Dylan Thomas could speak Welsh, according to the 1921 census
Dylan Thomas could speak Welsh, according to the 1921 census published yesterday.
The results of the census were published by The National Archives and Findmypast as the 100-year rule which keeps the records private came to an end.
According to the record for a 6-year-old Dylan Marlais Thomas, who later became one of Wales’ best-known poets, he speaks “both” Welsh and English.
While his parents DJ and Florence were both fluent Welsh speakers, it has been believed that Dylan and his sister Nancy were brought up in the Uplands suburb of Swansea speaking only English, as was common at the time.
However, the census record indicates that DJ (David John) Thomas, who filled in and signed the census page, at least believed his son to be bilingual at the age of six, and his sister too.
— Daniel G. Williams (@DanielGwydion) January 6, 2022
Dylan Thomas said in his own letters that he could not read Welsh. However, it is clear from his own writings that he had some understanding of spoken Welsh, as he would have heard the language around him quite frequently and included elements of it in works such as Under Milk Wood.
In the book, Dylan Thomas: An Original Language, Barbara Nathan Hardy, notes that “Thomas was not brought up speaking Welsh, even though his parents were bilingual, but he was acquainted with Welsh speakers and Welsh scholars”.
“In my day, a decade later, Welsh was a compulsory subject in elementary and grammar schools, but Thomas would probably not have learned it at his little private school and when he was at Swansea Grammar School Welsh was not a compulsory subject,” she wrote.
“He is said to have done no work as a Grammar-School boy but he would certainly have come into some contact with Welsh, if only in hymns and the national anthem.
“He would also have heard it spoken, as I did myself, accurately and inaccurately, in the streets and pubs as well as in Fernhill farm.”
She also notes that he quotes snippets of simple Welsh in the broadcasts, for instance in ‘Return Journey’, and his talk on ‘Welsh Poetry’ shows “interest and knowledge” of the language.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.