable to and elected by the people of Wales – or ‘representation by the Welsh people for the Welsh people’, to paraphrase Simon. I would remind you that it was a national welsh body that introduced the progressive Welsh language Measure in 2011, paving the way for the establishment of a Welsh language Commissioner in 2012.

  13. Simon has never been one to sit on the fence in terms of the Welsh language, and rightly so. This provocative article has raised some very valid points about where we are going with Welsh, including the assumption that devolution would be a linguistic saviour. However, I do not agree with the link made here that devolution is responsible for the decline of Welsh. It has coincided with other very significant factor: primarily economic realities that have been and are still largely outside the control of the Senedd. I suspect that Welsh would be in a far worse situation without it. Young people have moved away from the north and west because of a lack of work, being largely displaced by people from England with a massive house price differential in their pocket. Some from England have accepted their responsibility to learn Welsh in these communities, but most have not.

    I am also not comfortable with the concept of a Welsh speaking community across Wales. The only time I have ever experienced it on a national footing is for one week every year at the National Eisteddfod. However, I do recognise the anger and frustration from all who are passionate about the Welsh language (some are learners and even non-speakers Simon), about the drift downwards in community use of Welsh, along with a significant proportion of the political elite who are publicly ‘nice’ about Welsh but privately scathing.

    For me, this article is about creating a national campaign outside the existing groupings to debate and support the future of Welsh and on this point, I believe Simon has a point. There is no single coherent body even close to doing this. If such an organisation could be formed and gain popular support, then it would most certainly have a lot of influence – preferably constructively so.

  14. Something needs to be done to ensure that the Welsh speaking parts of Wales are heard, and also understood. For too long, these areas have been left to disintegrate and disappear and become prey to the forces of the market. Welsh communities and indeed the language is totally defenceless at the moment. As a result, ignorance, huge and and an unbelievable amount of ignorance, is still able to effect the language. Take the comment of John R Walker above. ”The language is near deaths door”. This is the kind of ignorance that exists within people and forces that actually decide the future of the language. Even when over 85% of Welsh parents still pass the language on, even when the age profile of the language is tipped in favour of younger speakers and even when opinion polls still show younger speakers overwhelmingly ask for me opportunities to use Welsh, this person still sits there and comments that its dying, despite being considered one of the 100 languages likely to be still alive in 100 years time after so many others have died. In short, we need some sort of representation so that sort of overwhelming ignorance and fundamental lack of understanding can no longer be able to bear down on the native language of Wales, y Gymraeg.

  15. Leigh, 4.00am

    Firstly, I did not say whether I support this idea or not.

    Secondly, define ‘baby’… one man’s baby is another man’s rag doll and vice-versa.

    I was articulating the theoretical ‘cultural’ or ‘linguistic’ nationalist argument that in many ways the constitutional apparatus of the state, or the territorial ‘management’ of specific socio-economic functions, is of secondary importance to the survival (and extension) of the linguistic culture.

    You may disagree, but to a cultural nationalist a separately configured (through the ideological make-up of a devolved polity) ‘Welsh’ NHS, social service policy, transport policy, energy policy, etc., are of little importance if the same polity is not capable (or willing) to pursue policies which preserve and strengthen the linguistic culture. If a different polity is prepared to guarantee linguistic and cultural integrity through an otherwise centralised system (a big ask, but theoretically possibly), the cultural nationalist is willing to listen.

    You can make the argument that on balance the evidence shows that devolution or independence strengthens the native language and culture more than it does not (Euskadi, Catalonia), but it is not a given (Ireland, Galicia), and linguistic nationalists are right to be vigilant and alert to the alternatives.

    The Bro Gymraeg is made up of many shades of nationalism (and unionism of course) but the one I describe above is a significant element of it. My argument is that as a devolutionist you ignore that element at your peril.

    For what it’s worth, personally, I have every hope that both civic and cultural motivations can be accommodated successfully and harmoniously within the devolutionary process.

  16. The Welsh language is in decline because people do not want to use it. The demands of communication are such that we seek and use universal means of communication, and for the great majority of people this is English – or what is now becoming ‘computerspeak’.

