Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Welsh language decline

Lies, damned lies and statistics is often used to describe the use of numbers to boister weak arguments. But not the census, the figures are based on all our returns. So we get a snapshot of Wales based on the forms filled on census day.

And what does it show? Well to misquote a Dylan song, Wales is achanging. The Wales of Welsh speaking chapel goers is on the way out and is being replaced by an English speaking no religion country.

Why the change you may ask? Well its because more people live in this land called Wales. There’s more of us. 3.1 million and increase of 153,000, this 5% increase is the highest increase since 1951. 

Not that we’re enjoying ourselves, well maybe we are, but we’re not breeding more. No, not a bit. Most of the growth, 90 per cent to be exact, was from people coming into the country from other parts of the UK and abroad. 

So there are more coming in from outside and in the main they’re English speakers.  It’s always dangerous with statistics to explain cause and effect, but the numbers of incomers undoubtedly will not have helped the cause of the Welsh language.

After a slight increase in 2001 the number of people who speak Welsh has fallen in the past 10 years from 20.8% to 19%. In 2001 there were 582,000 now there are 562,000. A hundred year ago in 1911, there were almost a million speaking the language. 

The language has even become a minority language in what were once heartland counties for the Welsh, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

Many thought that the growth in Welsh medium education  and the migration from Welsh speaking Wales would see an increase in language use in Cardiff and some of the valleys in south east wales. Not so. 

Although there was an increase in actual numbers in Cardiff (4,231) Caerffili (1014) and Monmouth (1,092) and even the Vale of Glamorgan (195) because of the increase in the population the proportions speaking Welsh remain the same.  

The only county in the whole of Wales to show a modest growth is arguable the most English and wasn’t even part of Wales for years, Monmouth. They saw an 0.6% increase, not much granted, but increase nevertheless.

The Welsh language  has seen a decline but nothing on the scale of those in Wales that describe themselves as Christians.  There has been a drop of 14% since 2001. Only 1.76 million(58%) describe themselves as such. Almost a third of the population say that they have ‘no religion.' Higher in Wales than any part of England. 

The churches face a bleak future indeed and they need to get their act together if they are going to stop the rot. 

The statistics should be a wake up call for those concerned about the language. They should be asking serious questions about the prioriites. Have they been to concerned about token issues and not concerned about measures that will really make a difference.

Why are kids that go to Welsh language schools so reluctant to speak the language with their peers? Why is the language not seen as hip and pupils don’t see it as cool to speak it socially? Have activists been to concerned about status and too little concerned about daily use of the language? How many people really look at the minutes of the Assembly or Councils in any language? Would the money spent on these, not be put to better use?  

Our broadcasters should take a long hard look and ask why they don’t seem to appeal to our young people. 

The census  is a wakeup call to both  civil and religious Wales. More of the same just won’t do.

More on the other statistics in tomorrows blog.


  1. Gareth - kids don't speak Welsh to each another because the language of the community is changing. The language of the community is changing because of economic, cultural and political policies which the Cardiff and London Governments have persued. These policies have been in the hands of Labour.

    The British state is very glad to see the Welsh language to be marginalised. The British state would never allow English to lose any ground. The reason for the decline of the Welsh language, ultimately lies with the fact that we're part of the British state.

    I notice that Carwyn Jones has already tried to deflect the huge failure of his government and political philosophy with 'blaming' the Welsh speakers. With a family from Carmarthenshire he should maybe look at the policies underaken by Labour and their supporters in that County and other places and see how they've contributed to Welsh being a minority language for the first time in 2,000 on their watch.

    Britishness and the British state is the cause of the decline of the Welsh language. They've created the environment which has allowed and facilitated and promoted the demise of Welsh.

    1. "The British state is very glad to see the Welsh language to be marginalised." I'm afraid that's the opposite of the truth as I see it. People in the wider UK would be delighted to see the language flourish. I'm afraid it's the ordinary people of Wales who are turning their back on the language.

      The dire state of the Irish language in the Irish Republic shows how little effect the state can have. When I have visited Wicklow on many occasions I have stayed with people who have had all their education through the medium of Irish. Despite knowing the language, they choose not to use it. No state can force them to.

  2. 'More of the same' will do, to my mind!

    For the vast majority the language is an item of fashion much like a cardigan or a pair of spats. Sometimes trendy and with-it, at other times worse than high waisted flairs!

    State intervention, be it by politicians of public broadcasters is neither welcome nor entirely lawful!

  3. What do you Gareth think that should be done to stop the decline of Welsh as a spoken language in Wales?

  4. Being part of an Irish state hasn't turned the language around there. Instead of spending a lot of cash on things that won't be read, they should start to build facilities so that kids out of school could go have fun youth clubs, sport halls all through the medium of the language. Broadcasters should start producing relevant programmes for teenagers. The last programme that really hit the mark with many kids from the valleys who had received a Welsh medium education was "Pam fi, Duw." The language has to be seen as of this age not of the past.

  5. 'The language has to be seen as of this age not of the past.'

    You mean just like Rover cars?

    Or the BBC?

    Or high taxation on the wealthy?

    Or tax credits?

    Yes, we can name any number of of things that have had their day. It's just a question of how long it takes for the the politicians and protest parties to realise what we have known for years!

