Spreading the Word
John Aitchison, Harold Carter Other books by John Aitchison, Harold Carter
A comprehensive study of the Welsh language throughout Wales as communities encounter language change at the end of the 20th century, with a detailed analysis of the evidence of the 2001 census relating to language
Category: History Politics
"The authors of this study are both Professors Emeritus of the University of Wales Aberystwyth who have extensively researched demography and the Welsh language. This book is a study of the state of Welsh based on information from the 2001 census. As promised, it is a dispassionate presentation of statistics with clear explanations of caveats in evaluating numbers. While pointing out the problems in comparing numbers from 1991 and 2001 censuses, there is an interesting study of changes in Welsh language use, as well as an overview of the bigger picture over history. After a good introductory chapter to put things into historical perspective, various chapters outline census questions and the breakdown of numbers according to different categories of knowledge of Welsh (understanding versus reading and writing and speaking Welsh).
The authors present geographic distribution of Welsh speakers, urban versus rural concentrations, age profiles, and social and economic categories of Welsh speakers. They also analyze what the census says on Welsh literacy, and they look at how the census tells us about ethnic identity - a feeling of Welshness.
Here are a few statistical highlights from the 2001 census.
28.4% of the population of Wales over 3 years old has some knowledge of Welsh ranging from being able to understand spoken Welsh to the ability to speak, read and write it.
4.9% of this 28.4% (138,416 people) "understand spoken Welsh only" and do not indicate ability to speak, read or write it. These are likely people in the process of losing Welsh or just learning it.
Broken down by ages, 31.2% of the population 3 to 15 years old have some knowledge of Welsh (understanding through full use), 32.3% of those 16 to 44 understand Welsh, 19.5% of those 45 to 64, and 17% of those 65 and up. The strong numbers in the lower age levels is in contrast to the situation in Brittany where a very small percentage of young people have a knowledge of Breton. Youth seems to be on the side of Welsh. The authors also point out that there is a strong move of Welsh speakers into professional occupations - education and media especially - where Welsh speakers can have an impact on public opinion and a positive status for Welsh.
The authors note that while there is a growth of people speaking Welsh, they are more dispersed. There is a continuing decline of Welsh speakers in the "heartland" areas - strong territorial bases where 80% or more of the people speak Welsh and it is passed down in families and used in all social interaction This is caused both by people moving out for jobs and others moving in who do not speak Welsh.
Solving the problem of jobs and affordable housing to give incentives for Welsh speakers to stay in the heartlands is difficult. But a growth of speakers elsewhere in Wales is promoted by support in media with Radio Cymru and S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru) as well as publication of books and newspapers in Welsh, and support for Welsh medium schools.
While speaking specifically about the Welsh language, the authors pinpoint challenges that are even more daunting for the Breton language:
"The vitality of a language rests upon three bases which can be thought of as a three legged stool. The first of them is status, for it is necessary for a language to have an effective social status backed by a clear legal status for it to thrive. The second is economic status, for if a language is seen as of little value then the incentive to reproduce it, to retain or learn it, is threatened. The third is ethnic identity, the close association of the language with ethnicity which gives strength and meaning to the population speaking the language, a badge of signifigance and belonging." (pp. 138-39)
" - Lois Kuter, Page 16, of Bro Nevez 90, May 2004