Sunday, 10 December 2017

Stop Blaming Retirees for the Decline of the Welsh Language

How the percentage of people able to speak Welsh in 
traditionally Welsh-speaking communities has fallen 
significantly since the 1960s.                                         
It seems that the factor most blamed for the decline of the Welsh Language is the in-migration of English retirees.  I, however, would argue that the effect of retiree in-migration on the survival of Welsh-speaking communities has been significantly overstated and indeed I would argue that it cannot possible be given the most blame for the language's demise.

Who are the non-Welsh-Speakers?
In a hypothetical situation where retirement migration is indeed the leading cause, you would sure see a drop in the percentage of Welsh-Speakers in the community.  But that drop would, logically, be concentrated among the over-65s, with younger age groups continuing to speak Welsh just as before, since, by definition, the under-65s are not going to be the retirees.

Is this scenario what has actually happened?  There are a handful of communities that genuinely do fit this pattern.  Take the Llyn Peninsula village of Tudweiliog, for example.  There, in 2013, 94.3% of children in the village primary school were from Welsh-speaking homes, while at the 2011 Census, only 73.9% of residents could speak Welsh.  Clearly, the school stats showed that that those residents of school-attending and parenting age were nearly all Welsh-Speaking, which suggests that the 2011 Census figure genuinely was brought down by non-Welsh retirees, and indeed, in 2011, 31.3% of the village's population was born outside Wales.

Thus, there are indeed communities, like Tudweiliog, where the percentage of Welsh-Speakers has fallen due to the in-migration of retirees; and where it has genuinely had nothing to do with any shift to English amongst the younger residents.  But the communities that follow this pattern are not very many.  They are also all rural, all in North West Wales, and all very Welsh-Speaking.  And yes that's right; wherever retirement in-migration has been the leading factor for the decline of Welsh, not much of a decline has actually happened at all, since the younger age groups, by definition, have not been affected.

But that is not what's happened in most areas that Welsh-Speaking half a century ago - instead it has largely been the percentage of children speaking Welsh at Home, a statistic given by School Data, that has plummeted, and it would be difficult to blame retirees for that.

The table below shows how the percentage of primary school children from Welsh-Speaking homes in the three counties of Dyfed has more than halved since the 1950s.


And similarly, on Anglesey, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home has fallen from around three quarters mid-century, to just under 40% today, although the drop has slowed down significantly there.  This leaves Gwynedd as the only local authority area where a majority of children still speak Welsh at Home.

Yet are such Misconceptions Really that Unfounded?
Nevertheless, there clearly is a link between in-migration and the disappearance of Welsh-Speaking areas, and for me, as an English learner of Welsh who has lived in Aberystwyth, that is a great tragedy.  

Generally, the traditionally Welsh-speaking areas that are still Welsh-speaking now,  in terms of language spoken by children at home, are the very same areas where less than 30% of the population was born outside Wales, with places like Tudweiliog being the exception.

The link is particularly striking in Gwynedd, where all the areas where Welsh has collapsed are also areas of higher levels of in-migration.  Indeed, throughout the traditional Fro Gymraeg generally, it appears to be the case that when non-Welsh migration into a particular community increases, then the percentage of children from non-Welsh-speaking homes will skyrocket much faster.

The table below shows how this trend has played out by comparing three example communities not far from each other in southern Gwynedd.
Clearly in Dolgellau and Barmouth, in-migration has indeed been what's caused the percentage of children from Welsh-Speaking homes to drop, but it's not the over-65s who are the incomers bringing about the decline of Welsh; instead it's mainly school-aged children and their parents who are the non-Welsh-Speakers.  Similarly, the 2012 Estyn report on Ysgol Ardudwy, the secondary school in Harlech, a town where half the population was born outside Wales, stated that only 40% of children were from homes where at least one parent could speak Welsh.

