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. 


  1. It is not so much a language shift but a demographic change brought about by a massive inward migration of English speaking people. Only 55.3% of the population of Ceredigion are Welsh born.Remove the English speaking population from the statistics and Welsh people who can speak Welsh in the county is over 90%. Children in that county who are taught through the medium of Welsh will speak English at home as in a large percentage of the homes both parents are English speakers. The situation is similar in Carmarthenshire but not as bad with 76% of the population born in Wales. The percentage of Welsh born people in the county who can speak Welsh is approx 58%.

  2. There's also mass out-migration of young Welsh speakers to Cardiff because that's where all the jobs are. They then go on and raise Welsh-speaking children in Cardiff, rather than Ceredigion.

  3. In the 2011 census 54% of the over 3 year old population in Ceredigion was born in Wales but 75% could speak Welsh not "over 90%". For Carmarthenshire 75% born in Wales and 54% of those people speak Welsh.
    The question really is how many are fluent and how many are "first language" Welsh speakers.
    In Ceredigion in 2017 23.9% of Primary school pupils spoke Welsh fluently at home and in Carmarthenshire the figure was 20.4%
    There were more pupils who were fluent; a total of 36% in Ceredigion and 39.8% in Carmarthenshire.
    What is evident is that the younger population isn't "first language Welsh" although these are primary age kids and it is very likely that they are Welsh born. In adulthood I would expect that those fluent in Welsh but not first language Welsh will mostly use English.

    1. Do you know what the figures are for Gwynedd and Anglesey and where did you find them?

    2. I'm not 'first language Welsh' but I'm fluent and use it all the time, both socially and in work. Most of my close friends aren't 'first language Welsh' either, but its generally Welsh we use with each other. People are more than capable of using a language other than their mother tongue in daily life.

    3. My calculation was a quick mental calculation. I have now used a calculator and the figure is 84.3% based on the 2011 census which shows that 42,005 were born in Wales and Welsh speakers number 35,404

  4. Should the Welsh Language disappear completely, so to will Wales. The politicians will see to that !!!

  5. As a “working language”, it has to be English for. That is the language used throughout Europe and beyond. However, it would be a very sad day, should the Welsh Language disappear altogether. It has to feature much more strongly within schools (Welsh) and encouraged by all.