Ruth Richards says new standards only provide a partial solution to problems with people using and enjoying the Welsh language.
The process of formulating and agreeing the first round of Welsh language standards has been by the Welsh Language Commissioner’s own admission in her Annual Report, “lengthy and laborious”. Compliance notices have now been set for local authorities, National Parks and Welsh Ministers. It is to be hoped that this new (and untested) process will be assimilated as swiftly and painlessly as possible.
If the standards succeed, they will lead to more uniform Welsh-language provision throughout Wales. The policy making standards will require an assessment of the linguistic impact of any decisions taken. At a time when policy decisions are driven by cuts and budgetary constraints, this has to be a positive and timely development.
The relevant bodies will be required to uphold the rights of Welsh speakers and provide them with the offer of receiving services through the medium of Welsh. The onus of responsibility however, rests firmly on the individual service user, who is expected to request this and complain if the request is not adequately dealt with. Although this principle confirms the legal status of the language, it nevertheless assumes that Welsh is always the alternative; an assumption that makes no sense in areas where a significant number speak the language, and where the local authority has taken positive steps to normalise its use. It was encouraging to see that negotiations between Gwynedd Council and the Commissioner led to agreement upon a series of requirements that went some way to acknowledging the linguistic culture of the authority, but this only serves to illustrate the limitations of the standards as a means of actively encouraging the use of Welsh.
In areas where the Welsh language is not as strong, and public sector commitment not as proactive, the process of requesting, demanding and complaining can be intimidating. This is particularly true for the Welsh speaker who lacks confidence, or for anyone who (perhaps understandably) wishes their contact with a local authority to be as swift and uncomplicated as possible.
The rights and regulations of the language standards must therefore be counterbalanced with a more flexible and positive approach; one that promotes the language as a natural choice and medium of expression. This should not only apply to accessing public services, but also to increasing the use of Welsh within the community and in the workplace. It is interesting to note that while there are standards aimed at increasing the Welsh language capacity of the local authority workforce, and emphasising workers’ rights to receive documentation and official interviews in Welsh, there is little encouragement to establish a Welsh-speaking workplace or administration.
It is also worrying that the promotion standards are conspicuously vague in comparison to the other highly prescriptive requirements. When it comes to actively promoting the informal use of the language, authorities are only required to produce a Welsh Languge Strategy, the contents of which are not specified in any detail. It can only be hoped that in time, further guidance and good practice will bring greater clarity, but this remains the area of highest priority and urgency; the one which has the most potential to bring about meaningful change.
While the Welsh language standards will undoubtedly force many local authorities to take their responsibility towards the language more seriously, in their current form, they can only provide a partial solution. If more people are to use and enjoy using the language, imaginative and creative initiatives are needed. Disturbingly, these are the kind of initiatives that have recently seen cutbacks and cancellations (projects aimed at increasing individual confidence to speak Welsh or the use of the language in the home, for instance). It needs to be acknowledged that the bureaucracy of the Welsh language standards cannot on their own engender enthusiasm for the language or encourage its use by any who are not already confident in their fluency and eloquence. As the standards are finally imposed and implemented, regulation must no longer be allowed to take the focus away from initiatives aimed at increasing the use of the language within as many different and pleasurable situations as possible. The Welsh language – like any other language – deserves to be celebrated and encouraged as a medium for joyous (as well as official) communication.
25 thoughts on “The Welsh Language Standards: Time to Balance the Priorities?”
Good article that highlights so many of the difficulties in growing and furnishing what has now become a minority language in Wales. However, our continued failed attempts over the years to save and make the language prosper, by treading softly and skirting around thorny issues have failed. The tactic of trying so hard not to offend anyone or cause ire against yr hen iaith has only served to strengthen the nay saying, xenophobic monolinguals, who have used our sense of fairness and reasonable thought to ridicule and denigrate. It makes us look weak! I say lets get in their faces! Let’s stand up for bilingualism by demanding the unalienable right for anyone in Cymru to live their lives through the medium of Welsh! Any institution public or private who fails to provide that opportunity at the first point of call, should be subjugated to an investigation and severe penalties if found wanting. That’s it! No ifs, no buts. The only concession to English we should be making is that access to both languages must be on completely equal terms.
