Saturday, January 12, 2013

Spreading the Language of Heaven (Welsh)

The 2011 census showed that the number of people in Wales who speak the Welsh Language has fallen from 582,000 to 562,000 over the last 10 yrs - against the background of a rising population. These numbers translate into a fall from 21% to 19%. Demographic and migration factors may well account for some of this fall, but I must admit it was more than I expected. I must also admit to being surprised by the absence of any concern amongst 'significant' National Assembly personages whom I would have expected to be sounding the alarm. I know that non-Welsh speakers have moved in, but that's always been, and will continue. I also know that the age profile of Welsh speakers has an impact, which may reduce over time. But a 2% drop was still of concern to me. I'd hoped for flat-lining, which would have been very encouraging.

Anyway, I wanted to comment on a 'conference' of Welsh speaking communities at Aberystwyth today. It seems from reports that Menna Machreth is the driving force behind this. The idea, according to her is "language planning from the bottom up". The BBC reports her as saying "By bringing them (Welsh speaking communities) together we hope to start that discussion, and hopefully we can work together, inspire each other, share good practice and hopefully come up with ideas from our own communities". This is a terrifically positive and constructive approach. I wish Menna, and all who sail with her the best of following winds in their ambition.

Since I was a young lad, our attitude to the Welsh Language (Yr Iaith Cymraeg) has been transformed. In the 1950s/60s, Welsh was the 'language of failure', and Welsh speaking parents did not want their children to be able to speak it. Not long since, those who were caught speaking Welsh at many schools were punished - an official policy. My 5 sisters and I knew but a few simple words. It was only when I became an Assembly Member in 1999 that I decided to set about learning the language with serious intent. But since then, we have seen a revolution in attitude - helped by the creation of S4C, Education Acts which made teaching compulsory, and a Welsh Language Act (incidentally all implemented by Conservative Gov'ts). We've also seen changes in official status. All we need now is to build on these foundations is the right attitude - not hectoring, not aggressive towards non Welsh speakers, but ensuring those who speak and value Welsh actually use it when they can, at home. at work and at play. That's what I sense today's 'conference' is about. I hope it went well.

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