Welsh Language in the Heartland

There is increasing evidence of the decline of the Welsh language as a lingua franca of areas traditionally thought of as Welsh speaking, coupled with a marked increase in the use of the language in more Anglicised areas. It’s a fairly easy phenomena to understand – as the % speakers fall below 75 to 70%  it is normal for the languages of institutions such as the WI, Cricket Clubs, Young Farmers etc etc to change their primary language.

A good sort of test these days is to have a look at some websites. Because I’m interested, and the demographic is younger than average,  I’l choose some Rugby and Soccer clubs to have a look at.

Firstly from the area of Industrial Eastern Carmarthenshire where the Westward drift of the language boundary continues, but still contains, by percentage, some of the most Welsh speaking communities in the World.
The Scarlets set a pretty good example with a website that seems almost entirely bilingual.
It’s less encouraging in the smaller clubs as Cydweli monoglot English, Y Tymbl not much better. Cwmllynfell slightly more content.
In North Pembrokeshire, another area under pressure, Crymych the best of the small clubs so far.
Further West in Cardiganshire we have Cardigan itself which make an effort, but the extremely disappointing Lampeter.
So some bad news in the South.
Moving North both Porthmadog Football and Bethesda RFC excellent whilst the contrast between the Caernarfon Rugby Club and Soccer clubs astonishing really.
Finally here’s Bethel FC which is the only one I can find to state a language policy:
“Bethel is a small village outside Caernarfon, Gwynedd, in North Wales. Our first language is Welsh and therefore our website is bilingual.”
So a bit of a contrast between North and South but some bad and some good news….Any good examples from Ireland?

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  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I think the continuing improvements in software products will help improve the siuation as it often difficult to get volunteers to keep sports websites updated in one language without the complication of a second.

    We dont do language properly like your goodselves and the only sporting website that I visit that does a coupla focail (cwpl eiriau) is – probably the best sports website in the world (and the best rugby team) http://www.munsterfans.com/ which sometimes does live texting in by supporters on the progress of Munster games in Irish on a seperate thread.

  • For information, please:

    Is the Welsh Language Board entirely an Assembly creation? Or is it liable to be one of the threatened quangos? [My revolutionary spirit might almost welcome the second, if only for the fall-out thereof being Chernobylian.]

  • joeCanuck

    I’m not well acquainted with the geography or population distribution in Wales, but would the decline be linked to a drift from the mining valleys to larger population areas?

  • joeCanuck

    And when the Prince of Wales visits, does he make any speeches in Welsh? Indeed, can he even speak Welsh?

  • Alan Maskey

    Vinny Jones could sing it.

  • Danny

    Further questions for Dewi:

    In your estimation…

    – what percentage of Welsh residents are native speakers of the language?

    – what percentage of Welsh residents are fluent speakers (native speakers + secondary bilinguals)?

    For example in the Republic, around 40% claim some ability in the Irish language.

    However, only about 5-8% are fluent and just under 2% speak it habitually (every single day, outside of the education system). These figures are based on the most reliable data available to us.

    As for native speakers, the figure is probably in the region of 0.5-1.5%.

  • Dewi

    Pre assembly…but being abolished for a Commisioner in the true Soviet spirit…

  • Dewi

    In the south mixed marriages and house building has moved the frontier West.

  • Dewi

    1. 20 %
    2. 23%

  • JoeJoe

    Still a few all ‘as gaeilge’ sports clubs in Ireland

  • PaddyReilly

    Yes, he does make speeches in Welsh.

    But they are actually written for him and he reads them from a text which is transliterated phonetically for the benefit of English speakers.

  • PaddyReilly

    Welsh is not actually spoken in or native to the whole of Wales: areas like South Pembrokeshire have always used a germanic tongue, and the Southern parts, Glamorgan and Monmouthshire in English, mainly lost the language in the last two centuries.

    In areas where Welsh is spoken the percentage rises over 50%: to the extent that English and Northern Irish women who gave birth in Gwynedd and Dyfed have complained to me that they were excluded from most conversations in the maternity wing.

  • joeCanuck

    Interesting, Paddy. Do you think the numbers are holding steady, going up or going down as Dewi thinks?

  • Dewi

    It is “native” to the whole of Wales Paddy – Welsh was spoken in South Pembrokeshire pre plantation as a lot of the placenames indicate.

  • Oh, come on, Dewi! If place-names are to be the marker, the territory extends far further than that!

