Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Decline of Welsh on Anglesey has Slowed Down Significantly

The island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) is known for being the 2nd most Welsh-speaking county of Wales, after neighbouring Gwynedd, of course.  But just how well is Welsh actually doing there?

The table below shows how the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home has changed over time:

Table 1.
As you can see, the decline of Welsh on Anglesey was very rapid between the early '50s and mid '70s, but has been much slower in the four decades since.  Between 1953 and 1974, the percentage of primary school children on the island speaking Welsh at Home fell nearly 30 percentage points in just two decades, yet fell less than nine percentage points in the four decades after.  This sure seems like a miracle, compared to what has happened down south in Dyfed:

Table 2.
This, I hope, will cheer up my readers as my previous articles on the state of the Welsh Language have had very little good news.

So why is this? Why has the decline of Welsh on Anglesey slowed down so much?  The answer is all to do with geography.  But before we look at geography, we need to look at some history.

The decline of Welsh on Anglesey since the turn of the twentieth century can be divided into three distinct phases: 1) 1900-1950s: Some of Anglesey's Towns become Anglicised Enclaves, 2) 1950s - 70s: Anglicisation of much of Coastal Anglesey, and, 3) 1970s-Present: Relative Stabilisation.

1: 1900-1950s: Some of Anglesey's Towns become Anglicised Enclaves
Three of Anglesey's towns appear to have become anglicised enclaves during this period:
  • Beaumaris was the first of Anglesey's towns to become an enclave of English, and already by 1911, only 46.8% of 3-4 year old children in that town could speak Welsh. 
  • Holyhead -  in 1921 81.4% of 3-4 year old residents in the town could speak Welsh but by 1968 only 23% of children in the town's primary schools came from Welsh-speaking homes.  What is interesting is that the percentage of the overall population able to speak Welsh remained high throughout this period, only falling below 70% between 1961 and 1971.  
  • Menai Bridge (known in Welsh as Porthaethwy) -  the percentage of 3-4 year old residents in the town who were able to speak Welsh fell from 87.5% in 1911 to 73.8% in 1921.  This rapid decline even back then suggests that the town could likely have already been anglicised by the postwar period.

2: 1950s-70s: Anglicisation of much of Coastal Anglesey
It was during this period that 'catastrophe' struck, and the Anglicization of coastal areas was no longer a question of enclaves.  Two maps show this change very clearly:
Percentage of PS children fluent in Welsh
in 1975.  By then, most of the East and    
North Coasts were Anglicised, along with
the countryside opposite Ynys Gybi.         
Percentage of people able to speak 
Welsh in 1961.  As you can see, nearly
all of Anglesey is above 70%, save for
a handful of coastal enclaves.             

In other words, this was when the language divide between coastal and hinterland Anglesey became so apparent, and it was the Anglicization of those coastal areas which caused the percentage of PS children from Welsh-speaking homes to drop below 50% for the first time in millennia.

With regards to Anglesey's towns, the coast-hinterland divide was just as stark; by the mid-70s, coastal Amlwch had been anglicised while the landlocked county town of Llangefni managed to stay Welsh-speaking.

3. 1970s-Present: Relative Stablisation
If you compare the map of the island showing the percentage of primary school children who were fluent in Welsh in 1975 with a map showing the percentage of children from Welsh-speaking homes in 2017, you will see that they are practically identical:

Dark Green: 70-100% of children speaking Welsh at Home in 2017
Light Green: 50-70%
Yellow: 20-50%
Orange: 0-20%  
In other words, those areas that were still Welsh-speaking forty years ago, appear to be still Welsh-speaking now - the language borders of the 70s have not closed in, and that is why the drop in the percentage of children from Welsh-speaking homes on Anglesey has been so small since the 1970s, compared to before.

Compared to what has happened in most of the rest of Wales, this is little short of a miracle.  But why? Why has the hinterland of Anglesey stayed Welsh-speaking, when in the hinterland of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, Welsh has all but collapsed as the living community language?

