Celebrating Welsh firsts

Thursday 22 November 2012, 12:14

Melanie Lindsell Melanie Lindsell

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Do you know what were the first Welsh words ever broadcast? And that Welsh has been spoken in such unexpected places such as in outer space?

There are around 7,000 languages in the world, of which at least half are endangered. This means they are not being successfully transmitted to younger generations and will eventually go extinct if that trend is not reversed.

According to the Brussels based European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, about 40 million people in Europe speak a language other than the dominant one of the country in which they live. These languages range in strength from Catalan, with about seven million speakers, to Frisian, a minority language in Germany spoken by about 2,000 people.

Here in Wales the Welsh language continues to thrive and flourish. It's 25 years today since Welsh was officially used for the first time in the Vatican and next February will be 80 years since the first Welsh language broadcast on BBC radio in 1923. To mark these occasions we delved into the BBC Wales archives to take a look back at some significant Welsh language firsts.

Welsh in the Vatican - 22 November 1987

The Welsh language was used for the first time in the Vatican on an official occasion in 1987, as part of a beatification ceremony by Pope John Paul II for three Welsh martyrs.

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The Welsh language is used within the Vatican for the first time on an official occasion

The Pope formally raised 85 British martyrs, three of them Welsh, convicted under the penal laws of Queen Elizabeth I to the rank of 'Blessed'.

Beatification is the last step before being declared a saint in the Catholic church - a person singled out for special veneration for having laid down their life for religious convictions.

Bishop Daniel Mullins of Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, attended the ceremony.

The video clip is an extract from the ceremony only. The use of Welsh by Pope John Paul II was not recorded. Please note that the narrator incorrectly refers to 85 English martyrs, rather than British ones.

First Welsh broadcast on radio - 13 February 1923

The first ever radio broadcast in the Welsh language took place nearly 80 years ago on 13 February 1923.

It was a performance of the song Dafydd y Garreg Wen by the baritone Mostyn Thomas, on what was then known as the British Broadcasting Company.

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Vincent Kane explores the origins of broadcasting in Wales

Welsh in space - 28 April 1998

Welsh was spoken in space for the first time by Canadian-Welsh astronaut Dr Dafydd Rhys Williams. He also put Gareth Edwards' international rugby cap in orbit and flew the Welsh flag in space on board space shuttle Columbia.

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Amanda Powell talks to Dafydd Rhys Williams aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia

Dr Williams said: "My father, who was born in Bargoed, never would have imagined that his son could have a chance to fly in space. It's something that hadn't been done then. And that's in the space of one generation."

Welsh in the EU - 19 November 2008

Welsh was spoken officially at the European Union for the first time in 2008. The union gave the go-ahead for the language to be used in speeches at the Council of Ministers if translators are present.

All European legislation will also be translated into Welsh and anyone wanting to correspond with major EU bodies in Welsh can do so.

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Welsh was spoken officially at the European Union for the first time on 19 November 2008

Welsh at Westminster Cathedral - 17 July 2010

The Welsh language was used for the first time in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral to honour the martyred saint John Roberts. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh.

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Welsh was formally spoken for the first time during a service at Westminster Cathedral

The service was part of a series of events to mark the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of Roberts. The monk from Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1610 for being a Catholic dissenter, but was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

The multi-faith service was attended by the heads of all churches and all the archbishops and bishops of Wales. There was also a group of representatives from Douai in France where St John Roberts founded the famous monastery of St Gregory.

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