Blaming the Wrong Kind of Migration
Clearly, where in-migration has actually led to the collapse of the Welsh Language, ie, in places like Harlech, Barmouth and Dolgellau, it has not been retirees who are to blame.  In places where retiree in-migration has been the cause of the decline of Welsh, like in Tudweiliog, Welsh has not actually died out at all, since there the younger age groups have continued speaking Welsh at Home just like before, while in Barmouth and Harlech, they have not.

Clearly then, retiree in-migration is the least harmful kind of in-migration with regards to the Welsh language since it does not affect the speech of younger age groups in the area in question.  And that begs the question, why do we blame retirees for the disappearance of Welsh-Speaking areas?

Whatever people's reasoning is, blaming the wrong people for anything is something that needs to stop.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

London-Aberystwyth direct trains should be re-instated with the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line

Aberystwyth Station before the Beeching Cuts - it had as many
as five platforms at its height.                                                     
With Plaid Cymru managing to get the Welsh Labour government to agree to a feasibility study on the re-opening of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line, perhaps this is a great opportunity to begin discussing the reinstatement of direct rail services between Aberystwyth and London.

You might think that having direct trains run between London and Aberystwyth would be quite far-fetched, but actually, such services did actually run until 1991.  More recently than that, Arriva Trains Wales tried to reinstate such a service, but the proposals were turned down by the Office of Rail Regulation in 2010. 

Those services, were of course, like the pre-1991 services, to run on the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, as, since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, the Cambrian Line has been the only line linking the University town.  

But with proposals to reopen the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line nearing reality for the first time since its closure in 1965, for me the obvious question is, why only have 'local' trains run on such a route?  Why not reinstate direct London-Aberystwyth services via the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line and South Wales, once the line is there to do it?

Such a service would be a Welsh Nationalist's dream - it would link Aberystywth not only to London, but also, of course, to the Wales's capital, Cardiff, while Newport and Swansea would also be en route.  Wales would therefore have an intercity-level service connecting the 'capital of Mid-Wales' to the cities of South Wales, and wouldn't it be a bit insulting to Wales if the only trains doing that route were 'local' style trains?

Travelling from London to Aberystwyth via South Wales is not something without historical precedent.  When listening to online oral testimony of an evacuee who was moved from London to Aberystwyth during the Second World War, I noticed that she talked about travelling to Aberystwyth from Paddington station, suggesting that the default London-Aberystwyth journey back then was via the Great Western Main Line and South Wales.

If anything, that makes sense, doesn't it? After all, travelling by train from London to Aberystwyth via South Wales would have been more geographically direct than travelling via Shrewsbury and Machynlleth - the latter route is a tad circuitous since the section across Mid-Wales is actually further north than Aberystwyth itself.

There would be other benefits too.  At the moment, there is no competition on the Great Western Main Line (unlike on other main lines, such as the East Coast); GWR is the only company to run intercity trains out of London Paddington.  Assuming that the London-Aberystwyth trains were to be run by Arriva Trains Wales, as the alternate 2010 proposals envisaged, then that would, for the first time, result in customers on the London-Swansea corridor having a choice of company.

Thus I feel that with discussions on the re-opening of the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line in the air at the moment, it is high time that we also discuss reinstating direct services between Aberystwyth and London, and if possible, via the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen route itself.   

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Why don't they Speak Irish in Ireland?

In Slovenia, they speak Slovenian.  In Latvia, they speak Latvian.  In Finland, they speak Finnish.  Yet in Ireland, they don't speak Irish; instead, they speak English.  Well, there is a language called Irish, but hardly anyone speaks it anymore - less than 5% of the Irish population speaks Irish as their mother tongue.

Ireland's situation is quite unusual; it and Belarus are the only two countries in Europe where the nation's own ancestral language is not what most people speak today.  Ireland is also the only Majority-mother-tongue English-speaking country where most people are not, and never were, of British descent, unless you count Jamaican patois and Grenadan Creole, of course.

So why don't most people in Ireland speak Irish?  The obvious answer would be 'British Rule' - something which lasted in various degrees, from 1169 until 1922.  However, most countries in Europe were also under foreign rule for centuries - Finland, to name an example from the first paragraph, only gained independence in 1917, five years before Ireland, while Slovenia and Latvia only did so in 1991.  Their languages continued to be spoken by their respective peoples in spite of foreign rule, while Irish did not.