As an Englishman myself it saddens me to come to this conclusion, but it seems that it is because Central Anglesey hasn't been a popular move-to-the-country destination for non-Welsh-speaking city dwellers in the same way that rural Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire have.

The Future
The great news is that the surviving Welsh-speaking areas of Anglesey do not appear to be about to collapse any time soon.  Indeed, in 2017, there were 24 primary schools on the island where most children spoke Welsh at home, up from 23 in 2013.

Of the 25 primary schools which had a Welsh-at-home majority in either 2013 or in 2017, 15 saw an increase in the percentage speaking Welsh at home.  Likewise, in the town of Llangefni, both the number and the percentage of children in the town's two primary schools speaking Welsh at Home went up.

The remaining Welsh-speaking areas of Anglesey appear to be holding out very well, therefore.  Thus, compared to what appears to be happening elsewhere in the Fro Gymraeg, the statistics from Anglesey are a big breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Why the 'Tourette's' Comment in Lampeter should Wake Wales Up.

This is now the second time in a few months that a Welsh-speaker in the town of Lampeter has been insulted by a non-Welsh incomer.  This time a Welsh-speaking customer in the Ceredigion town was told by an English employee serving her in Greggs that she sounded like she had 'tourette's' when she tried to order in Welsh. 

Not only is this the second time in two months, it is also just one of many such instances of Welsh-speakers being insulted by strangers for speaking their own language in their own country.  This has happened not only in places like Lampeter, where Welsh-speakers have rapidly become the minority, but also in areas where they are still very much the majority such as Blaenau Ffestiniog, and not to mention Tudweiliog, where there was racist anti-Welsh graffiti on the beach only earlier this year.

 Being racist towards the Welsh or towards the Welsh Language in Wales is not like being racist towards Pakistani or Polish immigrants in England.  A better comparison would be if you had foreigners in England being racist towards us English, or foreigners in France being racist towards the French.

Such a situation in either England or France would be absolutely unthinkable, and so it should be equally unthinkable in Wales.  There needs to be an honest debate about why such racist remarks are thinkable to some in Wales. 

The Collapse of the Welsh Language is a Lesson for the Rest of the World

People often say that non-Welsh in-migration is, and has been, the downfall of the Welsh Language.  Certainly, if you were to compare the strength of Welsh in, say, Blaenau Ffestiniog to the strength of Welsh in, say,  Barmouth, you will definitely reach that conclusion.

However, in-migration has not been the only factor in the collapse of Welsh as a living community language, and its importance, I think is overstated.  You may think, that as an Englishman, I would say that anyway, but bear in mind that in Argentina, for example, some 52% of the country is of Italian descent, and yet, no, Argentina is not an Italian-speaking country.  In London, where I am from, in-migration has in no way weakened the local language, English.

So why is the situation so different in Wales?  In London, everybody is expected to, and kinda has to, speak the local language, regardless of what country they’re from, and this what I have always considered to be the ‘normal’ situation.  Even in the most Welsh-speaking areas of Wales, however, people who aren’t Welsh generally won’t speak Welsh. 

An obvious reason behind this difference is the fact that every adult and teenage Welsh-speaker in Wales can also speak English, meaning that if you are an English-speaking incomer, there is little obvious need to learn Welsh.

Bilingualism in Wales is hence very one-way, with 100% of Cymry Cymreig also speaking English, and only 10% of native-English speakers in Wales also speaking Welsh.  And it’s One-way Bilingualism that is the problem. 

One-way Bilingualism means that if you have three Welsh-speakers and one English-speaker in the conversation, all four will have to speak English together, even if they’re in the heart of the Fro Gymraeg.

One-way Bilingualism means that if, in a Welsh-speaking area, the village shop is owned by someone who isn’t Welsh, then the rest of the village will not be able to shop in their own language, in their own country. Where I live in London, the nearest bakery happens to be Romanian, but that does not mean that we have to speak Romanian whenever we want to get good quality bread.

One-way Bilingualism has resulted in a situation where I have met countless locals in the Aberystwyth area who are non-Welsh-speaking merely because one of their four grandparents happened to not be Welsh, and that therefore English was the home language for the whole family from that point on. 

