Welsh speakers fight for linguistic equality

As English appears to seemingly engulf the spheres of business and popular culture, there are many fighting for the survival of other less widely-spoken languages, such as those holding a torch for Wales’ mother tongue.

More Welsh in Parliament

Welsh MPs want greater equality when it comes to speaking their own language in Westminster and have called for facilities to hold debates in Parliament in Welsh.

MPs from different parties voiced their support for more opportunities to use the Welsh language in the House of Commons when business relating to Wales is being discussed.

Speaking during questions to the leader of the House, Labour MP Paul Flynn claimed that the Welsh language was being “treated secondary” to English and urged “practical arrangements of reasonable value” to be put in place to permit Welsh to be used in debates, noting that “other parliaments deal with half a dozen languages”.

Conservative MP Glyn Davies sought assurances that Welsh-language legislation in line with the Welsh Language Act 1993 is being applied across the civil service.

Tom Brake, deputy leader of the House of Commons, stated that “short extracts” are permitted when members are making speeches to the House and witnesses giving evidence to select committees are able to do so in Welsh, adding that the government is “committed to the Welsh language”.

However, Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards called for more to be done and for Welsh to be an official language of the UK Parliament.

Welsh language beyond government

It is not only in Parliament that Welsh speakers are fighting to ensure their language is treated equally with English, with one organisation in Wales pressing for changes to the planning system.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith is campaigning for the Welsh Government to include specific provisions for the Welsh language in draft legislation relating to the planning process.

The group has won support from a range of other bodies and individuals in its calls for the wording of the draft planning proposals to include the promotion of the Welsh language, with co-signatories to a statement proposing the changes including Friends of the Earth Cymru, language group Cymuned and the chief executive of the National Eisteddfod.

Earlier this year, the group unveiled banners at bridges across Wales calling for changes in Welsh Government policy to ensure the future growth of the language, following census data showing a dip in the percentage of the population of Wales who speak Welsh.

Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg Robin Farrar said that the organisation wants the Welsh Government “to act in six specific areas”, including clear language rights, making Welsh the language of work and a community-focused planning system.

Carmarthenshire County Council recently revealed that it is researching reasons for the drop in Welsh speakers revealed by the census and plans to propose ways by which the decline could be reversed.

Therefore, while Welsh may not be as widely spoken as English, with campaigners fighting to expand its use, demand may grow in the future for Welsh translators and interpreters.

The current state of Welsh

Welsh, or Cymraeg, is spoken fluently by 19% of the population of Wales, according to the most recent census, which equates to around half a million people. It is a living language, used every day by thousands of people in conversation, as well as a compulsory school subject up to the age of 16.

One of the oldest living languages in Europe, Welsh is a Celtic tongue that is allied with Cornish and Breton.

The House of Commons has a Welsh affairs committee comprising 12 MPs and examines matters that fall within the remit of the secretary of state for Wales, in addition to those policies of the UK government that affect the country.

Under the 1993 Welsh Language Act, Welsh was placed in principle on an equal footing with English in Wales, in the course of public business and the administration of justice.

It resulted in the creation of the Welsh Language Board, which reported to the secretary of state for Wales, with powers later devolved to the National Assembly for Wales.

In March, first minister of Wales Carwyn Jones announced that the Welsh Government is drawing up a policy statement outlining its vision for the language over the next three years.

Whether campaigners’ efforts to boost the propagation of the Welsh language will prove fruitful or not, only time will tell. For the moment, however, so long as there are speakers somewhere, we will continue to provide the professionals.

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