Scientists have concluded the Welsh language is safe – but if anything kills it, it will be complacency

Picture by Alan Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

Like many of my compatriots, I was encouraged by the news that scientists have concluded that the Welsh language is safe from dying.

Anxiety about the future of the language is a feeling that many Welsh speakers are accustomed to. In that sense, being a custodian of the Welsh language is a great gift, but also a responsibility that can weigh heavily.

The report doesn’t just predict that the language does not face extinction. It also predicts that the language will thrive. It suggests that almost everyone in Wales will be able to speak Welsh within the next 300 years and half the population will be proficient by 2200.

Researchers at Canterbury University in New Zealand used statistical modelling to look at the trajectory of two vulnerable languages – Welsh and Maori – in order to see if they could predict which would survive.

According to the model, 74 per cent of the population of Wales will be proficient Welsh speakers by the year 2300.

The prognosis isn’t so good when it comes to Maori unfortunately. It predicts that there aren’t enough speakers to sustain it in the long term; at least not without significant intervention. Of the world’s estimated 7000 languages, more than half are expected to go extinct by 2100.

The report says: “The model predicts that the revitalization efforts will be successful and, in the long term, Wales will have a majority of proficient Welsh language users.”

The population is divided into categories of basic, independent, and proficient in households, and these are used to work out how the language would progress in the next few hundred years

The report is a welcome riposte to the naysayers who love nothing more than to proclaim the death of the Welsh language. Its death has been regularly proclaimed since the 1800s. Yet here we are. Yma o hyd.

The report also states: “We parametrize the model using data from the recent resurgence of the Welsh language. Significant development in bilingual and Welsh-medium education and the presence of the language throughout the public and private sectors have positively contributed to an increase in the number of Welsh speakers.”

It is a rebuttal to malevolent suggestions that efforts to boost the Welsh language are utterly pointless. According to the modelling, the interventions made to boost a language do have an impact.

 

Pitfalls

So, if the report looks so rosy, why should we worry at all?

Well, for one thing, it comes with some important caveats.

It says: “However, despite the strong long-term trend, the initial revitalization period for the first 50–100 years is relatively fragile, with continued minority status and slow rates of increase, and therefore potentially sensitive to changes in learning rates or intergenerational transmission,”

This translates roughly into: “Don’t start counting your chickens before they’ve hatched.”

The road ahead is not without pitfalls, booby traps, and bumpy terrain.

Hywel Jones at Cardiff University, is sceptical about the report, and says that the model it employs is built on relatively little data.

He told New Scientist: “You’re putting a model on a tiny data set. As far as usefulness for language planners, I don’t buy it.”

The former statistician at Welsh Language Board also believes that the research also doesn’t take into account the prospect of speakers losing their proficiency in a language because of what he calls “language attrition.”

This is an important point in my view. We need measures to not only create new speakers, but to retain them. We need to ensure that we weave it into the fabric of people’s daily lives.

What the research shows more than anything is that the future of the Welsh language is in our hands. I suspect more needs to be done to safeguard its future than the report implies.

But that does not mean I am defeatist. Whether it lives or dies is up to us. We must not let its future slip through our fingers. If anything kills the Welsh language, it will be complacency.

If we work to secure the future of the language, it will not only survive; it will flourish.

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Vaughan
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Vaughan

Find this difficult to believe and hopelessly optimistic.

Only 7% of children enter school at 5yrs old fluent in Welsh .

The figures for the “heartland” counties of Ynys Môn, Ceredigion and Carms. are 37%, 26% and 22% respectively.

Only Gwynedd now has a majority of children from Welsh-speaking homes and in the major urhan centre of Bangor they are in the minority (24%)

Languages survive primarily by transfer from one generation to another within the home. This is not happening. The education system can only do so much.

Roger Smith
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Roger Smith

Kids will decide the future and they choose English in the school yard, coercing children into speaking welsh will only harm it further.