Very true, the framing of Welsh in terms of something which HAS to be complied with leads to the impression that it’s something that no-one would do voluntarily, hence the bad fit with Cyngor Gwynedd, who do just this. We do need a system of regulation to make sure people’s basis rights not being breached, but why is this down to the individual? The Auditor General will be assessing whether public bodies in Wales have complied with their duties under the Well-being of Future Generations Act, why can’t Welsh language standards be incorporated into this system, or at least parallel that approach? We need to be careful about how we frame all this. The system as it stands no only risks making the Welsh standards look like a burden but with the onus of individuals to enforce them, risks making this look like the agenda of a few individual hot heads! We need the Welsh Government to bring in a system which clearly has a statutory footing and doesn’t rely on the depleted energy of insulted service users to enforce it. We also need the positive, creative side of bilingualism unpacked at the same time, showing our support as a country for bilingualism.
Not sure what to make of this article but if nothing else exposes the sheer lunacy of Welsh language imposition especially in areas of Wales where there is no demand or even any need for the Welsh language.
Many local authorities are now faced with the huge costs to achieve compliance with the new Welsh Language Standards and many have complained bitterly to the Welsh Language Commissioner but in all cases these complaints are falling on deaf ears and huge implications on ability to provide well funded key services ignored and now compromised.
By coincidence only last week Carwyn Jones wrote to me telling me that Wales is now a ‘bilingual nation’ and that he was sick and tired of Welsh language being treated as a ‘political football as he put it but at no time Carwyn addressed the key issues I raised with him to explain where the mandate came from to Socially Engineer Wales into a Welsh speaking nation!
It’s absurd that at no point politicians consulted Welsh population on this very issue and long overdue for people of Wales to be asked and by referendum if the Welsh language is wanted or not!?
Russell Elliott – regarding your comment
‘the framing of Welsh in terms of something which HAS to be complied with leads to the impression that it’s something that no-one would do voluntarily’
well perhaps that is often the case.
But leaving that aside, the remedies suggested by Richard Jenkins, namely
‘ Any institution public or private who fails to provide that opportunity at the first point of call, should be subjugated to an investigation and severe penalties if found wanting. That’s it! No ifs, no buts.’
would be totally counterproductive. Compulsion is not likely to lead to love of the language, rather the opposite. As to what the penalties might be I dread to think!
Interesting to see that Classic FM have put on 200,000 listeners over the past 3 months whilst Radio Wales dropped 20,000 and Radio Cymru 12,000.
As always the author and the two commenters miss the point or maybe they wilfully misrepresent. I don’t know.
If I say that people who have a home language (Welsh) are disadvantaged if they cannot access services in that language then I can say that, in legally bilingual Wales, Welsh first language speakers have a “right” which is unfulfilled.
At present Welsh L1 speakers or, indeed, anyone who has Welsh language ability, has certain legally enforceable rights. They cannot, for instance, be forced to refrain from speaking Welsh in their workplace. Their right to expression at all times through the medium of Welsh is protected.
In order that Welsh L1 speakers can access all services through the medium of Welsh all people in Wales must not only be able to speak, read and write Welsh but they must waive their own right to speak, read and write their first language if that language is English. The right to speak English at work and at all other times is not protected by law and Welsh is taught in schools on a compulsory basis in order that everyone in Wales can serve Welsh first language speakers.
The question that is never asked is; are the rights denied to Welsh speakers when they can’t get a service through the medium of Welsh as important as the rights of English speakers who choose to speak English but are increasingly denied work or promotion because don’t or won’t speak Welsh?
Whenever I raise this thorny issue the response is much the same; Welsh speakers were denied employment and the right to speak Welsh long ago…it’s payback time. Or; the English language doesn’t need protection, Welsh does.
In the first case it’s an over simplification of history. Just as now many parents in the South of Wales try to make sure that their children go to Welsh medium schools, historically parents in Wales sent their children to school in England to lose their Welsh and accent (if they could afford it) or, as happened here in Anglesey, English teachers were given incentives to set up schools in Wales. On the whole people in Wales benefited…they became more employable and mobile in a world dominated by the English language.
The second objection is the “saving the language from dying” position. No matter how frequently “The Language” is anthropomorphised (and that is endlessly) Welsh has no feelings, it is not in pain, it cannot suffer and it cannot be put on an operating table and given the kiss of life. On the other hand people who speak Welsh can and do benefit economically, politically and socially by demanding that the Welsh language be “saved” by ever more draconian Language measures.
