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.


  1. I put this on our blog at: we_know_whats_up.blogspot.com

  2. O,o and I thought this area is really the stronghold of Welsh. Sorry, but so much about Million Speakers ... there's no way the plan could happen to become true with such dropping rates in strongest Welsh speaking areas. And, yes, my first impression when starting to read this article was just the same as yours ... this is by any means not a coincidence. ...

    1. The area is mostly a stronghold of Welsh, and one of Wales's few remaining ones, but for how much longer will it still be like that?

  3. I welcome your posts, but I strongly suggest the next posts go into deeper analysis of whats going on....particularly statistics on youth emigration and skilled workers leaving both Y Fro Gymraeg and Wales in general. (a phenomenon also badly affecting Cornwall/Kernow)

    1. Sure, so my next 'state of the Welsh Language' blog will focus a lot more on 'why' and 'how.' This article, on the other hand was more aimed at being a wake-up call if you see what I mean.

  4. I think in fact Swedish in western Finland is, sadly, falling back too these days.