By Melanie Jenkins
Well shwmae achroeso! Hello and welcome from the heart of Wales’s rolling hills and valleys!
In my last post, I talked about the Welsh workings of the Hyderus office. Here, I’d like to take a look at some of the ups and downs in the history of this ancient language.
Welsh is one of the few Celtic languages still spoken – perhaps that with the greatest number of speakers. The only natural communities of speakers arein Walesand a small colony in Patagonia, Argentina, although there are many speakers of Welsh elsewhere, particularly in England, Australia, and the U.S. It is an Indo-European language and shares a deep grammatical affinity with other languages from the same family.
Several factors have contributed to the decline of the status and usage of the language over the past few centuries. When, after numerous rebellions, Wales was finally absorbed into the English state in the 16th century, English was established as the language of the courts and administration. Welsh was not banned, but thus began its steady decline.
The translation of the Bible into Welsh by Bishop William Morgan, however, gave it a boost and ensured that it remained the language of religion and worship in Welsh communities. Indeed, until the mid-19th century, the majority of the Welsh population could speak Welsh.
Then came the Industrial Revolution, bringing with it an influx of non-Welsh speakers into the industrial areas. The number of Welsh speakers fell to 50% of the population. The slow collapse continued throughout the 20th century and the general secularisation of society led to a decline in chapel attendance on which so many traditional Welsh-medium activities were centered.
The latter part of the 20th century saw an upsurge in the popularity of Welsh due to a variety of factors. The ’80s heralded the mandatory teaching of Welsh as a second language in all schools across the country. The Welsh language was accorded a status equal to English in 1993 – today, all public services have to be provided in both Welsh and English, and Welsh speakers have an absolute right to speak Welsh in court.
Many prominent symbols of Welsh culture and language have flourished in the past few decades – cultural festivals descended from bardic institutions, youth institutions campaigning for changes in the status of Welsh in education, and even a Welsh-language television channel.
Statistics show that the number of Welsh speakers is gradually increasing – from 508,000 in 1991 to 582,000 in 2001, some 20% of the population. The results of the census in 2011 have yet to be published but it is thought that the numbers will have increased again due the increasing numbers of adults as well as children learning the language.
Next week, I’m going to introduce a few easy Welsh phrases. If any of our readers plan to visit Wales’ beautiful, rolling hills and valleys, these will come in very handy! Even if you’re not planning a trip here anytime soon, it’s always great to foray into new linguistic pastures, isn’t it?