At the moment (2015) 7.7% of Welsh primary school pupils speak Welsh fluently at home.In 2014 that figure was 7.8%. In secondary schools 8.6% of pupils speak Welsh fluently at home in 2015 and that figure was 8.7% in 2014.
That is a fair view of the present and the future, the percentage of people who can demand the “right” to services in their first language is small and falling. Everyone else is being trained to serve those people and lay aside their own language rights in employment and in education.
“Interesting to see that Classic FM have put on 200,000 listeners over the past 3 months whilst Radio Wales dropped 20,000 and Radio Cymru 12,000.”
When there are relatively few listeners RAJAR figures can be volatile and unreliable but in the last 3 Quarters Radio Cymru has posted, 126,000, 116,000, 104,000. Looking back to September 2013 figures, Radio Cymru had 143,000 listeners.
Whenever there is a free choice of language medium in Wales precious few people use their “right” to a Welsh language service. It’s almost as if Welsh people prefer to use English.
The recent survey of Wales has this to say about use of Welsh in the WNHS:-
“64% of Welsh speakers said they would prefer to communicate in English with health and social care
staff, 17% preferred to communicate in Welsh, and 19% had no strong preference. In the last 12 months,
31% had used Welsh to communicate with health and social care staff and 69% had not used Welsh in
So, paradoxically, 14% who would prefer to use English to communicate with NHS staff had actually used Welsh, presumably as a concession to Welsh speaking staff who wished to use their own first language; Welsh.
Of those with no preference 52% had actually used Welsh, 2% more than would be expected.
Of those who preferred to use Welsh, 73% had used Welsh.
So, to put this in perspective, that’s 17% of 19% (Census “Able to speak Welsh”) who wanted to use Welsh specifically, those who may consider that their language rights were denied by not being able to speak Welsh in an NHS setting. That is 95,542 people who would prefer to use Welsh in this circumstance. Of those 73% had their requirement satisfied and 27% did not. So that is 25,796 people or 0.873% of the over age 3 population of Wales who have their language rights denied in an NHS setting.
And for this we have countless Welsh language pressure groups, draconian language laws, and of course, Meri Huws.
It’s about time politicians in Wales stopped trying to score “more Welsh than you” points through Welsh language support and actually acknowledged that in Wales English is the language of choice amongst Welsh speakers…apart from those who derive economic benefit from demanding more and stricter Welsh language measures.
JJones, like Mr Protic, has a view that is distorted by living in Gwynedd. Elsewhere few or no jobs or promotion depend on speaking Welsh. vice chancellors of universities and chief executives of councils in other parts of the Bro Cymraeg are frequently monoglot English. Our government and civil service is almost entirely English-speaking. Only in the BBC is there even informal pressure to speak Welsh. It is unknown elsewhere in mid- ,South and North-East Wales. The distortion here is to suppose that practices that apply in Gwynedd, where Welsh speakers are still a majority and a much higher proportion than the numbers quoted by JJ, apply elsewhere in Wales. They don’t. You can live in Cardiff, never come across Welsh except on street signs and no-one cares.
Which raises the question: why don’t they accept the preference of the local majority or move elsewhere in Wales? Is it masochism or just wanting to have something to moan about?
Yes,Yes Ross. I know “get outa town stranger. We don’t like your kind round here.”
Is it really just Gwynedd that is forced to employ Welsh speakers to fulfil the requirements of Welsh language measures? This article by the BBC seems to suggest that several LA’s that aren’t Gwynedd are actually taking on extra Welsh speaking staff at the behest of Meri Huws.
Of course Gwynedd and Anglesey, who have long had a policy of only employing fluent Welsh speakers, won’t incur any extra cost. The cost of not being employed by the largest employer in those two local authorities is born by those not fluent in Welsh….but remember that the majority of adults in Anglesey are NOT fluent in Welsh and in all of Wales of course only Gwynedd has a majority of its adults who are fluent in Welsh. Even then about 40% of adults are unable to take employment with the LA because they don’t have high level Welsh skills. Local authorities like Carmarthenshire effectively prevent three quarters of their adult population from employment by bringing in a policy of conducting its internal business through the medium of Welsh.
