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.

1 comment:

  1. Welsh speakers in the North West have historically been less inclined than those in the South to respond to Anglicisation of areas around them by failing to pass the language on to their children. This is probably because the status of the language has been higher in the North & there have been more effective support structures in place.