    As an active citizen in North Wales I am very concerned about the waste of money in efforts to coerce, persuade or bully people into learning or using Welsh. I am especially concerned how funding provided by Local Education Authorities for children who wish to be educated in English is far less than that given to schools that teach primarily in Welsh. This is deliberate linguistic discrimination. It is a gross injustice served by authorities upon the children for whom they have a responsibility to care for and educate.

    In my view nothing should ever prevent any two people from communicating in any shared language. This includes English – the universal language used throughout the UK. My own children when attending a primary school in North Wales were made to stand up all afternoon by their teacher because they were heard talking to each other in English at lunchtime. As one of my daughters said boldly to the teacher ‘There is no way I will speak to her in Welsh’. ‘Her’ being her sister. I have witnessed many times that children who are forced to use Welsh against their will often turn against the language.

    Instead of spending public resources on promoting Welsh, local authorities should be doing all they can to stimulate and develop viable and sustainable local businesses. It is only by strengthening the local economy that Welsh speakers will stay in the area.

  17. I’m not convinced that an additional Senedd of the Cymry Cymraeg is the way forward. If it had real power it’s decisions would effect those whose who would be excluded from having a chance of representation there. If it did not have real power to change things then it would just be a navel gazing talking shop.

    Using Welsh across most of Wales, even just as a greeting or initial question can be frustrating, even intimidating, and certainly wearing.In my experience most non-Welsh speakers will refuse (and their choice not to use Welsh boils down to a refusal) to even respond with ‘Bore da’ or ‘Diolch’ even after decades of having a customer or acquaintance greet them in Welsh. I don’t see Senedd Cymry Cymraeg altering this.

    The use of Welsh needs to normalised. There are many things could be done. How many BBC wales presenters use greetings etc in Welsh. They all should as part of their job description including when they are featured on UK-wide programmes.No-one in Wales or intending coming to Wales should be under the illusion that Wales is not a country with two working languages.

  18. Leigh, you are right that there has certainly been a vogue for middle-class parents to get their children into Welsh-medium schools, but it may be due at least in part to the same reason why the religiously-apathetic try to get theirs into Church schools – the schools in question often have a better reputation than most of the state system. Some may also have been influenced by research that indicates early bilingualism facilitates the acquisition of other languages in later life. This should not be cited as widespread affection for the language among those who do not speak it. That is encountered less frequently in casual conversation than the positive hostility reflected in some of the comments on this website. Indeed, this is one of many areas where people are more vociferous in private than in public, because they no longer feel they can express their opinions openly. That is bad for democracy and ultimately bad for the language.

    These are, incidentally, the neutral observations of someone who definitely does not share that hostility, who has no particular bias or agenda on the subject, and whose starting position was one of sympathy towards the language his father spoke as a child. A residue of that sympathy remains, despite the best efforts of some – not all but some – ‘supporters’ of the language to destroy it. John Nicholson will probably be reviled for what he wrote but what he describes – basically the infamous ‘Welsh Not’ in reverse – is as credible as it is horrifying. The teacher in question should not be cited as typical of Welsh-speakers, most of whom are decent, congenial people, but an arrogant and discourteous minority has done much to undermine goodwill. With friends like that, the Welsh language does not need enemies.

  19. John Nicholson – The only reason English is widely spoken is through bullying coersion and intollerence. You could argue we should do just the same – but we are civilised.

    Ironically English itself is in retreat. In the USA Spanish is growing at a tremendous rate. It now exceeds one third of the population. Monoglot English speakers are very upset – what a pitty, never mind.

    It’s also in retreat in Asia where a hybrid Asiatic/English language is rapidly taking over. If you think “That’s still English!”, forget it. You’ve very little chance of understanding it.

    We have been under tremendous intollerent pressure from the English language and its intollerent establishement for generation. That we’ve survived at all is a a feather in our caps. Now what we have to do is understand the problem to push on and put it right.

    English obviously has major problems of its own that are infecting us. Notably that of poor literacy standards. Personally I have come to the conclusion that to increase the number of Welsh speakers we must improve teaching of English.

    My experiece of English language lessons in school was that they were boring and practically pointless. They seemed to be geared towards teaching the pupils no more than they knew already. The Welsh lessons were way, way better. This is why I think we should teach English as if it’s a second language, to English speakers, and use Welsh to teach all pupils to read and write before they go to English.