R Tredwyn is making this debate ‘personal’ in the absence of any rational argument to justify Orwellian Wales and a culture of ‘Entitlement’ by the Welsh speaking minority. For the record I do not live in Gwynedd and I believe the same applies to J Jones.
My stance on Welsh language issues is strictly down to being a parent of two kids in Welsh education and seeing first-hand the damage done to children from non-Welsh speaking homes who are attending schools in highly Anglicised areas of North Wales based on Estyn reports.
These kids including my two are taught by Welsh speaking teachers who in most cases are employed upon their Welsh language skills rather than the teaching competence (In other words most of them are more than useless)!
Disproportionate teaching time is lost on subjects that should matter especially the Numeracy, Science and English language literacy. All of them are sacrificed for the sake of the Welsh language.
We should not forget that the Welsh language is imposed on vast majority of kids who have no interest in the language and drop it within seconds of leaving their classrooms. This situation exists throughout Wales as Welsh is a compulsory subject till the kids reach 16 years of age!
Going back to Carwyn Jones’ letter I mentioned in my first comment where CJ also states that WM education and Welsh language ‘teaching’ is responding to the ever growing demand – For starters this statement is a FRAUD as the DfES Wales when asked to support this very stance with some hard facts under the Freedom of Information Act’s provisions they had to admit that they had none!
So the ‘Culture of Entitlement’ goes on unabated and public dialogue or debate is shut down by the ‘More Equal People’ who are firmly in control of the Welsh media including the BBC CYMRU CYMRU wales – Dark times ahead or Wales!
Why are there so many people on this website that are so negative towards anything that is welsh? The language, the history, devolution. Am i missing something here?
@ R. Tredwyn
“Which raises the question: why don’t they accept the preference of the local majority or move elsewhere in Wales?”
You still don’t get it do you? To have a preference there has to be a choice. In education, much of public sector employment, and even some 3rd sector jobs, in Gwynedd there is no choice!
It is clear from years of FoIA enquiries that only about 20% of adults in Gwynedd do their public administration in Welsh despite the endless misinformation – on that basis the local preference of ~70-80% is to live the important parts of their lives in English. We are the bloody local majority! In most of Wales it is less than 2% doing public admin in Welsh!
Talking the talk and walking the walk are totally different and it’s time these taxpayer-funded professional liars and obfuscators about language use were held to account. They have spent years and an incalculable amount of money weaving a carefully crafted web of deceit.
Welsh is increasingly just a social language and even then it’s dying on its feet, starting with the kids from around age 8. Again there are umpteen reports commissioned by Gwynedd Council confirming this – confirming the failure of their own policies, those of the WG, and those of the WLC! Which part of FAIL don’t these people understand? And their response to failure is more of the same failed anti-democratic increasingly discriminatory Welsh language fascism.
I noticed Gwynedd Council are having (another) go at destroying the only vaguely EM secondary school in the County, Friars School in Bangor, by trying to force more Welsh onto parents and kids who clearly don’t want it. If they get their way, soon there won’t be any LEA funded place of safety in Gwynedd for L1 English kids who have already had their potential nuked by compulsory WM primary education – nowhere to undo/minimise the long-term damage and the Council just doesn’t give a damn!
As for moving out of Gwynedd into other parts of Wales – in the present circumstances that would appear to be a sure sign of madness! No – the people who leave this neck of the woods mostly just leave for England – frequently to try and undo the damage done to their L1 English kids’ education in Gwynedd primary ysgols and/or to get a job commensurate with their abilities in a less discriminatory labour market.
Apart, of course, from the missionaries leaving for S. Wales to spread the WL and nationalist gospel, often to impressionable kids.
The other thing you don’t get is that the WL policies in Gwynedd have, for years, in conjunction with the WLB and the WLC, been a template for the rest of Wales – a few reports actually allude to this in their pre-amble. Most parents in Wales would be absolutely horrified if they read the Gwynedd Schools Charter but it’s coming to a street near you.
The fact that nearly everybody does their public administration in English is what makes these WL Standards so obscene!