In fact, the situation in Ireland is quite extraordinary, and unlike any other other situation in Europe, at least outside the British Isles.  Even compared to regional languages, in say France or Spain, Irish was unlucky.

Whereas the demise of regional languages in France and Spain was largely a twentieth century event, aided by the modernisation changes that occurred then, the death of Irish was most definitely underway in the Eighteenth Century.

Indeed, as early as 1715, it could be remarked that "English is now so universally spoken by all the young Irish here that we may hope in the next generation Irish will be quite forgotten..." and the map on the right shows that Irish was already lost to large swathes of the country by 1800.

Another answer that might seem obvious is the Ulster Plantation - the settlement of mainly Scottish protestants in what is now Northern Ireland, leading to Northern Ireland being majority Protestant and Unionist.  But that doesn't explain why most of the rest of Ireland, and most catholics, no longer speak Irish.  On the contrary, as Reg Hindley described in The Death of the Irish Language: A Qualified Obituary, the death of Irish in Catholic Ireland started in Leinster, not Ulster.

After all, the settlement of Ethnic Swedes on the Finnish coast never resulted in the death of Finnish elsewhere in Finland.  Either way, for me, the fact that the Irish language was killed off so early, and even at all, in fact, defies all logic. In fact, language death in the British Isles generally has always been a puzzle for me.

In 1700, there were six non-English languages spoken in the British Isles (excluding the Channel Islands): Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Norn, the Nordic language of Orkney and Shetland.  By 1800, Cornish was extinct, and Norn, fifty years later.  By 1914, none of those six would be majority languages in their traditional territories.

In Italy, France, and Spain, regional language death only really happened in the century after that and it can all be easily explained by the great modernisation changes which occurred - compulsory education, industrialisation, urbanisation, the radio, television and increased inter-regional mobility.  In Ireland, Cornwall, and Orkney and Shetland, language change happened long before any of this modernisation, and therefore I can't help but ask how on earth it happened.

The decline of Welsh in Wales is the most recent case in the British Isles, and the only one which actually makes sense - it was so obviously linked to the industrial revolution, compulsory education and the in-migration of English-speakers.  When Catholic Ireland became English-speaking however, the population was overwhelmingly rural and pre-industrial - not a situation where you expect to find language change.

The other five minority languages, however, were all in areas that were not really effected by the industrial revolution, and indeed, their respective territories were either in remote areas of Mainland Britain or on the other islands of the British Isles.  You'd have therefore assumed that their chances of survival would have been greater than any regional language on mainland Europe, given their geography.  Yet their respective demises happened before that of Welsh and most definitely before that of regional languages in France and Spain.

So here is the perennial mystery: How on earth did English manage to kill off languages like Cornish, Norn and Irish, centuries before regional languages on the continent were killed off, and without the aid of any modernisation, when, if anything, the local languages of the British Isles had geography on their side?

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Collapse of Welsh in Much of Southern Gwynedd

The district of Meirionydd, is
today part of  Gwynedd but 
was one of Wales's 13 count-
  ies before 1974.                       
Like the piece that I wrote on Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, this is not a topic that I would have liked to have to write about, but like with those two counties, this is also a topic that I feel needs to be discussed.

Meirionydd, the home of Hedd Wyn, of the endemic Gwyniad, of the beautiful moutains of southern Snowdonia such as Cadair Idris and Aran Fawddwy, and of Harlech castle, was for much of the 20th century, the most Welsh-speaking and least anglicised area of Wales.

Today however, much has changed and primary school children who speak Welsh at home are now in the minority, where in the rest of Gwynedd, a majority of children do still speak Welsh at home.

The following table shows how the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home in Meirionydd has fallen since the 1950s:

Table 1.

The situation in Meirionydd is, however, by no means uniform and the district is sharply divided geographically - schools in the north and east are very much majority Welsh-at-Home while those in southern and coastal Meirionydd on the whole are not.  This is generally true of both of urban and rural areas; here is how the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at home varies among the different towns in Meirionydd:

Table 2.

