Welsh showing others languages how to avoid ‘extinction’ says bestselling American science magazine
One of American’s top science magazines has pointed to the Welsh language as a successful example for languages at risk of disappearing.
In an article on endangered languages, Discover, says that 30% of languages have disappeared in the last 60 years, describing it as “a mass-extinction event”.
However, the magazine, which has a circulation of over half a milion, uses attempts to revive the Welsh language since a fall in the number of speakers in the early 20th century as a case study that other languages could follow.
“Linguists often point to Welsh as a successful case study,” the article in Discover says.
“Wales, a constituent nation of the United Kingdom with a population of just over 3.1 million, has a long history of speaking Welsh — in 1800 it was the de facto language throughout most of the country.
“By the early 1900s, however, it was spoken by less than half of the Welsh population. The drop was in part due to significant migration from England and Ireland, but the Welsh language was also seen as a threat by some in government.
“During the Victorian era, there were several popular uprisings in Wales and some members of parliament concluded that the persistence of the Welsh language was to blame. As a result, Welsh was actively discouraged by the school system and pupils who conversed in their mother tongue were punished.”
The article adds that the decline in the Welsh language had now “stabalized” thanks to “concerted, coordinated efforts to keep the language alive.”
“Welsh is now recognized as an official language all students in Wales are taught Welsh; and some schools teach all lessons in Welsh,” it says.
“The country’s 2011 national census revealed that 19 percent of people still spoke the language. Thanks to this wholesale approach, what seemed like a terminal decline has been soothed.”
The article quotes Lyle Campbell, a linguist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who says that the Welsh language can serve as an example to others of how to turn the tide: “With enough dedication, small language communities can keep their languages despite all the odds.”
The most recent Annual Population Survey in 2020, as conducted by the Office for National Statistics, suggests that 28.6% of people in Wales aged three and over were able to speak Welsh.