@R Tredwyn – unfortunately the idea that few jobs depend on the ability to speak Welsh only tells half the story. If the job advert specifies Welsh in any way then, as I know only too well, it can have an effect on the quality of the job applicant. And, as someone said to me recently, those in power are terrified of the Welsh language lobby. It is simply NOT PC to be in any way seen as against ‘bi-lingualism for everyone’, no matter what the practicalities or cost may be. And as some of the councils are now pointing out, there is a considerable cost in time and money which could probably be deployed on other areas of higher real importance.
The more the activists press their case in the way that groups like Cymdeithas have been doing recently, the less likely they are to succeed. Time to sit down and take a hard, unemotional look at the practicalities, such as the costs, the quality and number of teachers required and the reasons why it is a difficult language to learn particularly when ‘surrounded’ by English. There might then be a chance of ensuring that the Welsh language actually has a future.
“Which raises the question: why don’t they accept the preference of the local majority or move elsewhere in Wales? Is it masochism or just wanting to have something to moan about? ”
Throughout the UK there are people are moaning about difference. Be it difference in race, colour, creed, gender, etc even trivial things such as a person’s choice to were low slung jeans!
In Cymru there are those who can moan about a difference based on language or to be accurate, moan about the existence of a bilingualism we have in Wales as compared with the general monoglotism we have across the whole of the UK . My guess is that these moaners don’t all have the exact same reasons for moaning about Cymraeg but I’d be surprised if there were examples where “difference” didn’t figure in there somewhere.
Given that we live in a democracy, why can’t use of the Welsh language be allowed to ‘find it’s own level’ rather than be subject to the influence of unelected quangos?
JWalker. Conditions in Gwynedd are unlike those in the rest of Wales. Apart from a few jobs in the BBC there isn’t any requirement to speak Welsh for jobs in other parts of Wales. Just look at the people occupying top jobs. Welsh speakers are a rarity. I agree that Welsh language education in many EM schools is a waste of time since after ten years of compulsory “education” many kids can’t put a Welsh sentence together. Your response is why teach it at all, my response is how do we do it better. Other countries manage to sustain bilingualism and decent standards so it can’t be impossible given goodwill. Your remarks and those of Jacques Protic indicate a settled hostility to Welsh and no goodwill at all.
C. Parry:- If we lived in a true democracy then the same regulations that apply for Welsh medium schooling would apply to English medium schooling. Since local authorities in Wales are obliged to run periodic “parental preference surveys” to establish how many parents would put their child into a Welsh medium school if one was provided within two miles of home, in a democratic country every local authority would be obliged to ask the counter question; “how many parents would put their child into an English medium school if one was provided within two miles of home?”.
The government says that LAs with greater than 25% of their population able to speak Welsh don’t have to run parental preference surveys (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Conwy) and certainly don’t have to ask whether parents would like an English medium school for their child. Therefore parents in those LAs are discriminated against on the basis of their language of choice in a “Bilingual” country.
Once again it’s a definition thing, as Ruth Richards makes clear, Bilingual means all Welsh speaking and discrimination against English L1 people.
At the moment the assumption is that most of Wales is unaffected by our Welsh language laws, that it has no impact on the majority outside the Fro Cymraeg, but it’s early days. Research shows that, particularly people from disadvantaged households, place their child in the nearest primary school to their home. In places in the South and SE it is increasingly the case that the nearest school will be Welsh medium with no EM option. We know from years of data now that pupils from L1 English homes who go to WM primary schools under perform in comparison to pupils in similar EM schools. The ones who suffer most are those from disadvantaged home backgrounds.
It seems that only in Wales could the political establishment deliberately disadvantage its most vulnerable children for the sake of a greedy, pampered, strident minority.
“Given that we live in a democracy, why can’t use of the Welsh language be allowed to ‘find it’s own level’ rather than be subject to the influence of unelected quangos?”
You’re using “democracy” to justify the use of the Welsh language to “find it’s own level”.
Could you give me a list (as comprehensive as you are able ) of the other things about our society that you think should be allowed to find their own level. Diolch.
@CapM – in the interests of keeping this discussion on topic I’ll spare you the list you ask for. Quite why you feel that any such list would be relevant I’m not sure. My point was that surely the use of the Welsh language (which by the way I’m not denigrating in any way) should be a matter of individual choice, and not foisted upon the population by our leaders and their representatives. The right to choose is something that should be preserved – I view it as a basic right to be frank.