In London, such a situation would be, quite rightly, inconceivable. One-way Bilingualism has made the situation for Welsh much, much worse, when it should have survived much better during periods of higher levels of in-migration. Indeed, when you did have English incomers moving into majority Welsh-monoglot areas, they did indeed learn Welsh, as I discovered when looking at the 1911 Census returns for Bethesda, Gwynedd.

The trouble was, however, that areas like Bethesda were no longer the Welsh norm, and that even in 1911, some 81% of Welsh-speakers in Wales also spoke English.  Therefore, when you had large waves of English in-migration, such as into the South Wales coalfield, the incomers had no need to learn Welsh.  English was therefore the common language, and factors such as inter-marriage diluted the Welsh-speaking population very quickly,  and the rest is history.

The sad thing is, that this need not have happened, since Welsh-speakers at the time were much better at English than other non-state language groups were at their rulers’ languages.  For example, in around 1910, only half of Breton-speakers in Lower Brittany knew how to speak French, and the percentage of Czechs, Slovaks and Slovenes, etc, who were able to speak German was similarly around half.

If the Welsh had been more like those other groups at the time, then we would most likely have a very different Wales today.

Thus we have seen how One-way Bilingualism can lead to language death, and a situation where it’s the indigenous people who are being assimilated in the the newcomer’s culture and not the other way round. 

However, this is not the only disadvantage of One-way Bilingualism; OWB can also have negative consequences for society as a whole and can even lead to social tensions.

One-way Bilingualism’s Effects on Community Relations and Cohesion
One-way Bilingualism, where it does not lead to all-out language death, can result in segregated communities where residents who don’t speak the local language feel excluded by, and resentful towards, the locals who do, as the 1989 A Study of Language Contact And Social Networks in Ynys Môn, by Delyth Morris, showed, which looked specifically at the village of Bryngwran.

Sadly, my own experiences appear to support her conclusions; I all too often heard Welsh-speakers being described as an insular and parochial group who lived in their own ‘bubble’, speaking their own language which ‘nobody else understands.’ In London, such accusations would never be made against the locals, since the ‘English world’ is something which every newcomer here is forced to join, and therefore, it is not a ‘bubble’ to them.

Likewise, when I was in Brittany after completing my French A Level, I was saddened to note that there was some bad feeling among the locals towards English ‘Expats’ there due to the perception that most did not make enough effort to learn French.

A Lesson for the Rest of the World
The Welsh example therefore shows that One-way Bilingualism can lead to unforeseen consequences which, I imagine, no country would ever choose to have in their society.  The sad thing is, that despite this being a post-imperial and post-colonial world, One-way Bilingualism appears to be becoming more common across the world, and not less common.

I have often heard a joke, that if, in Dubai, Qatar, Stockholm or Amsterdam, you want to find someone who speaks two languages (ie, the local language, and English), you should go to a ‘local’ school, while if you want to find someone who speaks just one language (ie, just English), you should go to an ‘International’ school. 

I also read the story online of a lady from South East Asia who had moved to Finland as a twelve-year-old.  Naturally, she wanted to learn the language of her new home and become part of the society there, yet even though she tried, she didn’t truly become fluent as a teenager because her high-school classmates insisted on always practising their English on her. 

Why should she be denied her chance to integrate into her new country's culture and become Finnish, despite her best efforts, just because, a long time ago, England once had an Empire? 

If her story is not enough, then the Welsh experience shows that One-way Bilingualism does not end well.  Let that be a wake-up call.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Don't Just Blame the EU on Catalonia

As of late, it appears to have become fashionable among many to blame the EU for Catalonia, and to take it out against the EU for not recognising Catalonia.  I'm not just talking about arch brexiteers such as Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan, I'm also talking about an increasing number, it seems, of Welsh nationalists and many former Remainers who seem to think that the EU's response makes that organisation uniquely anti-democratic and uniquely against the rights of small nations.

I however, think that the EU's reaction needs to be given a bit of perspective.  Here is the list of countries which, according to Wikipedia, have explicitly refused to recognise the independence of Catalonia:

I do apologise for the facts that the two screenshots don't match up.

