Why a one-size-fits-all-communities approach to the Welsh language is no longer viable
Ruth Richards, Chief Executive of Dyfodol i’r Iaith
The global upheaval of the Covid pandemic has seen priorities shift on governmental, local and personal levels. As lives became locked down, unlocked and, perhaps, locked down again, Dyfodol i’r Iaith (A Future for the Language) remains focused on its raison d’être – securing the future growth of the Welsh language.
Throughout the recent lockdown, we have been conducting a consultation on the recommendations of our policy document, Planning the Regeneration of the Welsh Language. And while the language will undoubtedly outlive the current pandemic, we aim to ensure that it does so in better shape than before.
In a nutshell, Dyfodol’s message in relation to the language is ‘use it or lose it’. The statutory rights of the language are all well and good of course, but Dyfodol proposes that public policy creates circumstances which actively and inclusively promote the creation of new Welsh speakers and opportunities for them to use the language across all situations and experiences.
There is already a growing fund of goodwill towards the language, and decision-makers should be reminded of this, and act accordingly – because of, rather than despite, unsettling times and competing agendas.
Planning the Regeneration of the Welsh Language proposes a comprehensive and integrated approach to achieving the Government’s target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. This is far too challenging a target to be reached without rigorous planning and meticulous input.
Education clearly plays a part, but so does a programme of promoting awareness of the language and its practical day-to-day use in the community, in leisure activities and the workplace. Much more could also be made of the role of social and mass media to create and expand virtual and physical Welsh language communities.
In the past, the relationship between the language and the economy, housing and planning has largely been ignored, but these are the very issues that are vital to the Welsh-speaking communities of the north and west. The demography of Wales is varied and the one-size-fits-all policies of the past are no longer viable if we want to ensure linguistic continuity on the one hand and the creation of new Welsh speaking communities on the other.
The implementation structures for such a broad and complex approach will be essential to its success. We already have a Welsh Language Commissioner who is responsible for rights and regulation, but we are still missing a body that has the necessary power and overview to formulate, lead, co-ordinate and implement the kind of strategic approach that is essential if we are to achieve lasting success.
Ideally, this lead role would be responsibility of a strong arms-length Language Authority, but other models may also be viable; a high-profile Department within Government, for example. The administration needs are simple and urgent: a system that has the clout to influence all areas of governance, the flexibility to strategically co-ordinate the many needs, and the kind of profile that promotes the language, making it recognisable and accessible to all.
The volume and quality of the consultation responses we have received so far have been more than encouraging, and we remain very open to receiving yet more comments. We consider Planning the Regeneration of Welsh Language as the starting point for our discussions with politicians and decision-makers as they prepare their manifestos for 2021.
As the next Senedd election approaches, and whoever wins power, the language must not be allowed to slide down the agenda, and so again, we would appeal to you all for your comments, your practical experience, and – yes, obviously – your support as we continue to press for a better future for the Welsh language in uncertain times.
A copy of Regenerating the Welsh Language can be read on our website (www.dyfodol.net), along with details of how to respond to the consultation and support Dyfodol i’r Iaith.