Friday, 16 December 2016

Merry Christmas to my Blog Readers

Having completed all my assignments this term and done some research for my dissertation, Christmas is now only singe-digits away and I just thought that I would write this blog as an early Christmas present to members of my family and my other readers.  I therefore hope that the content of this blog makes your respective Christmases all the merrier:

It was last Christmas, I think, when we were all, or rather, most of us were, lodging in this beautiful barn, when one member of the family argued that the countries of Northern Europe such as the Netherlands and Denmark, may well end up abandoning their national languages and adopt English as their new mother tongue.  Another member of the family told us, once (not at Christmas), that there were people in Germany who thought that the Germans may well stop speaking German one day and adopt English as their mother tongue.  In this blog, I intend to assure said relatives, along with anybody who happens to be reading this blog, that such a catastrophe just isn't going to happen.

The reality is this; just because a society, region or nation-state comes under the influence an outside language, and that language becomes a widely/universally spoken second language within that region/nation-state, it does not mean that the indigenous language has to disappear.  There are many examples of this.  Most speakers of Swiss German can also speak Standard German (the two being very different) as their second language yet that does not mean that Swiss German has to die out.  In fact, Swiss German has survived very well.  In the Baltic States and other areas of the former Soviet Union, Russian was (in some cases, is still) very widely spoken but the indigenous vernaculars there have not simply melted away.  In Prague under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most Czech speakers in the city could also speak German but it did not mean that they had to stop speaking Czech.  Closer to home, in the town of Caernarfon in north Wales, English was understood by a majority by at least 1911, while 100 years on, the town is still very Welsh-speaking; in 2011, it was noted that Welsh was very much the language used by its secondary school pupils in the playground, while in 2016 it was reported that 90% of the pupils in the town's secondary school spoke Welsh at home. 

Thus, the presence of a widely/universally spoken second language does not mean that the indigenous language has to disappear.  In all the cases listed above, a knowledge of the widely/universally spoken second language was either advantageous or necessary and so no matter how important English or any other language becomes, I don't see said independent nation-states just abandoning their mother tongue.  Firstly, what would they have to gain? Nothing, because if they are already reaping the advantages of having high levels of English, what more do they have to gain? Unlike in the situations described above, languages like German and Swedish have full command of domains within their respective countries; Swedish is the language of government in Sweden and of the domestic media.  Immigrants and Refugees who move to Sweden tend to learn Swedish, and in fact, the most popular language in Sweden on the language-learning website, Duolinguo, was Swedish.  This was related to immigration into the country, as the article here describes.  Thus, so far, there is little sign that globalization is going to endanger the languages of said countries. 

Thus, the national languages of Northern Europe, are, in my opinion, not under threat and I am very happy to come to that conclusion.  I hope that you all are too, and I also hope that such a conclusion makes your respective Christmases all the merrier this year.  Merry Christmas, or as they say in Swedish, God Jul!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Census No Longer Reliable in Revealing the True State of the Welsh Language

Whenever I have read Welsh Language Policy documents produced by local authorities, other people's blog pages, books on the state of the Welsh Language or media by pressure groups (such as Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg), I see that the Census seems to be the standard data that is used to study the state of the Welsh Language in any given area.  This is very unfortunate, since, the truth is that the Census has become at best inaccurate and at worst downright misleading when it comes to giving an accurate picture of the state of Welsh as a mother-tongue.
        That this is the case shouldn't be that surprising since as many of us will know, the Census question merely asks one if they 'can speak Welsh,' followed by similar questions on one's ability to read, write and understand it.  No question is asked on whether or not it one's mother tongue, or on one's level of fluency or on how often one uses it.  How then are you able to distinguish mother-tongue speakers of Welsh from second language speakers of varying fluency who may never have used it after leaving school? The truth is, you can't, and as a result, pretty much everyone from public policy makers to Non-Governmental Organisations (such as pressure groups) and individual enthusiasts are basing so much on information that is inevitably going to be misleading some of the time .
       Here are some examples.  The town of Dolgellau in Gwynedd is, according to the 2011 Census, 64.8% Welsh speaking.  One would guess therefore, that Welsh was the majority vernacular in the town.  However, the 2015 Estyn report on the town's primary school,  Ysgol Gynradd Dolgellau, indicates that only 25% of children there come from Welsh-Speaking homes, painting a completely different picture.  On the other hand, in Y Felinheli, where 64.3% could speak Welsh in 2011, 75% of children in the village's primary school came from Welsh-Speaking homes according to its 2014 estyn report.  The 2011 Census recorded that the towns of both Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog were around 78% Welsh speaking yet the percentages of their respective primary school populations coming from Welsh-Speaking homes varied spectacularly.  The figures were, 54% and 80%, for Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog, respectively.  (The figures for Bala, coming from a 2014 Language Impact Assessment Report, page 8)  I could go on, but you get the picture.
       Thus the Census can, and often does, provide a misleading picture of the state of Welsh as a vernacular in any given area.  Don't get me wrong, there is of course a correlation between the percentages of people able to speak Welsh at the Census and the percentage of people who are daily mother-tongue speakers but the former is no longer a reliable indicator of the latter.  This is more the case now than in the past, since the growth of Welsh Medium Education is producing more and more second language speakers of Welsh who will, of course, put themselves down as Welsh-speaking on the Census even if it is their second language and they may have never used it since leaving school. In addition, you have those who have learned it at school as a compulsory subject who are often not fluent at all while you also have adult learners, me being one of the latter.  When I took part in an Office for National Statistics survey this summer, I was advised to report myself as a Welsh speaker even though my Welsh, although improving is far from fluent (although I can assure you, I am trying!)
         It is worth stressing that the position of Welsh as a language of the Home in any given community, is noted as a very strong influence, if not the strongest influence, on whether or not it is used by children in the playground and the street; rather than merely the percentages being able to speak it .  Both a 2014 survey commissioned by Gwynedd Council and the language impact assessment referred to earlier point to the language's position in the Home as being the leading factor.
        There is no doubt in my mind, as you can imagine, that the Census questions relating to Welsh need to be changed in time for the next one.  There should be one question on fluency and another on whether it is one's mother tongue or second language and why not also have a question which asks Second Language speakers how often they use their Welsh?  Until a Census is taken with such changes made, I suggest that any individual or body interested in the state of the Welsh Language as a community language should use the percentages of children speaking Welsh at Home, provided by Estyn in their school inspection reports, as the primary Data to use, as that is much more useful in ascertaining the percentages of children being native Welsh speakers.   That is why, when writing my blog on the status of Welsh in Gwynedd and on Anglesey, I decided to use Estyn and not the Census as the basis for my research.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Richmond Park By-election: Congratulations to the Lib-Dems