In addition, no country has had the guts to come out and recognise Catalonia -  those countries that are not on the list have merely not chosen either side.   So yes, the EU has announced that Catalonia's declaration of Independence has 'changed nothing' and that they would only deal with the Spanish government, but how does that make them any different from the rest of the International Community?  It doesn't.

Like I said last month, the fact that the international community has refused to recognise Catalonia shows that there's a problem with the attitude of the whole international community with regards to breakaway nations.  Countries such as the Republic of Artsakh and South Ossetia declared their independence over twenty-five years ago, and and yet they have still not been recognised as independent, because of the international community's insistence on sticking to existing borders.

That principle is of course ridiculous.  Should we not recognise the independence of France because it was once part of the Roman Empire, and because Roman Law never allowed what was then called Gaul to succeed from it? No.  The reality is that decisions regarding the recognition of new states and international borders should be based on Democracy and Self-Determination, like any political decisions in the twenty-first century, and that means yes to recognising Catalonia, as it does recognising South Ossetia and the Republic of Artsakh.

So like I say, don't just blame the EU, blame everybody who has refused to recognise Catalonia.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Is the Welsh Language about to collapse on the Llŷn Peninsula?

The Llŷn Peninsula, sticking out of North Wales into the   
Irish Sea.  For how much longer will Welsh continue       
to be a living community language here?                             
The Llŷn Peninsula has long since been known as one of the strongest bastions of Welsh Language, Literature and Culture, and  is today among the last areas of Wales where Welsh is still a living community language.  But for how much longer?

Both the 2013 and 2017 School Census data show that around 2/3 of all primary school children on the Llŷn speak Welsh at home.  You might therefore be tempted to think that the situation was safe and stable.  However, a closer look at the individual primary schools shows a very worrying trend.

You probably knew that the resort village of Abersoch was already very anglicised - indeed, many people jokingly refer to it as a seaside colony of North West England - but you may have thought that at least the rest of the peninsula remained a stronghold of the indigenous culture.  Until about a decade or more ago, that was indeed true, but now new enclaves are popping up, and the peninsula's main towns appear to be first in line.   

In 2004, Estyn reported that 64% of children in the primary school in the seaside town of Criccieth spoke Welsh at home.  In 2017, only 42% do.  Little wonder is it then, when it is remarked that English has replaced Welsh as the main language of the playground in that town so quickly.  

In Pwllheli, the largest town on the peninsula, that percentage in its primary school has fallen from 67.9% in 2013 to 61.8%, in 2017, according to School Census Data.  Two years earlier, in 2011, Estyn reported that 'nearly three quarters of pupils' spoke Welsh at Home there.  In the town of Porthmadog, on the eastern end of the Dwyfor area, the figure has fallen from 63.9% to 58.7%, and again, only since 2013.  

In both towns, overall pupil numbers appear to have stayed roughly the same during those four years, yet the number of children speaking Welsh at home seems to be dropping unbelievably fast in such a short space of time.  In Porthmadog, if the number of pupils speaking Welsh at Home continues to drop by 4 pupils a year, with overall pupil numbers staying roughly constant (as they have since 2013), then children who speak Welsh at Home will be in the minority by 2023.  In Pwllheli, if that trend continues, then children speaking Welsh at Home will be in the minority in that town by 2024.

This is not a pleasant thought - two of Wales's last remaining Welsh-speaking towns are, it seems, being anglicised incredibly fast.  If the Llŷn 's towns do become anglicised, then how long will it be before their hinterlands follow suit?  Already there are rural communities in the Dwyfor area where the demise of Welsh is happening at an even more mind-blowingly rapid rate.  In the primary school in the tourist-trap village of Beddgelert, the percentage of children from speaking Welsh at Home fell from 50% in 2005 to 7% 2015, according to Estyn, while in the village of Dolbenmaen, just north of Porthmadog, School Census Data shows that that figure has fallen from 77.5% in 2013 to 52.3% in 2017.