  6. Gareth - when the Irish Free State was formed Irish was spoken by a smaller % of the Irish population than Welsh is today. That is, the language started from a very low point - because of British policy + the attitude of 'progressive' people like Parnell that English was the language of the future and that people needed to forget Irish so as to 'get on in the world'.

    Anon 15.18 - the British state is very willing to use state intervention to promote and defend the English language - be it fighting wars in the Falkland to keep a tiny English speaking community from becoming a Spanish speaking one, or to mainstreaming English into every part of Welsh life from education, health, culture etc etc. And it works.

    Gareth - yes and no. Sports clubs etc etc. Important - but we also need to get a grip with the housing sitaution where labour are pushing local authorities across Wales to build thousands of houses which are beyond local need. This will further marginalise Welsh. You talk of tv programmes, again yes, and no. S4C has seen it's budget cut by about 36%! That's more than the Greek austerity package. There isn't the money to invest in new drama. There are other small things - the WRU and FAW, for example, playing Welsh pop music (with English music) during the build-up and half-time in matches. But my problem with your suggestions is that a) that'w what was essentialy laid out in Iaith Pawb 2005 which said it would reach the target of 25% Welsh speakers in this census. It hasn't worked has it! One main reason is that the influx of English people who are not going to learn Welsh and who speak the prestigious state language, has kept down the percentage.

    Within the Welsh-speaking community, except Labourist Amman Valley and Llanelli, the language has held up fairly well with Welsh speakers. It's also grown a little within the non-Welsh speaking Welsh people from what I can gather. The big change is that having a 25% of your population born outside your country means that a sold and growing 25% will never speak Welsh (with some exceptions of course).

    The challenge which we hear English people discuss about when they talk of the challenges in teaching English in inner city London to people from different backgrounds is nothing compared with the challenge Welsh has! Yet, this is never discussed.

    I want Welsh spoken by all, but the British state, British capitalism, British social policy and British mind set mitigates against Welsh. Having a few swimming lessons and another Pam, fi Duw? isn't going to make much difference.

    1. Anonymous, don't take any comfort in the fact that "It's also grown a little within the non-Welsh speaking Welsh people from what I can gather." A tiny growth claimed in Monmouthshire may mean a lot of things, but it doesn't mean that the language can and will be used in the community. The experience of the Breton language shows us this. The successful learner of Breton living in a village near Rennes / Roazhon simply cannot use the language with his / her tax office, with the car repairman, with his employer, with the staff in his local shop. A language is maintained in areas where it can be used for sorts of social and commercial purposes.

  7. go on xbox...PS3....

    no Cymreag there!

    Kids have needs that the older people are not looking at.

    Yet it's the older people that make the policies.

    You couldn't make it up!

    Nos da.

  8. Welsh on XBox? PS3?? Why?

    No-one wants to play a game a language the majority of their friends do not speak. Get real.

  9. So, Labour nor Carwyn Jones has any policies to revive the language except, erm, some swimming lessons in Welsh. So, Gareth, you're advocating 'Iaith Pawb' - the language strategy which has failed.

    No talk of the structural economic and social and housing issues.

    I can't understand why the Labour movement who've been so good and understanding, describing, interpreting the root issues of racisim or feminist issues, have been so completely anti-intellectual and complacent about Welsh. It's like saying, 'racism exists, but if everyone was nice to black people then it'd go away'. Or 'women are disadvantaged at work if you buy mummy a Mother's Day present everything will be fine'.

    Sorry Gareth, yourself and Carwyn Jones seem to occupy a 1950s mindset in terms of the language. It's like listening to someone from the 1950 discuss race or feminist issues.

    Yes, having stuff in Welsh is important - Labour could just make this a part of evey county council's remit. Simple as that. No need for Mentrau Iaith. No need for new spend, just place the policy. Labour could tel county councils they want to see growth in Welsh medium education in the same way they want to see growth in recycling rubbish. Simple. It calls for a change in people's attitudes and prioritites, but it's not rocket science.

    Carwyn Jones could stop the subsidised brain drain which would save his government money and bring income into universitites in Wales.

    Carwyn Jones could decide not to push loval authorities to build 320,000 new houses in Wales. It wouldn't cost the Govt anything, it would be popular with local people.

    If Carwyn Jones's kids are speaking English not Welsh then he needs to ask himself what positivie message is he and his family giving his kids. Maybe they're picking up from their father that Welsh isn't really that important.

    It'd be good to see Carwyn Jones and Labour put the same intellectual rigour to the Welsh language as they've done to fight racism or for women's rights. After all, Carwyn Jones isn't a woman nor black but he has, I'm sure, been steadfast in fightin their cause and adoping their emancipatinoary position. So why not Welsh? We're not even asking people to stop being English speakers. It's not 'either or'.

    It'd be good to see Labour and Carwyn Jones place the same passion for Welsh as they bore us with when the patronise us with passion about rugby.

  10. It could sound harsh, but the only thing that could help would be using what English used 100 years ago against the Welsh language, now against the English language. In schools should start the "Dim Saesneg" (No English) policy, of course not with punishments to the kids who use English in speaking to each other, but good marks, or bringing those who speak Welsh to trips and giving them other gifts. Other thing what can be done, it should be a law that allows better salary for those employees, who at their work place use Welsh.