Sunday, 22 January 2017

The State of the Welsh Language in Ceredigion

Having just finished my one exam this semester on the 13th I thought that perhaps I could continue my blog 'series' on the state of the Welsh language and write one on Ceredigion.  So far, I have covered Gwynedd and Anglesey and given that Ceredigion is where I've been studying for nearly three years now, I thought why not?

The county of Ceredigion, located half way up the coast of West Wales and before 1974 referred to, in English, as 'Cardiganshire', is one of the four counties (by current boundaries) of Wales considered traditionally Welsh speaking.  Indeed, a majority of the population of the county could speak Welsh until as late as the 2001 census; 51.8%, although by 2011, this had fallen to 47.3%.  I, however, just like with Gwynedd and Anglesey, proceeded to look at the latest Estyn inspection reports on the county's primary schools to see what kind of percentage of children in the county came from Welsh speaking homes.  They showed that of Ceredigion's primary school population of just over 5000, around 26.6% speak Welsh at home.  

This did not surprise me.  Not only did I know that the 2011 Census had shown that Welsh was no longer a majority language here anymore, it was immediately obvious, of course, from the day I arrived in Aberystwyth, that Ceredigion was not Gwynedd and that Aberystwyth was not Caernarfon. Compare Ceredigion to Gwynedd, where, just under 60% of primary school children come from Welsh speaking homes, and a few questions and observations come to mind; mainly, why Welsh has survived so comparatively well in Gwynedd and and declined so much further here in Ceredigion?
All 47 Primary Schools in Ceredigion.  Dark Green = Above 70%
Light Green: 50-70%        Yellow: 40-50%
Orange: 30-40%                     Dark Red: 20-30%
Grey: 10-20%                Black: 0-10%

Before looking at the 'why', it is worth looking at the geographic distribution of the language within Ceredigion.  First of all, it is worth saying that 14 out of its 46 primary schools had Welsh-at-home majorities but that only 3 of these 14 were above 70%.   , Whereas in Gwynedd, there are large areas of that county where most schools are above 70%, in Ceredigion, no such areas exist anymore.
As you can see above on the right, however, 7 of those 14 Welsh-at-Home majority schools appear to be clustered in the countryside just east of the town of Aberystwyth, in the north of the county, perhaps indicating a genuine survival of Welsh as the majority home language in that area. Before we get too exited however, it is worth pointing out a few things.  1) None of these 7 schools are above 70%. 2) Those seven schools have an average pupil population of only 51.9, compared to an average size of 60.3 for WAH majority schools across the county in general and 133 pupils for non-WAH majority schools in the county.  3) While some of these seven schools, such as Ysgol Gymunedol Pontrhyfendigaid seem to be the main schools for their respective villages, and in that particular case the only school for miles around, others, such as Ysgol Gymunedol Penrhyncoch are dwarfed in size by nearby schools with much lower percentages from Welsh speaking homes.  One must wonder, therefore, whether the reason why there are nearby schools in the Bow Street-Penrhyncoch area which have such vastly different WAH percentages could be that a De Facto segregation system may have emerged there, with Welsh speaking parents and English speaking parents deliberately choosing to send their children to schools where the other children are of the same linguistic background.  

Some History
The obvious question to ask is, how far back do you have to go for Welsh to be predominant as a mother tongue in the homes and streets of Ceredigion? Until when did a majority of the county's children speak Welsh at home? Unfortunately, only the more recent Estyn reports on the county's primary schools are available online, and so the Census is what I have looked at, and in particular, the percentage of 3&4 year old inhabitants recorded as speaking Welsh at each Census, rather than the entire population.  There is however, a catch, which is this; as the census results across Wales show when compared to Estyn reports, we have reached a stage now where many parents register their 3&4 year old children as Welsh speaking merely because the latter are attending Welsh medium nurseries and schools, regardless of their actual home language.  That is why, for example, in the county of Gwynedd, the percentage of 3&4 year olds speaking Welsh was recorded at around 72% in 2011, despite only 59% of children there, according to Estyn, actually speaking it at home.    In neighboring Carmarthenshire, it is interesting to see that the percentage of 3-4 year olds speaking Welsh drops between every Census until the decade between 1981 and 1991, when it rises despite Welsh only declining further as a home language during that time.  I therefore assume from that instance that percentages for 3&4 year olds remain a mostly reliable indicator of home language until that period, and will therefore only look at censuses leading up to that of 1981.