Racist Anti-Welsh grafitti on the beach at Tudweiliog         
discovered earlier this year.  Are the locals sometimes            
made to feel like foreigners in their own country?                    
There's no other way of putting it - that is mind-blowingly fast.  'Playground Welsh' appears to be dying a sudden death in areas where it was 'as safe as houses' only a few years ago.  Back in 2011 or 2012, I remember this trip to Aberdaron that we, a group of English holiday makers made, and the joy that we felt when we heard local teenagers with their blackberries speaking Welsh to each other by the beach.  How much longer will this last?

I refuse to believe that any of this is 'natural', 'inevitable' or 'modern'.  Where else in 21st Century Europe are minority language areas  being eroded quite so outrageously fast? On the contrary, the Hungarian-speaking areas of Romania, the Catalan-speaking areas of Spain, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland are not disappearing like Welsh-speaking areas are - quite the opposite.  Don't be fooled into thinking that this is something that the Welsh people, and the people of the Llŷn in particular, have to put up with this in this day and age.  As you may have gathered, I say all this as an Englishman.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Plans to Create a Second Welsh Nationalist Party: My Thoughts

Yesterday, Royston Jones, a maverick Welsh nationalist who describes himself as 'right of centre', announced, on his blog, Jac O' the north, his intention to create a new right of centre nationalist party for Wales.  He has booked a meeting in an Aberystwyth hotel for early november, although he stated that he planned no role for himself as a politician within any new political party.  

As many of you will know, I am a Welsh-nationalist sympathiser who happens to be English.  The purpose of this blog article is not to say whether or not I consider myself right or left of centre, or whether I will continue to support Plaid Cymru or not.  The purpose of this article is to speculate on what I may think may happen and whether having two Welsh Nationalist parties is a good idea or not.  


So, the first question to ask, I think, is 'Will this party go anywhere?' Can there be two seat-winning Welsh nationalist parties at the same time? The past, if it's anything to go by, is not exactly promising; there is a trail of former 'non-Plaid' Welsh nationalist parties - Cymru Goch, Cymru Annibynnol, Forward Wales, Plaid Glyndŵr to not even name all of them.  What do these parties all have in common? They're parties you've never heard of.   Arguably the most successful non-Plaid Welsh nationalist party was Llais Gwynedd, whose crowning glory was winning 13 council seats in Gwynedd at the 2012 election, a year after gaining 15% of the constituency vote in Dwyfor-Meirionydd in the Assembly Election of 2011.  The truth is, there aren't any good precedents for a second Welsh nationalist party.  

Even if a new Welsh-nationalist party is to emerge this November, it is just under 4 years until the next Welsh Assembly election, and nearly five until the both the General Election and local Welsh Council Elections happen again.  That is a long time for a small party, and plenty long enough for them to be forgotten about.  However, what could change things for them, of course, would be, if, say, elected AMs and MPs from other parties decide to defect and join them early on, à la Douglas Carswell.  Certain politicians do spring to mind; Guto Bebb, the former Plaid Cymru branch leader in Caernarfon, who is now the Tory MP for Aberconwy, and Neil McEvoy, the Plaid Cymru AM who has fallen out with his party.  Would they be willing to up-root and call their own by-elections? I'm not so sure, although it remains to be seen.  

What is certain, however, is that if this party is to become anything of a success, it will have to consider where it is going to run for election, and where not, so as to not split the Welsh-nationalist vote.  My advice would be that the party should not contest Westminster seats where they are at risk of splitting the nationalist vote so that a Unionist party wins the seat.  However, that risk is much less with Assembly Elections since a) the system is one of Mixed Member Proportional Representation, and, b) Plaid Cymru's constituency seats for the Welsh Assembly are much safer than Plaid's Westminster seats.  

Only time will tell if Royston Jones's aims come to fruition, but at least at the moment, I don't think Plaid Cymru should be too scared. 

