Welsh Language Board head Meirion Prys Jones in crisis claim

Meirion Prys Jones, chief executive of the Welsh Language Board Meirion Prys Jones says support for the Welsh language depends on ideas and cash

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The Welsh language is still in crisis, according to the chief executive of the body that promotes it.

Welsh Language Board head Meirion Prys Jones said it would not survive without a cash injection and a change in attitude in the Welsh government.

His comments come as the current board prepares to hand its functions over to the new Welsh language commissioner.

The Welsh government responded that it "is committed to seeing the Welsh language thrive".

Mr Jones told BBC Wales' Sunday Politics programme: "I think it's a growing language in some ways, but as a community language it's dying.

"The language, although it's flourishing in some ways, it's still in the context of having to live within the shadow of a very large major lingua franca across the world and to keep some kind of even playing field there has to be an investment in terms of ideas and innovation."

Lecture anniversary

His comments come in the week that marks the 50th anniversary of the influential lecture by one of the founders of Plaid Cymru, Saunders Lewis, on the fate of the language.

WELSH LANGUAGE FACTS

  • Until the mid-1800s, over 80% of people in Wales could speak Welsh
  • Factors causing its decline included the Industrial Revolution, with the fall continuing in the 20th Century.
  • The 1991 census found 508,000 Welsh speakers in Wales (18.7%)
  • But the 2001 census showed the number a rise with 582,000 (20.8%) speakers, up 2.1%
  • The 2001 census also showed 457,946 (16.3%) can read, write and speak Welsh
  • In 2001 797,717 (28.4%) people had at least one skill in Welsh, either understanding, speaking, reading or writing
  • Source: Welsh Language Board

In April, the Welsh Language Board will disappear, with its duties transferred to the new role of Welsh language commissioner, appointed by the Welsh government.

Mr Jones said that raised concerns for him: "The traffic in terms of promoting the Welsh Language has been from the board to the government, not in the other direction.

"So as the responsibility now goes to the government, who will lead that creative edge?

"Who within the political circles and civil service will have that role of practically saying we need to do something about the Welsh language, it's in crisis, how do we promote it?"

The 2001 census has been described as a significant turning point in the history of the language.

It found that 582,000 people in Wales could speak Welsh, up by 2.1% from 1991, when it stood at 508,000.

Start Quote

So as the responsibility now goes to the government, who will lead that creative edge?”

End Quote Meirion Prys Jones Welsh Language Board

Figures show that in the mid 19th Century more than 80% of the population spoke the language.

The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries was the biggest factor in the fall to 50%. A large number of people moved from rural to urban areas, and other causes included the migration of English speakers to the countryside, a decline in chapel attendance, and the growth of the English language.

By 1911 the census showed that Welsh was spoken by 43.5% of the population, and had become a minority language.

Various measures have been passed aimed at encouraging the use of Welsh.

These have included the Welsh Language Act 1967, guaranteeing the right to use the language more widely in court, and providing for its use in public administration.

There was also the Welsh Language Act 1993, which put Welsh and English on an equal basis in public life in Wales, including putting a duty on the public sector to treat them equally in delivering services.

In 2010 the Welsh assembly passed a new law making Welsh an official language, obliging public bodies and some private companies to provide services in it, and creating the language commissioner.

The Welsh government is to launch its strategy for the language in March, but Mr Jones said there needed to be a cash injection, and a change of attitude in the government.

'Clear testimony'

"To support the language, you must invest in ideas and cash," he said.

"You can have as much legislation as you want, you can have as much policy as you want but unless you get in amongst the people and persuade them that the language is useful to them, there's no hope, I think."

He said he did not see "much evidence at the moment that it's being promoted by the Welsh government as a bilingual country with two official languages".

A spokesperson for the Welsh government responded: "This government is committed to seeing the Welsh language thrive.

"Our Welsh language strategy, the Welsh language measure, Welsh-medium education strategy and framework for Welsh language services in health and social care offer clear testimony in support of that commitment."

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