    We should also be thinking of having more Welsh Language Radio and TV channels. Also I think a small daily Welsh Language newspaper, similar to the Metro and “I” should be feasible (though I have no evidence for this).

    I’m not sure how you would define membership of, or rights to vote for, a Welsh Language Senedd. A Welsh Language Forum within the Senedd may be possible though.

  20. @John Nicholson- The Welsh language is not in decline for that reason whatsoever. As this article says, the areas where Welsh is spoken by the majority of Welsh people are in decline because the language is becoming minoritized by incomers who refuse to learn Welsh. People such as yourself move to Wales and complain when your children are asked to speak Welsh in a Welsh medium school and cry abuse when they are corrected or punished or braking the school rule. Anyone think they are being caned like Welsh children were a century ago. If people like you actually respected local languages and learnt them, rather than swanning around pretending everyone wants to speak English and you speak a universal language, then Welsh would be beyond safe.

    As it stands, the comment of John Nicholson hits the nail on the head; the Welsh language is under threat not because we Welsh don’t want to speak it, but because we are becoming minoritized in our own country and because these people assume that they speak a universal language, that attitude is why they won’t intergrate. Such arrogance could only be fended off by proper representation.

    Wales is a colony, or in a post-colonial state. If you disagree with this, ask yourself this question. Would likes of John Nicholson have the tenacity to move to France and cry abuse if his children were made to speak French, would he refuse to learn French, and would he deplore any money spent on promoting French by a French government? The answer is no.

  21. “We should also be thinking of having more Welsh Language Radio and TV channels”
    Well I nearly fell off my chair at that! Although I suppose S4C’s enormous annual budget of just under one hundred million pounds (I’m trying not to picture Dr. Evil off Austin powers as chief exec at this point) has more than enough capacity to set up a few more unwatched channels.

    “the Welsh language is under threat not because we Welsh don’t want to speak it”
    Perhaps reign in your arrogance and assumption that you speak on behalf of all Welsh people Ben. I’m Welsh and I have no interest in speaking the language whatsoever. You don’t speak for me and nor, I suspect, do you speak for many other hundreds of thousands of Welsh people.
    Also (and I know this is going to be difficult for you to grasp), anyone from the UK has a right to live and speak whatever language they like in Wales. Furthermore, anyone from anywhere in Europe has that same right… although I suspect it’s mainly the english you have a problem with.

  22. @John Winterston Richards

    I dont think you are quite up to speed with practices in Welsh medium schools. The detention for speaking English in the playground is common…. it was even featured in a BBC Wales documentary comparing and contrasting WM education in North and South Wales.

    p.s. The over utilised comparison of Welsh in Wales to French in France is only applicable in limited areas of the Welsh speaking heartlands. For all other areas it is completely ludicrous and about as relevant as comparing apples with oranges.

  23. @belowlandsler- I totally agree. I was actually referring to Welsh heartlands in my comment in the first place.

  24. @ Belowlandsker- I’m far from an arrogant person and in fact was not speaking on your behalf, at all or any other non-Welsh speaker but rather on the behalf of my own speech group who are sick to death of watching our language whither on the vine not through our own doing but because of attitudes of incomers like Nicholsons above. Our time will come though, mark my words.

  25. Belowlandsker, you are quite right that the fact that such mistreatment of young children can be considered acceptable, let alone ‘common,’ practice in the 21st Century comes as an enormous shock. Wales actually seems to regressing into the darker parts of our history. What next? Sending the children back down the mines in the name of ‘work experience’? After all, Lord Shaftesbury was an Englishman and a Tory and had ‘no mandate in Wales’…

  26. “For what it’s worth, personally, I have every hope that both civic and cultural motivations can be accommodated successfully and harmoniously within the devolutionary process” said phil davies….well said phil, i would wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments.

  27. It is interesting to notice a duality in the responses to this well worthwhile article. Those with empathy towards the Welsh language engage with the article, those who disapprove of the use of Welsh simply continue with their attacks on Welsh culture and the very fact that the article was written in the first place. Punishing a child for speaking English is to be regretted as this was one of the tools used to cleanse Welsh from Wales in the past. But beyond that, it is desperately sad to see how little engagement with what is happening in the wider world there is amongst the naysayers. I think the example from Scandinavia is fascinating and it shows how more advanced and socially civilised countries can show us the way.

