The Linguist

The Linguist 53,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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24 The Linguist APRIL/MAY FEATURES Esyllt Meurig assesses the disappointing results of the 2011 census and what it means for the Welsh language According to the saying, there are 'lies, damn lies and statistics', but, as statistics go, the National Census is among the most reliable. The 2011 results were disappointing for the Welsh language. The proportion of the Welsh population able to speak it dropped from 21 percent in 2001 to 19 percent – a reduction of 20,000 people. The language is in decline in its heartlands and this is not compensated for by growth in other areas. There are now 562,000 people in Wales who report that they can speak Welsh. The figures have been decreasing since the question was first asked in the 1891 census, in which 54 percent said that they spoke Welsh. This decline accelerated in the following decades and, in the 1960s, the dramatist, poet and politician Saunders Lewis called for revolutionary measures to save the language, leading to considerable activism, including attacks on English-only road signs. This downward trend continued until 2001, when an increase was recorded for the first time. In 2011, respondents were able to choose between reading, writing, understanding, speaking or any combination of skills, but there were no options for differing levels of competence, which may have discouraged some learners from ticking the box. Welsh speakers living in England were not able to answer the detailed question on knowledge of the language. It is estimated that 100,000 of the world's Welsh speakers live in England or the rest of the UK, and anything between 1,000 and 8,000 in Patagonia, Argentina. Although classed as vulnerable by Unesco, Welsh was declared to be 'safe' by David Crystal. On a chart of most spoken languages, it is in the top seven percent in the world. Census figures also show that many speakers are young and that interest in Welsh-medium education remains steady. In addition to a hard-won television channel and print media, the language has a presence in new technologies, with Welsh Wikipedia growing and the language coming third in the ranking of minority languages most used on Twitter. Welsh has official status in Wales, alongside English, and is arguably the most successful Celtic language, with more speakers than Breton, Cornish, Manx and Scots Gaelic together, and more native speakers than Irish. Furthermore, Welsh language policy is often seen as best practice for minority languages. There is a myth that most people in North Wales speak Welsh and no one in South Wales. In fact, most areas of Wales are traditionally Welsh-speaking, and most inhabitants were monoglot speakers until around 1870, even though English has been the favoured language since the 1535 Act of Union. Welsh is generally strongest in the west and weakest in the east, closer to the border with England, although there is no clear-cut geographical split. The Welsh-speaking heartlands, known as Y Fro Gymraeg (or 'the Fro'), stretch from Anglesey and Gwynedd in the north-west to Carmarthenshire in the south-west, and also include pockets of other counties (see map, above). The county with the highest number of speakers, at 78,000, is Carmarthenshire but as this represents a six percent reduction, it is among the most disappointing results of the census. Less than 50 percent of people in the county can now speak Welsh. There have also been drastic reductions in other traditionally Welsh-speaking areas, such as Ammanford. The higher percentages of speakers are in the north-west, with the exception of South Pembrokeshire – known as 'little England beyond Wales'. Blaenau Gwent in the south- east has the lowest percentage of speakers with 7.8 percent and Gwynedd has the highest with 65.4 percent. The language is doing relatively well there – although it, too, has seen a reduction in Welsh speakers – probably because it is protected by Gwynedd's education system and the county council's strict bilingual policy. Almost all of Gwynedd's primary schools are Welsh- medium and almost all of its secondary school pupils speak Welsh fluently. In contrast, Welsh-medium education is not universal in Carmarthenshire and most of the county council's internal workings are not carried out in Welsh. Dr Simon Brooks, a Senior Lecturer at Swansea University, has even claimed that Carmarthenshire should be Welsh: rise and fall? Powys Gwynedd Ceredigion Carmarthenshire Pembrokeshire Conwy Isle of Anglesey Denbighshire Flintshire Wrexham Monmouth shire Swansea Cardiff Neath Port Talbot WELSH SPEAKERS 2011 figures for Wales showing the percentage of Welsh speakers by area

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