So why, how and when did so much of Meirionydd become Anglicised?

Some History
 As you can see, Meirionydd still had a majority of its Primary School children speaking Welsh at home in the mid 1970s, and possible much more recently than that given that the figure is still in the high 40s.  However, the beginnings of Anglicization go back much further than that.

Here are the percentages of children aged 3-4 years old in Meirionydd's urban districts who could speak Welsh in 1921
Table 3.
As you can see, even 96 years ago, Barmouth was already an anglicised town.  I happen to know that the percentage in 1911 was above 50%, but unfortunately the figures from 1911 are not available on the website HISTPOP.ORG and so I don't have the exact figure on me right now.  

Either way, the seaside resort of Barmouth was the first to be anglicised, with the other seaside resort, Tywyn being so later on, most likely during the interwar period.  Thus, during the Second World War, Merionydd was still a strongly Welsh-speaking county, but with its two resort towns being anglicised enclaves, perhaps a bit like the Costal Del Sol.  

As for the rural parishes on the Meirionydd coastline, in 1931, they were solidly Welsh-speaking, with a considerable number of them having more than 90% of their respective populations speaking Welsh.  However, their Anglicization would follow that of the resort towns, and by 1961, an obvious coast-hinterland divide had clearly emerged:  
The Percentage of the Population speaking Welsh
by parish in 1961.                                                  
Nevertheless, the hinterland of even Southern Meirionydd was still strongly Welsh-speaking at this time, and the town of Dolgellau had more than 80% of its inhabitants speaking Welsh in 1961, although this would drop to 73% by 1971.  

By the mid-1970s, however, the overall situation looked much like it does today.  By 1974, of the five secondary school catchment areas, only two had a majority of their primary school children speaking Welsh at home; Y Moelwyn (Ffestiniog area): 77%, Y Berwyn (Bala area): 78%, while the primary schools in the Dolgellau, Tywyn and Harlech areas were at 49%, 36% and 44%, respectively.  

The Town of Dolgellau
The 1974 figures also provide a breakdown of the number of schools in each area by Welsh-at-home levels.  The fact that six out of the ten primary schools in and around Dolgellau had Welsh-at-home majorities but that only 49% of pupil population of those ten schools put together spoke Welsh at home suggests that the largest of those ten schools, that Dolgellau town itself, was majority non-Welsh-at-home and that therefore the Anglicization of Dolgellau town happened rapidly between 1961 and 1974.

I've always been puzzled by the situation of Welsh in the town of Dolgellau.  On the one hand, in 2011, 64% of the town's population said that they could speak Welsh, suggesting that the town was majority Welsh-speaking, yet school figures clearly show otherwise.  Whenever I have asked people from Meirionydd about the situation there, they have said that it is indeed, 'not very Welsh.'

Accent Change
Indeed, recently, I encountered someone who remarked that in Dolgellau, they now speak with a 'strong Cockney/Manchester accent' but that in Barmouth it sounded more 'Brummie.'  Indeed, most of my friends at University who were from the anglicised areas of Gwynedd, such as Dolgellau, Barmouth and Harlech, had English-sounding accents, and one remarked that few/none of his school friends had had 'Welsh accents'.

It seems therefore, that not only is Meirionydd divided when it comes to language, it is also divided when it comes to accent - particularly among the younger generation.  Whereas people from Welsh-speaking areas will have 'strong Welsh accents' when they speak English, those from the Anglicised areas will often be mistaken for being English.

This situation is very different to South Wales, where most people's accents are distinctively 'Welsh-sounding' even though most people there are, of course, non-Welsh-speaking. 

The Future
Will Meirionydd's remaining Welsh-speaking communities stay Welsh-speaking or will they become like Dolgellau or Barmouth in the future?

