Welsh Language - Official Status

Official Status

Although Welsh is a minority language, support for the language grew during the second half of the 20th century, along with the rise of organisations such as the nationalist political party Plaid Cymru from 1925 and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) from 1962.

The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages be treated equally in the public sector, as far as is reasonable and practicable. Public bodies are required to prepare for approval a Welsh Language Scheme, which indicates their commitment to the equality of treatment principle. This is sent out in draft form for public consultation for a three month period, whereupon comments on it may be incorporated into a final version. It requires the final approval of the now defunct Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg). Thereafter, the public body is charged with implementing and fulfilling its obligations under the Welsh Language Scheme. The list of other public bodies which have to prepare Schemes could be added to by initially the Secretary of State for Wales, from 1993–1997, by way of Statutory Instrument. Subsequent to the forming of the National Assembly for Wales in 1997, the Government Minister responsible for the Welsh language can and has passed Statutory Instruments naming public bodies who have to prepare Schemes. Neither 1993 Act nor secondary legislation made under it cover the private sector, although some organisations, notably banks and some railway companies, provide some of their literature through the medium of Welsh.

On 7 December 2010, the Welsh Assembly unanimously approved a set of measures to develop the use of the Welsh language within Wales. On 9 February 2011, this measure received Royal Approval and was passed, thus making the Welsh language an officially recognised language within Wales. The Measure:

  • confirms the official status of the Welsh language;
  • creates a new system of placing duties on bodies to provide services through the medium of Welsh;
  • creates a Welsh Language Commissioner with strong enforcement powers to protect the rights of Welsh speakers to access services through the medium of Welsh;
  • establishes a Welsh Language Tribunal;
  • gives individuals and bodies the right to appeal decisions made in relation to the provision of services through the medium of Welsh
  • creates a Welsh Language Partnership Council to advise Government on its strategy in relation to the Welsh language;
  • allows for an official investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner of instances where there is an attempt to interfere with the freedom of Welsh speakers to use the language with one another.

With the passing of this measure, public bodies and some private companies will be required to provide services in it, though it remains to be seen which companies will have to comply. The Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones, said, "The Welsh language is a source of great pride for the people of Wales, whether they speak it or not, and I am delighted that this Measure has now become law. I am very proud to have steered legislation through the Assembly which confirms the official status of the Welsh language; which creates a strong advocate for Welsh speakers and will improve the quality and quantity of services available through the medium of Welsh. I believe that everyone who wants to access services in the Welsh language should be able to do so, and that is what this government has worked towards. This legislation is an important and historic step forward for the language, its speakers and for the nation." The measure was not welcomed warmly by all supporters; Bethan Williams, chairperson of language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, gave a mixed response to the move, saying, "Through this measure we have won official status for the language and that has been warmly welcomed. But there was a core principle missing in the law passed by the Assembly before Christmas. It doesn't give language rights to the people of Wales in every aspect of their lives. Despite that, an amendment to that effect was supported by 18 Assembly Members from three different parties, and that was a significant step forward."

On 5 October 2011, Meri Huws, Chairwoman of the Welsh Language Board was appointed the new Welsh Language Commissioner. In a statement released by her, she said that she was "delighted" to have been appointed to the "hugely important role", adding, "I look forward to working with the Welsh Government and organisations in Wales in developing the new system of standards. I will look to build on the good work that has been done by the Welsh Language Board and others to strengthen the Welsh language and ensure that it continues to thrive." First Minister Carwyn Jones said that Meri will act as a champion for the Welsh language, though some had concerns over her appointment; Plaid Cymru spokeswoman Bethan Jenkins said, "I have concerns about the transition from Meri Huws's role from the Welsh Language Board to the language commissioner, and I will be asking the Welsh government how this will be successfully managed. We must be sure that there is no conflict of interest, and that the Welsh Language Commissioner can demonstrate how she will offer the required fresh approach to this new role." She started her role as the Welsh Language Commissioner on 1 April 2012.

Local councils and the National Assembly for Wales use Welsh as a quasi-official language, issuing their literature and publicity in Welsh versions (e.g. letters to parents from schools, library information, and council information) and most road signs in Wales are in English and Welsh, including the Welsh placenames. However, some references to destinations in England are still given in English only, even where there are long-established Welsh names (e.g. London: Llundain; The Midlands: Canolbarth Lloegr).

Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh has been compulsory in all schools in Wales up to age 16, and that has had a major effect in stabilising and to some extent reversing the decline in the language. It means, for example, that even the children of non-Welsh-speaking parents from elsewhere in the UK grow up with a knowledge of or complete fluency in the language.

Although most road signs throughout Wales are bilingual, the wording on currency is in English only. The one exception is the legend on Welsh pound coins dated 1985, 1990 and 1995 (which are legal tender in all parts of the UK): Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, which means "True am I to my country") and derives from the national anthem of Wales, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. The new British coinage from 2008 will not bear any Welsh language at all, despite being designed by a resident of North Wales and being minted at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. Although many shops employ bilingual signage, Welsh still rarely appears on product packaging or instructions.

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Welsh.

The language has greatly increased its prominence since the creation of the television channel S4C in November 1982, which until digital switchover in 2010 broadcast 70% of Channel 4's programming along with a majority of Welsh language shows during peak viewing hours. The all-Welsh-language digital station S4C Digidol is available throughout Europe on satellite and online throughout the UK. Since the digital switchover was completed in South Wales on 31 March 2010, S4C Digidol became the main broadcasting channel and fully in Welsh. The main evening television news provided by the BBC in Welsh is available for download. There is also a Welsh-language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru, which was launched in 1977.

There is, however, no daily newspaper in Welsh, the only Welsh-language national newspaper Y Cymro ("The Welshman") being published once a week. A daily newspaper called Y Byd ("The World") was scheduled to be launched on 3 March 2008, but was scrapped, owing to poor sales of subscriptions and the Welsh Government deeming the publication to not meet the criteria necessary for the kind of public funding it needed to be rescued.

Since December 2001 the British Government has planned to ensure that all immigrants speak English. It remains to be seen if Welsh will be considered a separate case. At present, knowledge of Welsh, English or Scottish Gaelic is sufficient for naturalisation purposes and it is believed that this policy will be continued in any proposed changes to the law.

Read more about this topic:  Welsh Language

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