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23 September 2014
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Welsh today
The history of Welsh

Welsh today by Prof. Peter Wynn Thomas

According to the 2001 UK census, 582,000 people in Wales claim to be able to speak Welsh. These represent 20.8% of the total population.

The number and the percentage of Welsh speakers are increasing. In 1991 there were 508,000 speakers, or 18.7% of the population.

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Pamela Jones Listen to a Welsh story from Pamela Jones, Wrexham. More...

Apart from some very young children, everyone who speaks Welsh in Wales can also speak English.

The ability to speak is one of four language skills. The other language skills are reading, writing, and understanding spoken language. According to the 2001 UK census, almost 798,000 or 28.4% of the population claim to have at least one language skill in Welsh.

You're more likely to hear Welsh spoken in west Wales than in the east. For example, 69% of the population of Gwynedd, in the north-west, can speak Welsh. But only 11% of the population of Cardiff, in the east, can speak Welsh.

There are more Welsh speakers in southern Wales than in the north. The 69% of Gwynedd represents almost 78,000 Welsh speakers. But the smaller 50% of Carmarthenshire in the south represents more than 84,000 speakers.

There are also more Welsh speakers in the cities and towns than in the countryside. For example, there are almost 26,000 speakers in rural Powys in mid Wales, but in the south-east we find almost 28,000 in Rhondda-Cynon-Taf, 29,000 in Swansea, and 32,500 in Cardiff.

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play audio Listen to how Welsh and English intermingle in Gwynedd. More...

Welsh speakers are increasing on two main fronts. The first, and most obvious, is amongst school children. Welsh-medium schools are flourishing and in 1990 it became compulsory for children in English-medium state schools to learn Welsh up to the age of 14. In 1999 the upper age limit was raised to 16. These changes are reflected in the 2001 census, which recorded that 40.8% of all school children between the ages of 5 and 15 can speak Welsh.

The second growth area in the number of Welsh speakers is the many thousands of adults who are learning the language. As well as the increase in numbers, it is becoming easier to see, hear, and use Welsh from day to day.

A Welsh television channel, S4C, was established in 1982. This was followed in 1998 by S4C Digital, which broadcasts over 80 hours of Welsh television a week. There are several local radio stations and a national Welsh radio station, Radio Cymru, which broadcasts about 126 hours a week.

Several hundred Welsh language books and periodicals are published a year and more than 50 local Welsh papers are produced several times a year by volunteers. There are plans to produce a daily newspaper in Welsh in 2005.

The use of the Welsh language is promoted by the Welsh Language Board. The Board was set up by the 1993 Welsh Language Act which states that Welsh and English should be treated equally in the administration of justice and in public business. Public bodies in Wales must submit schemes to the Board which describe the provision they make for the language.

The aims of the Welsh Language Board seem to have general support. According to a recent opinion poll 67% of people in Wales thought that more should be done to promote Welsh.

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Dewi Listen to students from Bethesda, Gwynedd, talking about Welsh in their lives. More...
Thousands of Welsh speakers have emigrated from Wales to other countries. There are many Welsh societies throughout the world. We don't know exactly how many people speak Welsh outside Wales but several surveys commissioned by S4C, the Welsh television channel, suggest that there are more than 200,000 Welsh speakers in England.

One particular area where emigrants from Wales continue to speak Welsh is Patagonia in the Chubut province of Argentina. The first settlers arrived in 1865, hoping to found a 'New Wales'. Many of their descendants are bilingual in Welsh and Spanish.

Welsh has two main regional dialects: northern and southern. People sometimes claim that they can't understand speakers from the opposite end of the country but in reality there are very few problems.


Your Comments
What is your experience of Welsh?

Emily, Llanelli
I am encouraged and worried by many of these comments. It is nice to see that there are people who appreciate our culture. I can't understand why some native Welsh people have no interest in learning Welsh. It is so easy these days thanks to many who have fought before us, to learn Welsh through S4C and through education. We should be grateful, and proud that we have a different language. I don't think it should be imposed on those who are not Welsh, but if I was not Welsh and came to live in Wales, I would try to learn through curiosity's sake! I also think it's rude to speak Welsh in the presence of people who cannot. Let's not leave the people down who kept this language alive.

Cath from RCT
I agree with comments about a true reflection of the Welsh Language in Wales. I have read literature which claims that most people living in Southern Wales in particular aren't even truly from Wales but came here to work over the last couple of centuries. Welsh activists get a life and keep it in proportion. And please stop trying to inflict it upon English speaking people born in Wales.

I think and hope that Welsh is on the up. I am currently learning Welsh, although i'm making a slow start. Some people on here really are talking rubbish when they say most non welsh speakers dont have any interest in the language, most of my friends dont speak welsh, but nearly all of them i've asked have said they would like to, and are fully supportive of all the efforts to promote it. I am very glad of the Welsh i learnt back in school because it has given me a great start when i decided that i was going to learn welsh properly, because i realised that i already knew most of the basics when i started again. So with a bit of hard work i might finally learn to speak in the native tongue of my country and half my family, and help play my part in saving this ancient and beautiful language!

meic aberafan
i'm sad and amazed by some of the comments by welsh people here conserning welsh, myself brought up speaking english have always felt a bit left out as both sets of gran perants were able to speak welsh it did'nt make me feel any less welsh but when the oppertunity came for my children to attend a welsh medium school we did,nt think twice to give them the chance we never had also some time later i learnt welsh myself and it has enriched my life like learning any new skill would,but to hear some welsh people to say they could'nt care less about welsh and have been force fed is utter bollocks! every one has congratulated me on my effort as for those dick sion dafydds theres no escaping who you are-cymry..

John from Harwich
I'm English, I'm learning Welsh because my ancestery is Welsh, I think its a great language, I can't wait to be more fluent and have conversations with people that others wont understand! I like the fact that digital TV, and the Internet and other media forms are making it more accessible to people like me.

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