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Welsh among the top 50 most influential languages in the world

03 Apr 2023 3 minute read
Languages world map. Image Eric Gaba (Sting) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Luke James

Welsh is now among the top 50 most influential languages in the world, according to a French government study.

The latest edition of the World Language Barometer, which ranks more than 600 languages on 13 criteria ranging from the number of speakers to its online presence, places Welsh in 45th position.

That’s an increase of 10 places since the last edition in 2017, with Welsh leapfrogging languages with millions more speakers like Afrikaans and Tamil.

When it comes to numbers of speakers, Welsh sits in 343rd place between Pangasinan, an official language of the Philippines, and Venda, which is used by around 2.5% of the population of South Africa.

And time might not be on our side, according to the study, which places Welsh in 477th place when it comes to “fertility”.

But Welsh punches above its weight because of economic and social factors.

With 278,583 articles, a relatively strong presence on Wikipedia is one of its advantages, the study shows.

Language Speakers Influence ranking
Bulgarian 7,521,400 40
Hebrew 5,583,790 41
Kazahk 15,662,700 42
Northern Azeri 9,892,500 43
Bosnian 2,820,200 44
Welsh 1,483,700 45
Lithuanian 1,447,200 46
Hausa 5,0784,600 47
Malay 24,407,300 48
Afrikaans 10,084,400 49

As is use in universities, where Welsh ranks 81st in the world, just ahead of Egyptian Arabic which has 70 million speakers.

Influence is also accorded to Welsh simply as a result of it being spoken in a part of the world with a relatively high level of GDP, life expectancy and education.

Professor Alain Calvert, one of the authors of the study, explained: “What are the strengths of Welsh? It benefits from being spoken in the UK. It is present on Wikipedia and above all has high values on the translation parameters as original and target language. These shows that speakers of Welsh are active and Welsh educated.

“One of its weaknesses is that it is not an [international] communication language. Someone speaking Welsh will most likely communicate with someone speaking Frisian using  English .

“By comparison, Afrikaans has many speakers, it is official in South Africa and several of its provinces, and is a communication language. But it is spoken in a less developed country and it is not an important original or target language as far as translation is involved.”

The authors admit “it can appear useless” to try to rank languages, but say their method of studying the “influence” of languages builds a more useful picture than simply looking at the number of speakers of each language.

Mandarin and Hindi are the two most spoken languages in the world, according to the study. But neither feature in its list of the top 10 most influential languages, which are all European.

Language Speakers Influence ranking
English 361,699,340 1
French 70,709,790 2
Spanish 442,656,200 3
German 65,861,800 4
Russian 135,785,870 5
Italian 41,088,600 6
Swedish 9,461,200 7
Romanian 24,265,000 8
Portuguese 221,813,570 9
Polish 41,200,200 10

English, French and Spanish are at the top of the ranking. Mandarin is 15th, some three places behind Catalan, and Hindi is 39th, just six places above Welsh.

Linguist David Crystal said recently that Welsh had done “wonderfully well” compared to other minority languages.

“Welsh is one of the success stories of the 20th century in terms of the revitalization process”, he told S4C’s Stori’r Iaith programme.

“Welsh is in the top 7% of the languages of the world as far as number of speakers is concerned.”

The programme’s host, comedian Elis James, quipped that it was a “Premier League” performance.


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Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
10 months ago

Welsh has 1,483,700 speakers? Seriously?? Where on an earth did they get these figures?

Glwyo
Glwyo
10 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

And English only 360m. With languages like Mandarin, Arabic, and Hindi ranked below Swedish and Polish it’s definitely an odd study.

Robert
Robert
10 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

There’s almost a million Welsh speakers in Wales, plus all the Welsh speakers in other parts of the UK and around the world. I met a fluent Welsh speaker living in the northern part of Greece last year. Must be plenty scattered around the world. Plus of course Patagonia.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Robert

There are 538,300 Welsh speakers in Wales according to the 2021 census. There are round 100,000 in England. Some 5,000 in Patagonia. That’s still a long way off the 1.4 million + speakers mentioned here. The figures don’t seem to add up.

Christopher Gould
Christopher Gould
10 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

It depends what you. mean-first language or about as good as my schoolboy French or not even that.

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
10 months ago

These types of articles are giving a false picture of the Welsh language and are damaging to the fight for its survival. We need to face facts and not search for stories that make it appear that the language is healthy which creates a false sense of complacency. Regardless of how many Welsh speakers who live outside Wales the survival of the language depends on those who live inside Wales. The last two censuses show the language is in decline and if it continues on the same trajectory the language will be dead in a century. Unless we are honest… Read more »

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Quite right,our cup is three quarters empty,its how its always been and how we like it.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Cytuno cant y cant – mae eich llygad yn ei le, Iago! ~ Agree 100% – you’re spot-on, Iago!

Geraint
Geraint
10 months ago

The Office of National Statistics also under take an Annual Population Survey. One of the questions asked is about the Welsh language. Their results are very different to their census results. This indicates that 899,500 or 29.9% of the people in Wales speak Welsh. Their next survey results will be published on the 25th April 2023. The APS results are designed to produce reliable estimates at local authority level.

James
James
10 months ago

Is this a joke. I hear polish and Arabic spoken more in Wales. Not even my own Welsh speaking children speak it outside the classroom.

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