The good news is that the percentage of primary school children in Blaenau Ffestiniog speaking Welsh at Home actually increased between 2013 and 2017, from 73.3% to 77.0%, suggesting that the regeneration of the town and the opening of the zip-world tourist attraction has not hurt the Welsh language there.

The bad news is what has happened elsewhere in northern Meirionydd.  Of the fourteen primary schools in this half of Meirionydd, ten saw a decrease during those four years, and in six schools it was a drop of more than 5%. 

In Hedd Wyn's home parish, the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home in the two primary schools (Ysgol Bro Hedd Wyn and Ysgol Edmwnd Prys) fell from 83.9% in 2013 to 72.6% in 2017, while in the town of Bala, the percentage of children speaking Welsh at Home from 60.3% to 49.6% just in those four years alone.  (!!)

That alone, is deeply worrying.  

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.

Certain villages were particularly impressive - in Bodorgan, the percentage of children speaking Welsh in Ysgol Henblas went up from 62.8% to 77.0% between 2013 and 2017, while in Llanfechell, the figure increased from 51.2% to 63.8%.  Out of those 25 schools, 5 saw their figures increase by more than 10% - impressive for a language that's supposed to be dying.

Thus, the remaining Welsh-speaking areas of Anglesey do not appear to be about to disapear any time soon.  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. 


Why Catalonia Matters to Us All.

Although the month of October, 2017 is only six days old, one could argue that more has changed since it began than in many previous months for many a long while.  On the first day, the Catalan Independence referendum took place, which the central government in Madrid claimed was illegal, and video footage of Madrid-controlled policemen assaulting Catalan voters as they tried to stop them from confiscating the ballot boxes went viral internationally.  This is without doubt, a very non-Western-European-style event to have taken place in Western Europe.  I myself know many Welsh nationalists who themselves travelled to Catalonia to show solidarity with the Catalan people during the referendum. 

As you may have guessed, my sympathies are with Catalonia and not with the government in Madrid.  Sure, the Spanish Constitution says that Spain is 'One and Indivisible' but surely the whole purpose of having a constitution is to safeguard Democracy? Constitutions do indeed exist for the purpose of protecting the rights, and the democratic will, of the people, and not the other way round, and so when the two are at logger-heads, we need to ask ourselves just what that constitution is there for.  As it so happens, I do believe that written constitutions are necessary, and I believe that the UK jolly well ought to have one, but the Catalan crisis has certainly showed me that they can cause bad too.  

Assuming that the government of Catalonia will indeed declare independence unilaterally next week, I sincerely hope that the other countries of the world will recognise it, which I fear they will not.  And when different voices say that Spain's territorial integrity cannot be violated, or that an existing status quo cannot be changed unilaterally, I will raise the same argument - that existing sovereignty and territorial integrity rights along with international law, are like constitutions; they don't exist for their own sake but instead to serve the people.  When the people of Catalonia want to be independent, no amount of international or Spanish law should stand in their way ; Democracy and Self-determination should come first and international law and sovereignty rights should be built for the very purpose of serving those two ends.

I sincerely hope that the world learns all this from this crisis since there are already cases elsewhere in the world where international law and existing sovereignty rights are indeed at logger-heads with what the local people actually want.  By this I am referring to the numerous self-declared states in the world which are not recognised by the UN, or by at least one other country - Examples include Kosovo, the Republic of Artsakh and many others.  If they say that they are independent, then by the principles of  Democracy and Self-Determination who is anyone else to say that they're not.  

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Nothing 'Modern' or 'Progressive' about the Collapse of the Welsh Language

Welsh-Speaking areas in 1931
Welsh-speaking areas: 1961 vs 2001.














I was once travelling from Tregaron to Aberystwyth, when a fellow passenger, herself from outside the British Isles, described the death of the Welsh Language as 'inevitable' and 'natural' because the world was more 'modern' and getting 'better connected.' I've heard other people, often but not always from outside Wales, describe the Language as an outdated mode of communication to be replaced by English just as letters have been replaced by emails.  To some, an Anglicised Wales is inherently more 'modern' and 'progressive' than a Welsh-speaking one.