  28. Simon Brooks poses some interesting questions here about the way forward regarding the Welsh Language under devolved government. That Welsh speakers need a ‘voice’ to represent their interests is in no doubt. They are a vulnerable minority. Hopefully a way can be found achieve this.

    I am concerned that unsubstantiated anecdotal allegations are made by one contributor regarding an unnamed primary school and an unnamed teacher at a ‘North Wales primary school’. Such remarks should be taken in that context, as they can easily become ‘fact’ when repeated elsewhere. Allegations of this sort should be accompanied by a health warning.

    This forum has in the past degenerated into a diatribe over the Language involving two or three contributors whose consistent opposition to it is only too apparent. That is regrettable, as it lowers the tone of what is an useful and positive contribution made by this site to debate on matters concerning Wales.

  29. @ Dave

    I take your point regarding anecdotal evidence on internet forums….

    but it’s common knowledge that in many WM schools, speaking English in playground lands you in detention. It is pointless you picking on John Nicholson for describing this common practice when so many other examples of anecdotal evidence have either gone ignored or have been taken in good faith by contributors here.

  30. Just on a point of clarification, there were recently media reports of children being punished for speaking English but when an investigation took place, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever. WM schools carry out an ‘immersion’ process to ensure that children have the best opportunity to feel comfortable speaking Welsh, often when their home is English speaking. However, this does not resort to punishment and all these accusations of otherwise came to nothing-when investigated. In other words, they were lies.

    I am afraid that it is yet another urban myth, along with the ‘they all started speaking Welsh when I walked into the pub’ nonsense. Such fake accusations just feed people’s prejudices and once more, cloud genuine debates about the future of one of Europe’s oldest languages. I may not agree with all that Simon has said, but very much welcome both the article and debate.

  31. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I do not speak Welsh, and while I spent over a decade learning through English medium schools in Wales, as well as through my own efforts taking adult learning course and speaking with friends and family, I find it increasingly hard to see how I ever will speak it, at least enough to really communicate what I want to say. The reason I have come to this idea is something I see in T. Williams’ comment above – that it is too difficult to become immersed in Welsh. Admittedly, I come from what most people would call Anglicised Wales (Abergavenny), so opportunities to see the language as a living and thriving tongue were always going to be limited. But that leads me to my principle worry about this new strand within the old argument – that of a supposed failure of civic Welshness. For English-speaking Welsh people the concept of belonging to a nation which has some semblance of a state has strengthened their national identity. Civic nationalism for me has been a success because it has allowed me, as someone whose family tree spreads from Caernarfon to Cwmbran, to just ‘be’ Welsh without having to explain myself . The idea of returning to a linguistic definition could erase all that, pushing people back towards a British identity, and destroying that interest and the pangs of national identity that drive many to want to learn the language currently.

    I tend to agree with Tredwyn’s comment that further support for the Welsh language needs to be bottom up, not state-sponsored, as such efforts already turn English speakers against Welsh speakers and are rarely effective. I think the process of looking for solutions from with Welsh speaking communities would also probably highlight an important factor that tends to be ignored – the more general trend towards urbanisation, particularly among young people. If you know any graduates, how many do you know who move to London? A fair few I will guess. The prevailing trend, particularly that relating to non-linear career progression and so-called ‘knowledge’ work being concentrated in centres of agglomeration is not going to go away and is in fact likely to increase. The impacts for the Welsh language could be challenging, but finding a place for a minority language in a globalised world is far from impossible. But at the moment it sounds a little bit like many Welsh speakers, or at least those like Richard Glyn Roberts, are clinging too tightly to a particular vision of the Welsh speaking community that despite their efforts is eventually going to disappear, not because of the actions of English speaking people in Wales, but because Welsh speakers want the opportunity to access a world beyond what their local community can offer. The key thing is to make the Welsh language something that can be celebrated through culture rather than imposed by law, that non-speakers will be impressed by, and Welsh speakers as part of a diaspora will take with them and long to return to.

  32. The point about the (sub)urban myth about punishments is telling. If it does occur, it ought not to, but we are never told where it has taken place, just that it ‘does’. At Ysgol y Preseli, there is no punishment for speaking in English in the playgrounds. As a Welsh medium school (and oddly enough the best school in Sir Benfro by a mile) pupils are encouraged to speak Welsh in the playground and that is that.

