Monday, 9 April 2012

Can the Welsh language survive?

I'll be quick to admit that I have never been to Wales. Usually one for picking the 'exotic' over the 'countryside' when it comes to holidays, I have never ventured that side of the Severn. But the latest campaign from Wales has certainly interested me, and this was further highlighted by a recent article in the Guardian.

Because, according to the latest statistics, the Welsh language is dying out. According to the Welsh Government, there are only 580,000 people in Wales speaking Welsh, about 21% of the population, whereas in the late 1800's, the figure was nearly 80%. There is a net loss of about 2,000 to 3,000 Welsh speakers each year as a result of factors such as death and outmigration.

Which is possibly why the Welsh tourism board have produced this new advertising campaign, to re-establish Wales as a part of our culture and society.

It's certainly sad when any language dies out. After spending most of my college years studying language variation and change, I became fascinated in language change, particularly in pidgins and creoles. Therefore, I look at these statistics from an academic point of view, and from my own personal view.

From an academics point of view, the new figures are somewhat alarming. No matter how small Wales is, it plays a very important part in the British society. Its heritage - whether it be cultural or economical - form part of the British society, so to dismiss the new figures as a sign of a growing problem would be somewhat fickle. Surely promoting the Welsh language would be a good idea for all of us?

But then again, from my own personal perspective, what is the point in the Welsh language? I mean, what with English so widely spoken, with England inevitably holding the most power in Britain, what is the point in trying to protect the national dialect?

Arguably, it is a question that Wales is trying to answer. The Welsh Assembly recently introduced new legislation appointing a commissioner of the Welsh Language through the Welsh Language 2011 Measure. Meri Huws spoke out about how she wished to restore the trust people have in the language, with Scotland and Northern Ireland all watching her closely to see if they can mirror her success.

Language commissioners are nothing new, in fact they are widespread in countries like Canada and Ireland,  but do they work? Huws believes she can help promote the Welsh language through various codes and laws, such as fining companies who fail to promote Wales and its language. Schools are tyring hard, and even market sellers are trying to promote the language.

But the public remain dubious, with many people in Wales conceding that the language is doomed to become extinct in the next few decades. For me, this is sad and something that should be helped to protect. Our country is built on its multicultural past, with language varieties such as the Welsh language forming our rich history.

Times change as society evolves. Arguably, the present English language could be described as more American then English as it once was, so maybe the national government could collate their efforts into protecting both languages. If the government can lay down laws meaning any immigrant must learn English, maybe something similar could be said for anyone who moves to Wales?

Time will tell, but I would like to think that in centuries to come, the Welsh language will still be alive and kicking.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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