Welsh language status needs to be improved, BBC survey suggests

Saunders Lewis, pictured in 1963
Image caption Saunders Lewis's 1962 lecture predicted the demise of the Welsh language if no action was taken

A survey suggests nearly three in five people say there is a need to improve the status of the Welsh language.

The study, commissioned by BBC Radio Cymru, marks 50 years since Plaid Cymru founder Saunders Lewis gave his influential speech on the future of the language.

He predicted Welsh would disappear if nothing was done to save it.

Over 1,000 people were polled. About 20% of the population of Wales speak Welsh.

Lewis delivered his lecture on 13 February 1962, and he predicted that the language would disappear some time about now if nothing was done to save it.

He said that revolutionary means were needed to preserve Welsh.

It sparked debate and led to the foundation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society).

Half a century on, Radio Cymru has surveyed 510 Welsh speakers, and 510 non-Welsh speakers.

While almost three in every five of all those asked think the status of the language needs further improvement, the percentage is a little lower for non-Welsh speakers at 56%.

A total of 72% believe that making sure that education in Welsh is available for children in Wales is the most important way to protect the language.

That figure was the same among Welsh and non-Welsh speakers, with the highest figures amongst individuals who had children younger than 15.

The survey shows a difference of opinion among Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers on whether parents and pupils should be given the option not to study Welsh as a school subject.

While over half (55%) of Welsh speakers say this should not be optional, more than half (56%) of non-Welsh speakers are in favour of being given the option.

Fresh legislation

Cymdeithas yr Iaith was set up in summer 1962, and its campaigning for equal status for the language helped lead to the introduction of the 1993 Welsh Language Act.

That was followed by fresh legislation in 2010 and the appointment of a commissioner to enforce it.

Last month Bethan Williams, the current chair of the society, said the group would have to change "radically".

She said protecting Welsh-speaking communities should be the focus of future campaigning.

"Some people say that the struggle for the Welsh language is over, but we don't want to see it just as a marginal language, or as a language of education only.

"Now, as we step forward to the next period in our campaigning we are turning our sights to our communities, and ensuring that Welsh is a living language, used day to day," she said.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the speech, Bangor University is staging a Fate of the Language Exhibition.

"The exhibition will deal with the reaction of the students at Bangor, who were calling for wider use of the language at the university which led to serious unrest at the institution between 1976 and 1984," said Bangor University archivist Einion Thomas.

The exhibition will be held in the council chamber of the Main Arts Building at Bangor University from Monday.

BBC Wales is also marking the anniversary across its websites, radio and TV.

Radio Cymru programmes include lectures by five public figures exploring attitudes towards the language in 2012, broadcast at noon from Monday-February, 13-17 February.

According to the 2001 census, the number of people in Wales who could speak Welsh was 582,000 (20.8% of the population), a rise of 2.1% on the previous decade.

Until the mid-19th Century, more than 80% of people in Wales could speak Welsh but factors such as the Industrial Revolution and migration led to a decline, which continued into the 20th Century.

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