My response to this? Rubbish.  Absolute Rubbish (although I didn't say it at the time).  Is an Estonian-speaking Estonia less modern than what a Russian-speaking Estonia would be like? No, since Estonia, the country that invented Skype, is much richer and more techno-savy than Russia is now.  Estonia, Slovenia and Iceland, to name three examples of other small countries,  speak their own languages, and yet are, in my opinion, more modern.  Their respective GDP's per Capita are higher, and their Education and Transport systems are in a better state - they are, ironically, to use that lady's phrase, a lot 'better connected' than Wales.

But maybe you think, that because Wales is not an independent country, its language is therefore only a 'local' language, and not a national one, and that therefore, its demise is inevitable.  You may well point to the fact that language minorities within other countries have been assimilated, and therefore claim that in Wales's case, it is inevitable and 'natural'.  Well, it's not.  The Hungarian-speaking areas of Romania and Slovakia, the Catalan-speaking areas of Spain, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland, have not been disappearing in the way that Welsh-speaking areas in Wales have been since the 1960s.  If those minorities don't have to put up with their communities being assimilated, then why should the Welsh?
Finland. 'Middle-shade-Blue' Areas on the Mainland are majority Swedish-speaking, while Cyan areas have significant minorities speaking Swedish.  The dark blue Aland islands are monolingual Swedish-speaking.  These areas are not under threat like Welsh-speaking areas in Wales are.
On the contrary, the destruction of Welsh-speaking areas since the 1960s is something fundamentally old-fashioned and pre-modern.  When you have a situation where the locals are the ones being  assimilated (culturally and linguistically) by the newcomers, and not the other way round, it is not only outrageous, but, dare I say it, colonial. And because it is neo-colonial, it has no place in a democratic and post-imperialist twenty-first century. I say that as an Englishman myself who has lived in Ceredigion.

Therefore, it is the destruction of Welsh-speaking areas, and not the Welsh Language language itself, that is old-fashioned and out of date.  And put it this way, are areas that are still Welsh-speaking like Caernarfon and Llangefni any less 'modern' than anglicised areas like Barmouth and Betws-Y-Coed?


Monday, 18 September 2017

20 years of Devolution is Great but plenty still 'wrong' with Wales's situation

In spite of Devolution, Wales remains one of the poorest nations in Western Europe
It is now 20 years since Wales narrowly voted in favour of having having its own autonomy.  Now is certainly a time to celebrate but it is also high time that we discuss where expectations have fallen short, and where, I hope, the next 20 years will prove more promising than the last.

Sure Wales may have had its own political institutions for 20 years, but it could have done a lot better at developing its own political culture and popular political engagement.

One only needs to look at turnout of the five Assembly Elections to date to see what I am talking about.  For those five Welsh Assembly elections, turnout has never been above 46%, and has fallen as low as 36%.  In Westminster Elections during the same period the turnout (for the whole UK) has largely been between 65% and 70%.  In Scotland, it hasn't been so bad, with four out of five Scottish Parliament elections having turnouts above 50%, while in Northern Ireland, all five devolved Assembly elections since 1998 have had turnouts above 50%, with 4/5 being above 60%.  

This is bad, and shows that Wales ought to be doing a lot better.  When, in my first year at Aberystwyth University, back in 2015, I asked my South Walian flatmates if they had heard of someone called Carwyn Jones, none of them had a clue.  And no, it was not because they had no general knowledge - they all knew who David Cameron was, and all voted in the UK General Election of 2015, yet they also had no clue that there even was a Welsh Assembly despite growing up so near to it.  Unfortunately, their ignorance of devolved Welsh politics appeared to be more of a rule than an exception whenever I met a lot of other Welsh students.   

I have to say that I nearly fainted when I had that conversation - I seriously doubt that there is another country in this world where the average citizen can't name his or her own leaders AND doesn't know that those leaders even exist. It needs to be asked why this all is, since the current situation is nothing less than a huge insult to Wales, and an indictment of its very state of existence.