  • Dewi

    Of course Malcolm,! But I was addressing Paddy’s specific…

  • Drumlin Rock

    thought it was the “native language” of the whole British Isles and much of western europe?

  • Dewi

    “thought it was the “native language” of the whole British Isles and much of western europe?”
    Even I won’t claim that DR…but Old Welsh was spoken throughout England, Wales and Southern Scotland…

  • PaddyReilly

    The History of Little England beyond Wales and its settlement by Vikings, Norman, Flemings and English can be read here:-


    There may be Welsh substratum placenames but these can be found throughout England and indeed Western Europe.

  • Dewi

    yep, but Welsh speaking pre-Normans – that’s clear.

  • Accepting your previous admonition @ 12:52 pm, Dewi, I’d argue whether it is “clear”. I see PaddyReilly‘s point.

    Specifically, I think you will find there is evidence that Hen Ogledd/”The Old North” persisted well into the 12th and 13th century.

    David I of Scotland codified the Laws of the Brets and Scots in the early 12th cent (those “Brets” being the Cumbric-speakers of Strathclyde). Obviously Norman influence hadn’t penetrated that far yet.

    Then, as late as 1305 we see Edward I of England striking down those Laws, which would imply the Cumbric tradition was still extant.

    It is also clear that placenames of Cumbric origin exist well outside the assumed area of Strathclyde, across the whole of Rheged and Gododdin: Lindow in Cheshire, Pen-y-ghent just into God’s own county, the hybrid Cumbric-Norse Rochdale in Lancashire, and so on.

    For a real thread-killer, there is The Lincolnshire Shepherd which The Watersons used on their 1981 Green Fields album:

    Yan, tan, tethera, tethera, pethera, pimp.
    Yon owd ewe’s far-welted, and this ewe’s got a limp
    Sethera, methera, hovera, and covera up to dik,
    Aye, we can deal wi’ ’em all, and wheer’s me crook and stick?

    I count ’em up to figgits, and figgits have a notch,
    There’s more to being a shepherd than being on watch;
    There’s swedes to chop and lambing time and snow upon the rick,
    Sethera, methera, hovera, and covera up to dik.

    From Caistor down to Spilsby from Sleaford up to Brigg,
    There’s Lincoln sheep all on the chalk, all hung wi’ wool and big.
    And I, here in Langton wi’ this same old flock.,
    Just as me grandad did afore they meddled with the clock.

  • Dewi

    Yeah – those sheep counting rhymes have an ancient resonance…and what about:
    “Old King Cole was a merry old soul
    And a merry old soul was he;
    He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl
    And he called for his fiddlers three”
    We’ve here before, me and thee, but the scarcity of linguistic borrowings Saxon to Brythonic and backwards is a mystery to me.

  • The one I dined out on was bwg/bug.

    According to one account, “bug” came into (Saxon) English from the Welsh herdsmen bringing tp market the cattle that couldn’t be overwintered. To what (or to whom) the herdsmen were referring with their bwg is open to interpretation.

    The Saxons heard it to imply ambiguously (i.e. nobody knows which) a “ghost” or a “devil”. At some stage (perhaps by back-construction) it may have worked back into Welsh as bwgan and bygwydd. Burns, of course, has Tam O’Shanter:
    glowring round wi’ prudent cares,
    Lest bogles catch him unawares

    which reinforces a Brythonic connection.

    The OED has it into English in John Wyclif (1388); then in Thomas More (1529) and the Coverdale Bible of 1535: Thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night.

    As often, the term weakened and by the 17th century a “bug” had changed from a thing of terror to something just annoying: an insect.

    From there, thanks to the invention of the microscope, “bug” became some creature not visible to the naked eye. And so, in due course a microbe, a germ, and an illness.

    Meanwhile the technologists were using the term to mean a technical problem by the end of the 19th century,

    Along come computers, those early one based on thermionic valves. When the machine broke down (if one was lucky, the average up-time was about 20 minutes), it was because a valve had failed. Crawl thought the mainframe, find the faulty valve, and invariably there’s a dead, cooked insect. Hence any computing fault was not human error, but a “bug”. But natch.

    Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (the inventor of COBOL) is credited with the coining of “debugging”.

    So we are with the idea of a “bugging” as a verb, and it’s not far to Bart Simpson and his “Hey, don’t bug me, man!”

    Which brings us full circle.

    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Your distance may vary.

  • Dewi

    Cool Malcolm