current affairs

The Welsh language: How can it be preserved?

Written by Alex Veeneman

The preservation of the Welsh language has been a significant debate.

The preservation of the Welsh language has been a significant debate. Yet, with numbers from the 2011 Census indicating a decline in the number of people who speak Welsh, its future has been at the centre of debate.

On 31 January, the group Cymdeithas yr Iaith began a series of protests on bridges in Aberystwyth to call for action by the Welsh Government and First Minister Carwyn Jones. The group had called for a statement of action by 1 February on what can be done to preserve the language.

‘A great deal of lobbying and campaigning’

Robin Farrar, the chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said those protests sent a clear message to the government to take action, and more are on the way.

“We’re calling for 6 key policies that will enable the language to grow – clear rights to services in Welsh, Welsh-medium education for all, and changes to planning to reverse what are currently damaging trends,” Farrar said. “These protests were just the start of a campaign of civil disobedience that will last several months. There will be an element of non-violent law-breaking, but this also includes a great deal of lobbying and campaigning.”

The six points Farrar and his campaign call for are a Welsh-medium education for all, fair funding for the language by the government, making the Welsh language the language of work, clear language rights, and a community focused planning system, as well as making Welsh central to sustainable development.

Farrar says the language does have a future, but the concerns come to how it is used.

“There are over half a million Welsh speakers in Wales, and many of them are young people, so the language certainly has a future of some kind,” Farrar said. “But there’s a risk that the language becomes increasingly confined to cultural activities only – at the moment it’s much more than that, because we still have communities where it’s the natural language of everyday life, but the number of such communities has halved in the last 20 years and they’re still under threat.”

Promoting it for the future

Farrar says he wants to ensure the Welsh language can be used for every aspect of life.

In addition to protests, reports emerged of members of the campaign chaining themselves to the gates of an office of the Welsh government at Llandudno Junction on the morning of 17 February, according to a report from the BBC.

“We are very disappointed that Cymdeithas yr Iaith has decided to take this course of action, especially as we’ve held regular, and constructive, dialogue with the group,” said a spokesperson for the Welsh government. “Over the past year we have taken positive action to promote the Welsh language, including significant measures such as publishing proposed standards to improve Welsh language services to citizens. This isn’t just us saying this – Council of Europe experts recently said that the Welsh Government provides a strong commitment to the language.”

In a written statement issued 3 February, Jones says everyone has a role to play in the promotion of the future of the language.

“Our challenge is to promote the use of Welsh in everyday life across the whole of Wales, and everything the Welsh Government does is directed towards that aim,” Jones said. “The issues remain serious, but there is also much to celebrate. Many other bodies, both national and local, societies, schools, employers, families and individuals, all have their parts to play. The language is part of who we are and it belongs to everyone. All of us have a part to play in advancing its future.”

Jones added in his statement that he intended to make a further statement in the spring to outline further proposals.

Indeed, Farrar says everyone has a role to play in promoting the language, but Farrar hopes the policy changes will be made, and there will be an increase in Welsh speakers for the 2021 Census, something that will continue to be at the debate moving forward on preserving the Welsh language.

“Everyone who cares about the language (whether they speak it or not) has a part to play in its future,” Farrar said. “Cymdeithas, as a movement, has often acted as the conscience of the language. We believe the Welsh Government have a responsibility to act because so many of the decisions that will decide the future of the language are in their hands: in education, planning and housing as well as language policy in the public sector and regulation of the private sector.”

What do you think? What should the future of the Welsh language be? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: vivek_nallur / Flickr