Added to those low levels of political engagement with Wales's own national politics is the fact that Wales has effectively been a one-party state ever since the first Assembly Election in 1999.  This is not normal or good for any democracy in the world and nor is it matched within the UK - Scotland's parliament saw a transfer of power in 2007 when Labour was replaced by the SNP.  

I do not think that these two anomalies - the low levels of participation, and the 'one-party-state syndrome' are a coincidence.  If a government is not being watched by its own people or the press, then the people are hardly going to choose vote it out of office based on an informed judgement of their record like they would in a 'normal' situation.  I highly suspect that when Welsh Labour voters walk into a polling booth during Assembly Elections, they are not voting for Carwyn Jones himself, but in favour whoever is the leader of the Labour Party in Westminster.  Assembly Elections in Wales, like local council elections in England, are more a referendum on the politicians in Westminster than an informed vote for or against politicians at devolved level.  That is something which needs to change, and please, in the next ten years if possible, not twenty.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Some People just Want a Wales Without The Welsh

Yesterday, I read the article in the Daily Post about the anti-Welsh graffitti on the beach in Tudweiliog on the Llyn Peninsular.  I'm sorry, but who the hell do these people think they are, going into someone else's country and being racist about the locals?

Unfortunately this not the first time that I have seen or heard about this kind out attitude towards the Welsh within Wales.  When I was moving house within Aberystwyth, in the summer of 2016, the removal van driver, who was from Birmingham, kept saying 'those fucking Welsh' and blamed them for any inconvenience that we had on the road.  The first thought that entered my head was 'Well if you don't like Welsh people, why on Earth did you decide to move there?'  As you can imagine though, I didn't say that to him.

That was clearly not the point.  He clearly liked Wales, he liked the scenery and he liked the coast line, but he preferred to have it without the local people.  As a history student, I couldn't help but be reminded of Hitler.  Hitler went into Poland, not because he liked Polish people but because he wanted their land, and he preferred to have it without the Poles still there afterwards.  The white Americans invaded Native American lands for much the same reason, as did the British in Australia.  A thief will approach a victim not because he likes the victim but because he wants his property, and preferably without having to see the victim ever again.  To help justify the wholesale theft of entire countries, Hitler portrayed the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe as inferior, as Untermenschen, and unfortunately this graffiti in Tudweiliog is not the first time that I have heard or encountered people in Wales who think that the Welsh are inferior.

I personally see it as no coincidence that this unspeakable act of graffiti took place in the Llyn Peninsular of all places.  The Llyn is one of, if not, the most Welsh-speaking and least anglicised area of Wales.  Indeed, in the primary school in Tudweiliog itself, 80% of children come from Welsh-speaking homes as of 2017 and, I can tell you that there aren't so many areas more Welsh-speaking than that anymore.  My guess is that whoever spray painted on those rocks didn't like the fact that the locals there had refused to be anglicised, and did not like the fact that not everyone on this island of Britain is Anglo-Saxon.

So how should the Welsh respond? I say that they should respond by being who they are; they should respond by continuing to be Welsh.  They should respond by being defiant, by refusing to give up their language and their identity, and by refusing to be assimilated.  That way, whoever spray painted those rocks on Tudweiliog beach, will have reason to be angrier than ever.  That way, we can be satisfied that whoever wants a Wales without the Welsh will not get it.    


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Will there still be a Fro Gymraeg?

A question that has been asked a lot is whether or not the Welsh Assembly Government will be able to meet its target of having one million Welsh speakers by 2050.  For me, a more burning question is whether or not there will still be any Welsh-speaking areas by then.  What I wanted to see, therefore, was whether or not Welsh was continuing the survive in its remaining heartland, and what the future might have in store.  To do this, I looked at school census data from 2013, 2016 and 2017 for primary schools across Anglesey, Gwynedd and neighbouring Conwy, seeing what percentages of pupils spoke Welsh at home, and also compared those results with contextual information produced by school Estyn reports dating back more than 10 years. 

