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Opinion

60 years since Saunders Lewis’ call to save the Welsh language, our means have changed but the goal remains the same

13 Feb 2022 5 minute read
Jeremy Miles, left, and Saunders Lewis, right

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.

Focus

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.

Passion

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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Dail y Goeden
Dail y Goeden
7 months ago

Da iawn Mr Miles – even if that does sound like a line from the old (Welsh-language) sit-com “C’mon Midfield” 😉 And here’s one of the great lines from Waldo Williams – (poet, not tennis-player, but like Roger Federer a GOAT – Greatest of All Time) : “Gobaith fo’n meistr; rhoed amser inni’n was” – may hope be our leader, and time our servant”. And now one line from JM’s own article above – and one that is about the nitty-gritty of what we’ll need to achieve this: “And it’s important for us to be led by local people. By… Read more »

Richard
Richard
7 months ago

SL had some strange and even concerning views as he he moved through life – he did however catch the moment and offer a direction for the future- which we must thank him and celebrate his rallying cry..,,and wake up call to ‘ Cymru Fach ‘.

Last edited 7 months ago by Richard
Grayham Jones
7 months ago

A lot of older people have let wales down badly by still being little Englanders instead of fighting for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 and have let they’re children and grandchildren down by still voting for English party’s in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 we
In wales have got to stop being little Englanders and and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Cymru Cymraeg
Cymru Cymraeg
7 months ago

‘Sixty years on and the language has held it’s ground………’ is a massive contradiction when you consider that Cymru has a 100,000 fewer speakers than in 1962 at the ‘Tynged Yr Iaith’ speech by Saunders. Equally, there won’t be any improvement on the 19% at the 2011 census as LA education data illustrates a fall in the number of young learners who are educated through the medium of Welsh – except for Wrexham, Cardiff, Monmouth, Ceredigion and the Rhondda. The numbers have fallen in all other authorities.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
7 months ago
Reply to  Cymru Cymraeg

Yes, the news is good in the post-industrial regions. It’s the Bro Gymraeg that’s got the problem, but Miles is publicly expressing a commitment to help enable young people to stay in that region in order to live and work there. Let’s hope so.
The 2021 Census will probably show, traws Cymru, an increase in the number of Welsh speakers and learners, but a drop in the percentage.

Cymro Cymraeg
Cymro Cymraeg
7 months ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

……..the data will show a decrease in speakers and an increase in learners as this is measured when people such as JR Mogg downloads ‘dualingo’ on his phone! On a more serious note………..the only answer is to ensure that there is a statutory framework in place for the benefit of teaching and learning Welsh within English medium schools – without this mandatory implementation there won’t be a linguistic revival/recovery. I’m afraid that Carwyn Jones, Alun Davies, Eluned Morgan, Alun Ffred and now Jeremy Miles all talk a good talk……..(Kirst Williams was completely clueless as Minister for ED), however the proof… Read more »

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  Cymru Cymraeg

I think you may find that peoples self language definition has changed over the years as the advent of a higher visibility of Welsh in the media, the communuity and public life. Research on the self defination in areas in where that area is close to another where welsh was more widley spoken exhibt this in particular. Where as a person from say Denbigh or Llanelli might be considered ‘ very Welsh in languagee skills…when say working or living in Rhyl or Port Talbot and might well feel so – if they lived in or retired ‘ back home ‘… Read more »

Arwyn
Arwyn
7 months ago

Sounds positive. We shall see. Can I suggest three measures to improve the situation. 1. Make the use of a house as a second or holiday home or an AirBnB a “change of use” requiring planning permission. 2. Offer free Welsh lessons to ALL that request them. 3. Establish an official policy framework on an integrated “all-Wales” economy. Look at how transport policy and infrastructure investment supports local rural economies. Use public procurement to support Welsh businesses and offer local alternatives in the Welsh marketplace. Raising GVA per capita via manufacturing & services will go a long way to easing… Read more »

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
7 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Good stuff! Slighty off, but is a “Pod” linking Cymraeg and our History, linked to Welsh Poetry a useful idea? I became interested in our culture after picking up a copy of H.I. Bell’s “The development of Welsh Poetry”, in which one is forced to learn our history?

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

Saunders Lewis was a visionary and his words still echo today. Cymraeg is vulnerable as it was then as it is now. The fight will be never over until every child leaves school fluent. The Conservatives falsely claim they saved the language with the creation of S4C. A lie by the way. They didn’t want to create a Welsh Language channel. It was thanks to Saunders Lewis, Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr iaith and ones pro Welsh language that fought over the decades tooth and nail to protect promote and fight for equality for Britain & Wales native language. Yma… Read more »

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

SL was on the button in articulating the danger and ways forward for our language and certainly deserves that credit…… You may wish to also note his pre WW2 views and sympathetic attitude and sucre he gave to the enemies of Wales in his writings. I have always felt the likes of Gwynfor, Lewis Valentine, Waldo Williams and D J Williams plus the Davies and co , offered a more community based less “ chosen people “ approach. Their leadership and inspiration led to the likes of Teddy Millard, Harri Webb, Dafydd Iawn, Emrys Roberts , Anghard T, Heni Gruffydd… Read more »

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

If you look at almost all small countries liberated after WW2, you will find them engaged in strengthening their language and culture. That’s why we are constantly having to learn the real names of many countries and cities? The struggle continues!

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Its so refeshing to see these young and outward looking nations forging their own future and returning to pre colonial or englishified names. We still have Cricccccieth and Barmouth plus Wrexham and newborough plus cardigan and fishguard. Time for a change 😀

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