Friday, October 19, 2012

Welsh, the Powerful

by Alex Joyce |

Editor: Jessica Nicholas (PhD candidate in French)

Alex Joyce was a senior in Political Science in the spring of 2012 when she took the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ (418) EUC survey class. In this blog entry, she argues passionately in favor of official bilingualism, as demonstrated by Wales, home to one of the best protected Celtic languages (Welsh) in the world.

To begin, watch this:
You’ll hear that it was difficult to learn English for Adam who was learning in Welsh for so many years. And Adam still enjoys speaking Welsh! This video is great because it shows how one individual finds Welsh unique and important.

Image Source

The maintenance and promotion of Welsh in Wales (United Kingdom, see map) has proven to be successful despite the prevalence of English as a dominant language in the UK.  The purpose of this blog is to show all those who think that it is impossible to maintain one official state language simultaneously with a minority language that this is anything but impossible. It simply requires effort and belief that differences can and should prevail.    

From a somewhat uninformed (but irrationally common) American point of view, everyone in the world speaks or should speak English.  Although thousands upon thousands of Americans can speak more than one language, our political and educational systems seem quite narrow-minded. 

Take Welsh. Welsh as a language existed for many, many, MANY years. Some may say it’s been around longer than English has, but that’s beside the argument.  Today, there are only 582,400 people who can speak Welsh fluently, while 797,700 people “have some knowledge of the language.”1  In percentages, those who speak it fluently make up 20% of the population and those who know the basics of the language make up 28% of the population in Wales alone.2  More info here:

100 years ago, nearly 50% of Wales spoke the language fluently.  Since Wales was absorbed into the United Kingdom, English has become the more commonly used language (Wales History). To many, the domination of English may seem like a bad thing, and understandably so. As English has become the lingua franca throughout Europe, it has become necessary for many to know how to speak it in order to communicate internationally.

Economics, politics, religion, and culture have all been affected by the spread of English and the culture that comes along with speaking the language. This article has some interesting viewpoints on the matter; it’s definitely worth checking out: “English as Global Language: Problems, Dangers, Opportunities.”

Minority languages in some countries, like Gaelic in Ireland and the northern region of the United Kingdom, are seriously threatened because of the domination of English. In my opinion, political leaders seem to think that in order to succeed, or even survive in some cases, they need to switch from their ancestral language to English.  However, as smart as this may be politically, it has been damaging to the use of ancient languages that have been around for centuries and have bound members of the local community together.
In Wales, this is not the case. The Welsh have rebelled against all powers that have tried to push their language down and separate them from their beliefs and cultures that are different from the UK.  In recent years, the English government has given Wales the right to remain autonomous (in certain definitions of the word), that is when it comes to their language policies.  Since 1993, Wales has been doing an especially excellent job of keeping its population informed about the importance of learning the language to maintain their culture. For more details on the actual legislation that was passed to enforce the use of Welsh, here is the full act.

I think remembering our differences as people keeps us human. It reminds us to be accommodating and sensitive to beauty. The variety of languages in our world is a beautiful thing.  I think this video shows just why languages like Welsh should never be forgotten.

1Ager, Simon. "Welsh (Cymraeg)." Welsh Language, Alphabet and Pronunciation. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

2Ager, “Welsh.”


thanks for the posts. good stuff.

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