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PM should learn Welsh language to save the UK, says linguistics professor

04 Mar 2021 4 minute read
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A linguistics professor has suggested that the Prime Minister should learn the Welsh language to help prevent the UK from breaking up.

Professor Emeritus Peter Trudgill wrote in the New European that the it would demonstrate a “strong desire” to “remain in a union with Wales.

He said that the UK should follow the example of the multi-lingual nation of Switzerland, where the government has a policy of getting everyone to learn at least one of the country’s other national languages, and suggested that teaching the Welsh language in all British schools could help with that aim.

The professor, who has previously taken aim at what he has described as “horribly ignorant” comments about the Welsh language, says in the federal republic learning other national languages is viewed as a “very important factor for maintaining the cohesion of the Swiss nation.” Switzerland’s national languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansch.

The professor describes Welsh as “one of the world’s biggest languages” and asks “why shouldn’t English people learn” it just as the “Germanophone Swiss learn Italian.”

Professor Trudgill said: “What better way would there be for English supporters of a cohesive United Kingdom, such as the prime minister and his cabinet, to show how strong their desire is to remain in a union with Wales and Scotland than by learning Welsh or Gaelic themselves?

“At the very least, the minister of Education could set about encouraging the teaching of – or at least teaching about – the Celtic languages of Britain and their rich literatures, to pupils in all British schools.

“Of the non-English UK languages, Scots has the largest number of speakers, with 1.5 million. Next in size comes Welsh, with the latest government figures showing that nearly 900,000 people in Wales can speak Welsh, and nearly a million understand it.

“There are also about 110,000 people in England who speak Welsh, mostly in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Liverpool.

“If we then add to those numbers the nearly 5,000 Welsh speakers in Patagonia, then there are probably more than a million speakers of Welsh in the world today, making it one of the world’s biggest languages – Professor David Crystal has put it in the top 7%.

“So why shouldn’t English people learn Welsh, just as the Germanophone Swiss learn Italian.”

He added: “Of course, while Welsh may have a million speakers, German, French and Italian have respectively 80 million, 75 million, and 70 million native speakers worldwide, and geographically these languages are spoken over extensive areas of western Europe.

“But for many Swiss people, their motive for learning the other Swiss languages is not by any means entirely utilitarian.

“On the contrary, the Swiss statistics show that 84% of Swiss people believe that learning the other national languages is a very important factor for maintaining the cohesion of the Swiss nation.

“The Swiss Confederation has survived, in spite of great religious and linguistic diversity, for very many centuries longer than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it originally was).

“Switzerland has four indigenous linguistic communities. About 63% of the population are German speaking, 23% French speaking, 8% Italian speaking, and 1% Romansch speaking.

“The federal government has for many decades had a policy of encouraging French speakers to learn German, German speakers to learn French, and so on.

“The goal has been that everyone should learn at least one of the other national languages: there are many people in Switzerland who are native speakers of Swiss German but also speak, write and read fluent High German; speak French very well indeed; have brilliant English; and apologise for their very workable Italian.

“It [Swiss Federal Statistical Office] has recently published, in all five languages, figures which show that almost 70% of Swiss people over the age of 15 use more than one language on a regular basis – and the percentage is increasing year on year.

“Large numbers of Swiss people who are not mother-tongue speakers of Italian use the language regularly, and the same applies to French and German.”

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