Welsh speakers no longer an ’embattled minority’, BBC’s Jeremy Bowen suggests
Veteran BBC journalist has suggested that Welsh speakers are no longer an “embattled minority”.
The Cardiff-born BBC Middle East Editor argued that though speakers of the language were still a minority, they now hold many powerful positions in Wales’ elite.
Bowen, whose grandfather spoke the language, made the suggestion about Welsh on the BBC Radio 4 programme This Union: Being Welsh.
In the three-part series, Bowen, who lives in the district of Camberwell, in London “returns home to Wales in search of what it means to be Welsh.”
While he was making the programme, he spoke with some “old friends” from Cardiff, and said they were “grumbling about what they saw as official bias in favour of Welsh speakers.”
Bowen also claimed that the “determination” of the Welsh Government “to spread” the Welsh language “risks devaluing” his identity.
The radio documentary featured an interview with Welsh Language Commissioner Aled Roberts, whose job it is to protect the rights of Welsh language.
He pointed to a poll that suggested 86% of people in Wales believe that the language has “value”.
The Commissioner argued that rules to protect the rights of Welsh speakers are necessary in order to reverse the damage done by what he described as a “conscious effort really to try and kill the language”.
Jeremy Bowen said: “I talked about the language with some of my old friends in Cardiff when I was making this programme. They live their lives in English. Like Sam in Ely [a contributor to the programme] and me, I’d say they value the language and respect its importance, but they were also grumbling about what they saw as official bias in favour of Welsh speakers.
“There was a time when Welsh speakers were an embattled minority. Welsh speakers are still a minority, but many powerful positions in Wales’ elite are now held by Welsh speakers, including in the government and at the BBC.”
He asked Welsh Language Commissioner Aled Roberts: “How important is the Welsh language to the identity of Welsh people?”
Roberts replied: “I think it’s important. It’s important for non Welsh speakers as much as it is to Welsh speakers because it’s part of what makes us unique.
“86% of the population of Wales when they were last polled actually believed that there was a value to the language.
On the Welsh Language Standards, which help ensure that Welsh speakers are treated equally by public services added: “Welsh and English are equal status in Wales. The standards themselves, they’re not a uniform set of standards.
“The same standards apply to the local government and the national park authorities for example, to the Welsh Government itself. There are different standards then that are applied to the health boards.
“They relate to things like correspondence should be either bilingual or in the language of your choice, that signage or reception areas should recognise both languages.
Bowen asked: “Why is it necessary to use the force of law, statute, to promote a language?”
Roberts replied: “History goes back centuries to the fact that there was a conscious effort really to try and kill the language. It was banned in schools. Children whose home language was Welsh were not allowed to use Welsh in school. There was an expectation that the language of business and the language of officialdom was English.
“There was a move in the 60s and 70s as a result of some of the language protests that that should change. But the reality was that the pace of change was very slow.”
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