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Collapse of Welsh in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire


As you can imagine, this is not a blog that I ever wanted to have to write but I feel that it is something that needs to be talked about.  Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire are two traditionally Welsh-speaking counties where, as of the 2011 Census, a majority of the population can no longer speak Welsh.  Worse still, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home (WAH) in these two counties is significantly lower, as the table above shows.  Compared to their neighbouring Welsh heartlands further north, Welsh in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire has done particularly badly - in Gwynedd and Anglesey, the percentages of children speaking Welsh at home in 2013 were significantly higher - at 56% and 37%, respectively. This blog therefore tries to trace the decline of Welsh as a community language in the two through the decades.

The 1953 report entitled 'The Place of Welsh and English in the Schools of Wales' shows that, mid-century, the percentages of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home in the two counties were 71% for Ceredigion (then called Cardiganshire), and 56% for Carmarthenshire.  Back then, Ceredigion, at least, was very much in the same league as its neighbours to the north; Meirionydd and Caernarfonshire (ie what's now Gwynedd and the western half of Conwy) were at 77% and 67%, respectively, while Anglesey was at 74%.  In other words, in those days, the Fro Gymraeg was genuinely Gymraeg.  


The percentage of PS children fluent in Welsh in 1975.
Darkest Shade: 75-100%                                              
Second Darkest Shade: 50-75%                                   
Within barely two decades, however, things had changed utterly.  By 1974, the figures for Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire had fallen to 45% and 33%, respectively, as the 1977 Report entitled Welsh in the Primary Schools of  Gwynedd, Powys  and Dyfed  shows.  The report, which I only stumbled across this week, has greatly changed my understanding of the collapse of Welsh in Ceredigion, since I previously assumed that WAH children there had still been in the majority into the 1980s, as that are what the Census figures had suggested.  This again shows just how misleading the Census can be.  (!!) 

Thus, as you can see on the right, by the mid-70s, Welsh was already loosing ground rapidly in Dyfed and was doing so much faster than in Gwynedd or Anglesey, or in the Welsh speaking areas of Clwyd for that matter.  

Before the 1950s: The Lead-Up to Disaster
Although both counties in the '50s were majority Welsh in vernacular, cracks had already begun to show by then and anglicised enclaves had already existed for at least twenty years prior to that:

In 1921, according the Census of that year, there were already three towns where the percentage of 3-4 year old residents speaking Welsh was below 50%; Llandovery at 49.2%, Carmarthen at 48.3% and Aberystwyth at 43.9%.  Ten years later, the industrial town of Llanelli joined them, with the figure there falling from 61.3% in 1921 to 45.9% in 1931.  What was different about interwar Carmarthenshire compared to the other counties of the Fro Gymraeg, was that while the anglicised enclaves of the other counties appear to have all been seaside resorts, in Carmarthenshire, this was clearly not the case. 

Since the 1970s: An Escalating Catastrophe
 Despite the unprecedented disaster of the previous 20 years, there were still significant areas in Dyfed where a majority of Primary School children did still speak Welsh at Home.  In Ceredigion, the figures were above 50% in the following Secondary school catchment areas: Aberaeron (59%), Llandysul (61%), Lampeter (58%) and Tregaron (61%), but below 50%.  in the two Cardigan (39% and 44%) and Aberystywth (32%) areas.  

In Carmarthenshire, the catchment areas above 50% were Gwendraeth (61%), Newcastle Emlyn (65%) , and the Carmarthenshire half of the Lampeter area (69%) while the other six areas ranged from 49% in the Ammanford area to 13% in and around Llanelli.  In the Preseli catchment area of neighbouring Pembrokeshire, the figure stood at 59%, and ranged between 1% and 24% everywhere else.  In Gwynedd and Anglesey, catchment areas above 70% still exist in 2017, although, of course, their future is now uncertain.  

The forty years since the 1970s have of course, only seen the continued disappearance of Welsh-speaking communities in the two counties.  Sure, primary schools in the two counties where a majority of children speak Welsh at Home do still exist but they are most definitely in a minority, are seldom above 60%, and are not concentrated in particular stronghold areas.  The future of Welsh in the Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, it seems, is mainly as a second language, although please prove me wrong if you can.  I just hope though, that lessons will be learned from what has happened, and that it may further people's understanding of language shift.