The role of Adult education in preserving the identity of an ethnic minority: the Welsh case
written by Dr. J.R.P. Evans, Wales, 1991
It is difficult to relate the title of this paper to
the experience of Wales ‑ at first sight ‑ because the Welsh people are not an
ethnic minority in Wales. Indeed there are good grounds to identify English
people living in Wales as a true ethnic minority. If one uses instead the terms
"linguistic" minority as a form of ethnic minority then there are
matters associated with the title which can be readily addressed. Indeed it
will be argued that in the last 25 years or so Adult Education has had and
continues to have, a crucial role in the preservation of the Welsh Language
and in so doing preserving also our national heritage in terms of culture,
music, sport etc.
Where is Wales? What is this land that we are speaking
Wales may not be an island, but it is different from
England. Wales has a separate character, a sense of community, continuity and
history, perhaps a character forged by the crucible of conflict in that
We have a flag ‑ y Ddraig Goch ‑ which does not fit
neatly into the Union Jack, a national anthem, a living language which is over
2000 years old and still developing, and a national heritage which, though
inextricably linked with our larger neighbour, is truly distinctive.
Wales is a Celtic country of myth and magic. Even in
these pragmatic and prosaic times the Celtic nature of most of its people is
more in tune with cultural and spiritual matters than the more materialistic
aspects of modern life. Traditionally the Celts are thought to have been short,
dark and warlike. Whilst there is indeed a Celtic sub‑race who H have these
characteristics, there is also the sub‑race who are tall with blond or fair
hair ‑ and warlike. These days most Welsh people are mixtures of both with additions
from Ireland ‑ another Celtic nation ‑ and England. To these strains there is,
also, particularly from those families who originated from the coastal areas,
the genetic inheritance of the Vikings ‑ over 1000 years ago. The Greek writer
Strabo says of the Celts : "The whole race is war‑mad, high spirited and
quick to fight, otherwise straightforward and not at all of evil
Wales geographic position locates it on the Western
side of the main island of the British Isles. Although still proclaiming its
separate identity, and ‑ some would argue ‑ separate nationality,
administratively and legally Wales and England are a joint entity. This is
different from Scotland which has a separate legal and administrative system
and different from Northern Ireland where other forces infringe upon and are
more important than such mundane matters as life and death. Coming, as I do
from a Welsh father and an Irish mother I claim an aquaintanceship with these
matters. I do not share the agenda of the narrow nationalists but, perhaps
paradoxically, would wish to see a United Ireland. That subject has taxed
greater minds than mine over far longer periods of time than this Meeting in
Before considering these last 25 years or so in Wales,
it is perhaps appropriate to consider a historical "snap shot" of
Wales and the Welsh, in order to have a contextual backcloth for those years.
Wales is a modernised version of the Anglo Saxon term wealeas meaning "foreign". Though how we can
be foreigners in our own land I do not know. In our own language we are y Gymru
‑ a word which translates albeit poorly as "brotherhood" or
"comradery" but which has a warmth and a strength about it.
The Saxon King, Offa of Mercia (757 ‑ 796 A.D.) fed up
with the persistent raids across the border into his English Kingdom for their
cattle, goods and fair maidens, built an enormous earthwork 168 miles
(approximately 270 kms) long from Chepstow in the South to Chester in the
North. This took place after the Battle of Hereford in 760 A.D. which we lost.
There were severe penalties imposed upon Welsh transgressors if caught. Offa
decreed that every Welshman found with a weapon on the Mercian (English) side
of the dyke was to have his right hand cut off forthwith. The dyke did not stop
the struggle and the Mercians made frequent forays into Wales and were the
recipients of reciprocal attacks. Indeed Offa's son Canwulf died in 821 A.D. in
the course of a new campaign to put an end to the Welsh ‑ he too failed.
Whilst Offa's Dyke marked the first physical boundary
between England and Wales, the English were certainly not the first to attempt
the conquest of the Welsh.
The Welsh are one of six Celtic races ‑ the Welsh,
Bretons and Cornish, known as Brythonic Celts and the Irish, Manx and Scots
known as Goidelic Celts.
The Celtic heritage is the oldest in Europe after
Greek and Latin. They seem to have originated in the area of the source of the
Danube, in the Black Forest in Germany. From there they seem to have moved
onwards and outwards. In 400 B.C. they sacked Rome. In 279 B.C. they sacked
Delphi ‑ and probably carried off any vestal virgins they found there. In 600
B.C. they crossed the English Channel into Britain. Britain is in fact a Celtic
word which some argue comes from the Celtic work for Tartan.