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

I’m glad someone have shown some scepticim about making such a bold extrapolation from such limited data.

But that is not this models biggest failing. Its biggest failing is that it takes no account of the rapid pace of change of communication technology and the development of translation apps

A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
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A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg

The Cymry spoke the foreign tongue, to rise in rank, and since the same song sung, so the nation sank…

Paint an Owl on your house if you True
Do wish the only Welsh Revolution.
Gwrthryfel Gwdihŵ,
The Cymraeg Restoration.
Find brothers, sisters of feather,
And an arwyrain sing in Eglwyseg,
To Caradog our spiritual father,
This revolution and no other.

Roger Smith
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Roger Smith

So you are saying the language is safe but carry on with the fanatical protesting anyway?

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

He whips the beard off, and it’s Pete!

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Alias Bev.

Alwyn J Evans
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Alwyn J Evans

These models are incredibly sensitive and are based on known data points. As an example, labour lose control of education in Wales, model is then irrelevant.

Parents decide they prefer Englosh medium education, massive change in model.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

The number of Cymraeg speakers will go up, but the percentage may only rise slowly, depending on the rate of demographic change and the ability of a future Welsh Government to make that change manageable. Assuming that demographic change is brought under Welsh control, and bearing in mind that we’re talking about three hundred years in the future, 74% is a plausible percentage. It will all depend on the status of Wales in relation to what is currently the UK. Another potential positive is that the language is unlikely to become moribund again, so inter-generational transfer of Welsh between parents… Read more »

Roger Smith
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Roger Smith

Seperatists assume independence = less English people but the opposite is true, an independent wales would have mass immigration not just from Englsnd but from all over the world because independence could only work with world investment and the free movement that comes from it.

Be careful what you wish for even if the chances of it happening are miniscule.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

An interesting hypothesis but I don’t know of any sovereign state whose independence was predicated on their opening their border and permitting “mass immigration”. Also, free movement has never been a concomitant of overseas investment.

Use ‘fewer’, not ‘less’, when referring to a plurality.

Nefoedd Yr Adar
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Nefoedd Yr Adar

Does dim tystiolaeth ffeithiol i awgrymu bod y Gymraeg am goroesi. At hyn o bryd mae’r holl batrymau ieithyddol megis, allfudo o Gymru, mewn fudo gan bobl na siaredir y Gymraeg, y nifer o blan (a chanran) sy’n derbyn ADDYSG Gymraeg a marwolaeth yr henoed yn y ‘Fro Gymraeg’ yn awgrymu’n gryf y bydd yr iath wedi marw o’n haelwydydd o fewn 100 mlynedd………efallallai y bydd yr Eisteddfod yn parhau gyda hanewyr yn ymddiddori yn yr iaith ond yn sicr ni fydd y Gymraeg yn iaith fyw!

Roger Smith
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Roger Smith

This is an English language site mush

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Are other languages officially prohibited? Ist Deutsch streng verboten?
Just asking.

Roger Smith
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Roger Smith

Articles on this blog aren’t written in Deutsch either

Ben
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Ben

Hoe zit het met nederlands?

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

That’s correct, because German is not commonly spoken in Wales, nor is it one of the country’s official languages. Welsh, however…

James
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James

It’s forced in the classrooms up and down Wales with millions spent on it. It whats also known as communism.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Paidwch a siarad lol.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Peidiwch, sorri.

Gwynfor Talbot
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Gwynfor Talbot

These academics should get out a bit more often. A day spent wandering around the communities of Gwynedd and Ynys Mon that have experienced rapid linguistic change over the past ten years would convince even the most blinkered optimist that Welsh will not be a majority language in ANY community at all by the 2031 Census. The writing has been on the wall for decades but now the anglicisation of communities is happening at an accelerated pace – helped by the massive over provision of new social and other housing, the migration of thousands of young Welsh speakers to Cardiff… Read more »