May I agree with R.Elliott’s closing remarks and try to look at the positive and creative side of bilingualism and showing support for bilingualism rather than trying to extinguish one of Europe’s oldest cultures. As Professor Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver put at the very end of their series on the Celts- across the fringes of Europe, in Ireland, Scotland,Wales, Brittany and Cornwall, the language of the Celts, their most important legacy lived on”. Despite many challenges over the centuries we still endure and hope that this legacy which adds to the world’s diversity and conservation of endangered species, will live on, despite the hostility of many of the contributors.
Some of the points are patently unbalanced. English is taught in every school and in most as much as 90% of the curriculum is taught in English. English is a widely used language and is under no threat. I studied it to “A” Level and taught is a Foreign Language under the VSO scheme in Indonesia. That does not mean that I wish to denigrate my own identity and culture. Since the Education Reform Act of 1988, passed bu a Conservative Government, all Welsh pupils have been required to learn Welsh from 5 – 16. Why have so many failed? If they are incapable of learning a language which is still widely used and necessary for some positions in Wales after 11years, are they really suitable to fill any of those jobs or to deal with people who want to conduct their business in Welsh? Negativity and hostility to Welsh speakers as evidenced by some contributors make them unsuited to dealing with any bilingual situations.
I trust that J.Protic has evidence for his sweeping allegations as they appear to border on the libellous.
Apart from the historical and cultural reasons for learning Welsh as well as English, there is now a solid body of research evidence which demonstrates the cognitive and educational advantages of bilingualism. One of the most experienced and respected in the field of this area of research is Jim Cummins of toronto University:
“Overwhelming research evidence that bi/miltilingualism promotes:
– greater “executive control -ability to focus attention and weed out distractions;
– awareness of language and how it works
– faster and more effective learning of additional languages.
Apart from Cummins and other Canadian researchers such as Swain, Lapkin, Gennessee and Bialystock, the monoglots might care to consider the work of Professor Antonella Soracce at Edinburgh University. She has led research into Gaelic – English and Sard – Italian bilinguals vs monoloinguals and runs an international company called “Bilingual Matters” Her conclusions are identical to those of Cummins.
Why Welsh/ English bilingualism? because it is the obvious starting point in Wales. What we have not done is to build on this advantage and move on to other languages at an early age when children are most likely to learn a language before becoming self conscious in their teens.
If the Welsh rejectionists feel so bitter towards us that this is unpalatable it is a sad reflection on your prejudices. We can build a bilingual Wales and on that foundation learn to respect and appreciate other peoples and cultures.
” in the interests of keeping this discussion on topic I’ll spare you the list you ask for. Quite why you feel that any such list would be relevant I’m not sure.”
You’ve used democracy as a justification for non intervention in the fate of the Welsh language. I’m interested to know what sort of society we could look forward to if your understanding of what “democracy” was applied across the board.
“My point was that surely the use of the Welsh language (which by the way I’m not denigrating in any way) should be a matter of individual choice, and not foisted upon the population by our leaders and their representatives. The right to choose is something that should be preserved – I view it as a basic right to be frank. ”
For that to be more than rhetoric you’ll need to list what it is about the promotion of the Welsh language that is preventing you from choosing to use English.
” Despite many challenges over the centuries we still endure and hope that this legacy which adds to the world’s diversity and conservation of endangered species, will live on, despite the hostility of many of the contributors.”
The Welsh language is not an “endangered species” and neither are Welsh speakers. When quoting all the advantages of bilingualism found by Canadians W. Thomas should also acknowledge that there has been more recent studies of Welsh/English bilinguals compared to English speaking monolinguals in Wales. No bilingual advantage was found.
New NHS direct figures out today:-
76,554 calls were made to NHS Direct Wales. 426 calls were answered (out of 431 made) from callers expressing a preference for the call to be taken in Welsh (around 0.8% of all calls answered).
For this we have a Welsh Language Commissioner?
@CapM – Don’t patronise me. It’s not rhetoric – I am fortunate in that I am able to choose to speak only English. Unfortunately that luxury isn’t afforded to the school kids who are given no choice in the matter. It’s simply wrong that those children that don’t wish to learn Welsh seemingly have no right to choose. It’s being foisted upon them whether they like it or not. Insanity, and a shocking waste of money. We should have a referendum on the matter, following full disclosure of the costs of keeping the language alive.
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