  33. ian’s ‘clarification’ is very important…as sadly such ‘urban myths’ regarding alleged ‘punishments’ metered out to school children in wales have become an all too common feature of wider debates about the welsh language…….and it seems to have been this way since the wife of a certain former leading political figure in wales deployed similarly unfounded claims (lies) – to devastating effect – during the il fated welsh devolution campaign of 1979. It is very disappointing then that decades on we are still hearing similar groundless claims and – and as the ‘bi-lingo’ stunt showed last year – such unfounded claims can still be deployed to great effect.

  34. @ Jack Owain- ”not because of the actions of English speaking people in Wales, but because Welsh speakers want the opportunity to access a world beyond what their local community can offer”. Jack this simply isn’t true, and neither is the dissipation of Welsh speaking communities inevitable. I come from a similar background to you (Blaenau Gwent- not for from Abergavenny) and so I understand much of what you say. But Welsh speaking communities are under threat due to in-migration, not just out-migration which is what you blame the shrinking of the Bro Gymraeg on. Yes, people will want to leave, but it is because of Wales’ weak economy. The biggest problem however is in-migration. When you have about half of southern Gwynedd now English due to incomers, how can you blame the people who leave? You touch on being immersed in Welsh, well it would be a whole lot easier if our Welsh speaking areas were being protected. Wales’ biggest problem is its fluid border. Always has been, always will be.

  35. I do seem to have stirred up a most interesting debate!

    I agree absolutely with the comment made by John Winterson Richards… that ‘most of Welsh people are decent, congenial people, but (sadly) an arrogant and discourteous minority has done much to undermine goodwill’.

    On the other hand I do not at all agree with the statement made by Gwyn that ‘the only reason English is widely spoken is through bullying coercion and intolerance’ (I corrected the spelling of both words). The fact is that Welsh is now hardly heard in the streets of towns and villages of North Wales, whereas it was widespread when I moved to this area 25 years ago. This is not because there is a brigade of ‘anti-Welsh language’ militants threatening people who speak in Welsh. It is because people just don’t seem to want to communicate in Welsh. By that I mean people who in the past used to speak mainly in Welsh. Notice that this web site is conducted entirely in English and all the well read newspapers are in English – because this language provides a means of universal communication.

    One my many Welsh speaking friends said to me recently that she rarely uses Welsh now because she hates being criticised by other Welsh speakers who think they know more about the Welsh language than people who have used it since their childhood. Many of these arrogant Welsh Language campaigners are themselves Welsh learners, and may not have any family links to Wales.

    However, I do agree with Gwyn about the low level of English found in children – at least in North Wales. I put this largely down to the fact that Primary schools do not teach any English and seem to have a policy not to correct any errors in written English. This is a great disservice to the children in Wales.

    In response to the comment made by Ben, I did not move (from South Wales) to the North to support or irritate the Welsh Language, I came to be an active part of the local economy. My family had good links to Wales, my father being a ‘Welsh’ artist. I also note how at the school I attended (in England) nearly all the teachers had Welsh names. Throughout the United Kingdom Welsh people are working in industry, and are generally doing very well because of their natural gift of geniality, attention to detail, hard work and endurance. The Welsh language will not survive if it depends upon all new people moving into the area learning Welsh. Such a suggestion says to me that the language is moribund. It is a waste of resources if more money is spent in any attempt to coerce people into using it or learning it.

    The issue about moving to France is not quite valid because I live in the ‘United Kingdom’ where English is used universally. France is part of the EU, but is a different country. Besides, I did French and German (and Latin) at school. However, I do travel a great deal around the world to speak at conferences and run practical workshops. This includes much of Europe, and also projects as far as China.

    When I was a child there were families around where we lived (in mid Wales),who did not speak any English at all. The children had a very restricted opportunities when it came to finding work, and had a struggle to learn better English as teenagers. However, I doubt if there is any family in Wales to-day who were not able to communicate in English.

    However, where I am sure I agree with Ben is that nothing should ever prevent two Welsh speakers from communicating with each other in Welsh. I believe that is an absolute right!

