60 years since Saunders Lewis’ call to save the Welsh language, our means have changed but the goal remains the same
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language
Cymraeg belongs to us all.
Sixty years ago this week, Saunders Lewis delivered one of the most significant lectures in the Welsh language, Tynged yr Iaith.
Sixty years on, and our language has held its ground. But it’s our aim to see a substantial increase, despite the many challenges our language faces, and we haven’t yet managed that.
In 2011, 19% of people in Wales could speak Welsh. Whatever the 2021 Census figures reveal, we’ve got a chance to make a real difference over the next few years.
Welsh belongs to us all and we’ve all got a contribution to make to ensure a prosperous future for our language.
There’s a lot to celebrate. 86% of adults in Wales agree the language is something to be proud of, more adults are learning Welsh than ever, we have a Welsh language television channel and Welsh has a strong digital presence.
All this, when the “Welsh language would cease to exist as a living language”, according to Saunders Lewis.
Back in 1962, who’d have thought we’d have our own Senedd and our own Minister for the Welsh Language?
These big changes haven’t all happened just because of the work of government. And we’re indebted to every single person who campaigned on behalf of our language.
Are those positive attitudes we see enough in themselves?
Of course not.
There are 100,000 fewer Welsh speakers now than when Tynged yr Iaith was published.
Our Welsh language heartlands have seen a drop in the percentage of Welsh speakers and young people are moving away.
We’ve got to respond, build on what works and experiment with new ways of working.
I was lucky enough to be brought up in a Welsh speaking home in Pontarddulais in the seventies and eighties, a few years after the Welsh Language Society was formed there!
But would this boy from Bont feel that the Welsh language belonged to him if he hadn’t had the language in his life from the beginning? I’m not sure, but I am sure that I’m very grateful to my parents for sharing their language with me.
There may be a natural temptation to think that the fate of our language depends on institutions. But what else can we do as individuals?
It’s using a language that matters.
So everything I do as Minister is going to be based on maintaining or increasing the use of our language.
In the Welsh Government, everyone has a part to play in the success of our language. We’ve also said that all Welsh Government officials will be able to understand Welsh by 2050, with many more able to speak our language.
Strategic cooperation will mean we make progress for our language, and safeguarding Welsh as a community language is one of the most important things we can do.
The nature of how Welsh works varies across Wales. Benllech, Blaenrhondda and Blaenau Ffestiniog may all need different approaches.
So you’ll soon see a new geographical focus in our work.
Our Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan is open for consultation, and we want to hear from all of you.
We’ve got an opportunity to support people to create social or community enterprises, or set up a cooperative holiday business, with the profit being reinvested in the community.
They’ll be places which can generate income for the community, places where the community can get together, in Welsh.
And it’s important for us to be led by local people. By the linguistic reality of their lives.
And we’ll work to do all we can to make sure that houses, homes, are available for local people, where they were born and brought up, for a price they can afford.
There are a number of other things we are consulting on, like creating “cultural ambassadors” and safeguarding our place names.
I’m pleased that these policies form such an important part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru.
I want a Wales where everyone has a part to play in supporting and strengthening our language.
That’s why we are setting up a Commission, led by Dr Simon Brooks, to look at Welsh at a community level. Not a building or organisation, but a group of experts to tell us the truth, even when it is unpalatable.
I also know how much influence a school has on the language within the community.
So we’ll create a new Bill to ensure that every single child in Wales has equal access to Welsh-medium education, and strengthen the teaching of Welsh in our English medium schools.
You’ll have seen the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru announcement that we’ll be making free Welsh courses to 16-25 year olds, as well as developing a new training portal to provide free Welsh language training at various levels to the education workforce.
Our “revolutionary means” may be different to those in Saunders Lewis’ mind, but our passion for our language is just as real today.
Welsh is rooted deep in our very being as a nation. It’s part of what makes us ‘us’. It’s our responsibility, every single one of us, to come together to ensure a prosperous future for our language, and it’s also a chance for us to remember that everyone has a part to play, everyone has a voice.
Cymraeg belongs to us all.
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