Those of you who have read my blog about Welsh in Gwynedd will know that even there, there are areas where Welsh-at-Home (WAH) children are now in the minority – mainly Bangor, most of coastal and southern Meirionydd, along with enclaves elsewhere such as Abersoch and Beddgelert.  Similarly on Anglesey, most of the coastal areas are no longer Welsh-speaking, with WAH children being the majority mainly in the interior of the island.  WAH children are also the majority in significant rural areas of Conwy.  So how are these remaining Welsh-speaking areas doing?

The good news is that many areas do appear to be holding out, for now at least, and these areas include the notable Welsh-speaking towns of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Caernarfon and Llangefni.  However, there is not much to celebrate.  In Criccieth, 64% of the town’s primary school children spoke Welsh at home in 2004.  Thirteen years later only 42% do.  In Beddgelert, it’s fallen from around 50% in 2005 to under 10% now but that is nothing compared to Dolbenmaen, where it has fallen from 77.5% to 52.3%, just since 2013.  The town of Bala has seen the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home fall from 60% to 49% just in those last four years.  Up in Arfon, the English-speaking enclave of Bangor has stopped being an enclave; Rhiwlas and Tregarth at the head of the Ogwen valley have already fallen; in the latter, the WAH in its primary school has fallen from around 50% to 26.8% in less than 10 years. Worse still, the trend appears to have spread further up the valley; the figure for Ysgol Abercaseg (Babanod), the infants school in Bethesda, fell from 70.6% to 55.7% between 2013 and 2017.   In Llanberis, the base of Snowdon, 69% of children in 2013 spoke Welsh at home but in four years it’s fallen to 51%.   Yes, you read that right, playground Welsh appears to be dying a sudden death in areas where it was the norm as little as four years ago.  And then there are places which are being anglicised, albeit more slowly in comparison, such as in the town of Pwllheli, where 61% of primary pupils spoke Welsh at home this January but where, at the current rate, could become a minority as soon as 10 years from now.

And here is the thing, the national census that everyone focuses on is so incredibly useless at revealing such disasters when they happen, or giving any correct impression on the state of Welsh as the home language in any given community.  Who would have thought that only 32% of primary school children in Dolgellau speak Welsh at Home (2017), when the 2011 Census said that 64% of the town’s population could speak Welsh? Who would have guessed that less than 10% of children speak Welsh at Home in Holyhead when the 2011 Census said that 42% of its population could speak Welsh? The truth is that the general census, in only asking you if you can speak Welsh, can be positively misleading.  It needs to be changed so that we can stop misleading ourselves. 

Why does it matter?
The mind-blowing speed at which what's left of the Fro Gymraeg is being destroyed is, as far as I know, unparalleled in 21st century Europe; other minority language communities in Europe, such as the Finland Swedes, the Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia and the German speakers of South Tyrol, Italy, are not seeing their remaining language-territory being eroded like Welsh-speaking areas still are in 2017.  It's important that we know that what's unfolding in Gwynedd is not the 21st European norm, so that we don't feel that we have to accept it as being an inevitable part of globalisation and modernity.

I’ve heard some people say, however, that it doesn’t matter if the Fro Gymraeg disappears, and that as long as more people in Cardiff learn Welsh as their second language, that's enough to compensate. I would show them the table on the right.  What it shows is that there is an indisputably strong correlation between the percentage of children speaking Welsh at Home, and it being used in the playground.  In other words, in order for Welsh to be heard in school playgrounds and in skate parks, you need to have children who speak Welsh at home, and they need to be surrounded by other children who speak Welsh at home;  otherwise they will just speak English, regardless of the language the actual lessons are in.  For that reason, there needs to be communities of native Welsh-speakers, not just individual Welsh-speakers scattered around the place, as is increasingly the case.  Therefore, for it to truly be a living language, it needs to have a territory. 

For that reason, the survival of the Fro Gymraeg is the difference between Welsh being a fact of life, and it merely being a school subject.  And readers, ask yourselves this, if a language reaches a stage where there are no school playgrounds left where it can be heard, can it still be considered a living language; even if it does have a million (mostly second language) speakers by 2050?