This morning we heard the news that Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney had beaten Zack Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election which the latter had instigated over the government's decision to favor a third runway at Heathrow.  I, as you can imagine, am nothing short of thrilled that the Lib Dems won, as they are, I believe, the progressive and internationalist voice in British politics today.

 I am also very pleased that the other internationalist potential contestants, most notably the Greens, decided not to contest the election and endorsed the Liberal Democrats. Clearly, Zack Goldsmith deserved to be defeated as he had supported Brexit while his constituents voted overwhelmingly against it but most notably his unsuccessful mayoral campaign against Labour candidate Sadiq Khan did, it seems, play the religious card and its reputation as a highly amoral and reckless (given the current political climate, particularly for members of the islamic community in the West) campaign does seem to be well founded.  Thus, I am not sorry that he lost his seat.

Zack Goldsmith claimed that the by-election was about opposition to a third runway at Heathrow but it must be said that none of the candidates running in the by-election actually supported the government's plans for Heathrow.  The Conservatives (Zack standing as an independent)  did not even field a candidate undoubtedly because they knew that the Tory/pro-Brexit vote would be split and that the Lib-Dems would thus win by a huge landslide which they were clearly sufficiently scared about.  UKIP did not field a candidate either and of course, endorsed Zack.  Guys, there is no doubt that this was not a referendum on the expansion of Heathrow but on Brexit, and the Tories knew it as much as UKIP and Greens did.  Perhaps more profoundly, it was a contest between regressive nationalism and progressive internationalism.  

So what does the result mean?  The result is no doubt a statement from the people of Richmond, that the Tories can no longer count their remain-supporting urban bourgeois heartlands, at least in London, as safe territory anymore while they follow the path of the Nationalist populism which has swept across the western world.  It is a sign that, if the Tories abandon economic pragmatism in favor of such nationalism, then such voters may well abandon them.  If I were a Tory, I would be shaking in my boots.

And what about Labour? Unlike other parties on their half of the political spectrum, they decided not to pull out of the contest and instead fielded a candidate.  It shows that Labour under Corbyn, just like during the referendum, is only so committed to the remain cause and to joining the internationalist side of the ideological struggle across the western world.  In short, during both the referendum campaign and this by-election, the Lib-Dems put their heart and soul into the fight while have not done the same.  Now, of course, were Labour and not the Lib-Dems the main opposition to the Tories in this particular constituency, Labour may well have embodied progressive internationalism but the point is that this is an example of how shallow their commitment to such a cause seems, in my view.

Let's hope that this is not merely a fluke but a genuine trend.  If the Lib-Dems can win in hitherto Tory Richmond, then why not in Fulham or Kensington and Chelsea? I would also like to add that I would not be too sad if the Lib-Dems were to replace Labour as the main anti-Tory/UKIP party and I wish them every success in doing so.  I would however prefer it if they didn't do too well in the constituency where I am right now (Ceredigion) as they are the main opposition to Plaid, who I support and have even become a member of.  Either way, congratulations Sarah Olney and the Lib-Dems and good luck in the journey ahead.