% of 3-4 year old children able to speak Welsh
Change in % points per decade

      *Note that this is the drop between 1951 and 1931 divided by two due to there being no Census during the Second World War

I have to say that I was very surprised when I found these figures.  Contrary to what is widely believed, namely that everything was rosy in the Welsh Heartland counties until the 1960s,when incomers and retireers pursuing the rural idyll started arriving, these results show that Welsh lost significant ground in the county between 1911 and 1951 when the percentage of 3&4 year old children speaking it fell from 90% to 60% during those forty years.  The census figures for the overall population do well to hide this decline; the percentage of the overall population, regardless of age, speaking Welsh, only falls from 89.6% in 1911 to 79.5% in 1951, and then to 74.8% in 1961 and thus favors the view that the decline has only really happened in Ernest since the 1960s.

 What is interesting is that the decline  in 3&4 year old Welsh speakers appears to have slowed down significantly after 1951.  Why is that? Did the phenomenon, of parents reporting their children as Welsh speaking even when it wasn't the home language, start as early as the 1960s, or was there a genuine slow down?  We need not necessarily be suspicious, since, it could be that the drop between 1911 and 1951 represents a shift to English that only effected certain communities/areas of the county at the time, and that once they had been anglicized, there was a certain 'lag time' during the period 1951-1981 in which  Anglicization had temporarily stopped encroaching on new areas before a second wave of Anglicization impacted the rest of the county from the 1980s onwards.  That is indeed possible, since it is known that Welsh held out longer in certain areas such as Aberaeron, Lampeter and Tregaron than in other areas, most notably the town of Aberystwyth.  Unfortunately, we can't know for sure, since age break-downs for people speaking Welsh are not available for any individual district or parish (with a population below 20,000) beyond the census of 1921.

What about Aberystwyth?
Being both a seaside resort and a university town, its no surprise that Aberystwyth was the first place in the county to be anglicized.  What did surprise me, was quite how early it happened; by 1921, only 43.3% of 3&4 year olds in the town could speak Welsh, compared to 64.9% in 1911.  Another way of looking at it, however, is that Welsh managed to remain the majority home language of the town's children until 5 decades after the arrival of the railway, and 4 decades after the creation of the University College here.  Welsh also survived as the majority home language in Aberystwyth longer than in some other seaside resorts, such as Llandudno and Beaumaris, both of which already had less than half of their 3&4 year old inhabitants speaking Welsh by as early as 1911.  On the map above, one will notice a strong concentration of schools where fewer than 20% of pupils speak Welsh at home in the Aberystwyth area.

Conclusions and Questions
Thus, it is regrettable to say that Welsh is, unfortunately, no longer the principal home language in the county.  It should therefore be understood that for the 73.4% of primary school children who don't speak it at home, Welsh is a second language and not their mother tongue.  That is something that should be born in mind by policy makers no matter what future Census results state are the percentages of people able to speak Welsh.  So far,  the Census, which asks nothing about Welsh being the home language or one's mother tongue, appears to be the main sauce of information that the council, and other public and non-public bodies, turn to when drawing up their language analysis and plans.  Until a Census is taken which does ask one a question on whether Welsh is one's mother tongue, I do believe that the information I have looked at could be of benefit to anybody interested in the position of Welsh in the community, but then I would say that wouldn't I?

For any readers and certainly for me, however, the fact that only 26.6% of children in the county speak Welsh at home raises the obvious question; 'why?'  Why is it that in the northern county of Gwynedd, Welsh has survived as the home language for a majority of primary school pupils while here in Ceredigion, it has not? Not only do 59% of primary school pupils in Gwynedd speak Welsh at home, there are significant areas within Gwynedd where more than 70% speak it at home, notable urban areas, such as Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog where more than 80% speak it at home while there are some villages, such as Frongoch and Trawsfynydd, to name two, where more than 90% of pupils in their respective village schools come from Welsh-speaking homes.  In short, since Welsh has managed to survive so well up there, why has it failed to do so down here? Clearly, anglicizing influences such as Television and the Internet are not the main cause, since if they were, Welsh would have declined just as much in every home with a TV set and broadband connection.  As for the answer to that question, it will be interesting to see what you, readers, think.   

1 comment:

  1. Cwestiynau heb atebion ... ond diddorol am hynny ...

    The flavour of the data of course
    Depends heavily upon the source :-)