    As has already been said by belowlandsker, the example I gave is just one of a so many situations where I have personally witnessed deliberate discrimination against the interests of non-Welsh speaking people in Wales. But this is caused by a very active and belligerent minority of people. In my view it is doing the whole nation a very great deal of harm by limiting potential economic development. In my view the future of the Welsh Language hangs very much upon a vibrant economy so that everyone living and working in Wales can be sure of a secure future. At present it is remarkable how many talented fluently Welsh speaking people I can think of who have left Wales to take up better paid jobs in other parts of the UK.

  36. @John Nicholson- Bit of exaggeration to say it’s hardly ever heard isn’t it? And neither do the people you have spoken to necessarily represent the whole of Welsh speaking people. The comparison with France is indeed valid and I maintain my point that just because English is widely used this does not mean local languages and cultures should be ignored. I also disagree about the importance of immigrants learning Welsh; 20% of the Welsh domiciled population is English, there are more incomers than Welsh speakers. Immigration could in fact be an asset, a way to give Welsh culture an injection of difference and variation as well as a boost but instead people move in with the attitude- ‘because I live in the UK and are a majority in the UK as a whole I’ll just ignore any regional differences”. What an unenlightened attitude. The fact is that you have hit the nail on head with your own comment about much more Welsh being audible 25 years ago ”when you moved here”. Why would there be a decline if people stayed away? Immigrants needn’t be the problem but they are. I do agree with your last point though; the Welsh economy needs to be supported to keep people in.

  37. There’s a danger to blame devolution for the recent census decline in the Welsh language, when it’s actually the fault of the Labour party. The Labour party has never been a friend of the language and culture of Wales.

    Support for the language has come as a direct consequence of campaigning by various individuals and groups. Language ‘issues’ have recieved tepid support amongst the body politi in Wales for political reasons, nothing more. The tiresome Conservative – Labour battle has on occasions used the language to differentiate one from the other, but we shouldn’t mistake this for anything other than playing politics.

    Devolution can and will only work for the people of Wales – be it linguistically, economically etc if there is a political will there to see Wales improve and make her own decisions. Unfortunately that is not the case today, therefore don’t expect the language nor economy to thrive any time soon.

  38. The debate on the Welsh language will always be full of emotion yet there has to be some realism- at a time when public sector funding is being severely cut, demographic changes with migrant workers and a disastrous pisa education result.
    We owe it to future generations in Wales to improve their economic and social opportunities to be part of the social fabric of our society even if this means that the use of the Welsh language has to take a bigger back seat.
    No one seems to have carried out any research to identify whether our children in Wales who are not first language Welsh Speakers are disadvantaged by having to spend valuable classroom time on trying to learn Welsh- is this the best use of their time when key skills are falling.
    Are we also at risk of lowering the calibre of our civic and political leadership and service delivery as the pool of Welsh speakers is so narrow. It will take years for the pool to expand at the current rate– why even consider this a necessity. The best people for the job should be engaged not just because they are Welsh speakers and could be second best for the roles.
    The sooner we have an open debate without the threats from the Welsh Language commissioner about fines for non compliance the better so that realism can be brought to the debate in Wales with a majority voice being heard rather than one driven by a far smaller group intent on trying to use emotional blackmail to justify the use of the Welsh Language.

  39. I would like to ask John Nicholson what part of Wales he moved to 25 years ago?

  40. Nice to see this thread resurrected. The decline in the number of people “able to speak Welsh” between 2001 and 2011 is, in part at least. an apparent decline. There was some research done to check on the validity of claims to be able to speak Welsh which found that the “household reference person” tended to over represent the Welsh language ability of children in the family. Because all children are taught Welsh in school parents accepted that this was an indication that they could speak Welsh.
    More recently, since the 2011 census, the same questions have have been raised about the language ability of young children in areas such as Monmouthshire, Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent. The number of children reported as able to speak Welsh is far greater than the number of children in WM schools.

    In general it’s fair to say that we are probably still at the 1991 level as far as “able to speak Welsh” is concerned but we have a far smaller percentage of people who are fluent in Welsh.

    There are some interesting excerpts from interviews with pupils in WM schools in this recent presentation to WISERD by Dr Sayers and Dr Selleck :-


    Control of the language of the playground may be counter productive.

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