Although the Romans conquered what is now England and
subdued the great Belgae tribe, their progress into Wales was much more difficult
and it is no surprise to find two of Britain's three Legionary fortresses at
Caerleon in the South and Chester in the North, of Wales. The other was at
York. The Romans built military camps and military roads throughout Wales and
established seaports at such places as Cardiff and Neath. Their lack of
success in conquering the Silures can be measured by the fact that the only
civilian Roman town established in Wales was at Caerwent near Caerleon in the
East. Also all of their roads were on bare hilltops and ridges and never in the
The Anglo Saxon invasion was much more serious and the
united armies of the Celtic Confederacy clashed with the Anglo Saxons at
Winwaed field in 655 A.D. The "English" army triumphed and the Celtic
leader Penda and some thirty chieftains and other nobles fell in the battle.
This led to a period of increasing "English" incursions into what
were Welsh lands.
At the beginning of the ninth century Britain was
again swept by fierce invaders. These were the Norsemen or Vikings who sailed
from their Scandinavian creeks and fiords to the uttermost parts of Europe and
even the East Coast of America. There seemed to be little attempt by the
Vikings to settle in Wales ‑ unlike England ‑ and they seemed to have confined
themselves ‑ or have been confined ‑ to Anglesey, Swansea, Milford and two
small islands in the Bristol Channel, Steepholm and Flatholm. The Viking
depredations did have two significant effects, one was the emergence of the
first supreme ruler of Wales, Rhodri the Great and the second was the first
joint army of Welsh and English led by King Alfred, which defeated the Danish
(a generic term for all Vikings) army under Haesten in 896 A.D. Five years
later under Edward the Elder, the English repudiated their alliance and once
again Wales and England were enemies.
The great Welsh Prince Hywel Dda united Wales once
more and established peaceful co‑existance with England. He also codified Welsh
laws and called together the first Welsh Parliament to achieve this. Perhaps
the first recorded instance of the Welsh forming a committee.
Viking depredations and the continuing conflicts with
England did not end with the Norman Invasion. The Normans regarded Wales as an
extension of England and therefore theirs by right. One of the Welsh princes
who opposed the Normans until his death in battle in 1093 was Rhys ap Tewdur ‑
an ancestor of Henry Tewdur (Tudor) of whom later. Henry I, grandson of
William the Conqueror began his first Welsh campaign in 1114 but with his death
in 1135 all of the conquests made by him were lost in a matter of weeks. The
greatest Norman Lord of the time Richard Fitz Gilbert was killed and his
forces routed. The civil war in England between the forces of King Stephen and
the forces of the Empress Matilda which broke out with the landing of the
Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, meant that the English had other matters
on their minds.
Henry II decided to try and conquer Wales in 1163 but
his huge army failed to make contact with the Welsh army. Harried and battered
by skirmishers and doubtless targets for Welsh archers, the English retired to
Shropshire. Henry turned to the Continent for his conquests.
In 1246 the last native Prince of Wales came to power.
This was Llewellyn ap Gruffyd ap Llywelyn. He signed a peace treaty with Henry
III ‑ as well as forming alliances with Henry's enemies like the Scots. However
Edward, Henry's son, became King in 1272, and 1277 decided to conquer Wales.
After a number of fierce battles Llywelyn and Edward signed a truce. This
lasted but four years and Llywelyn struck again. During this campaign on 11
December 1282, Llywelyn was ambushed and killed by English soldiers at Cilmeri
near Builth Wells. His head was sent as a present to Edward. His brother Dafydd
was captured early in 1283 and was murdered (executed) in Shrewsbury. This
ended the independent Royal Household of Wales which had lasted from 844 ‑
nearly 400 years.
Edward's conquest was more in name than in fact and he
left the internal workings of the country alone. Welsh language and literature
continued to flourish. There were uprisings from time to time but always the
result was the arrival of the Royal army and defeat. Perhaps the greatest
uprising was that of Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glendower of Shakespeare). In 1400 he
raised the ancient Welsh standard ‑ a golden dragon on a silver background ‑
and all Wales rose in revolt. In 1401 Owain was proclaimed Prince of Wales.
Despite English allies like Sir Edmund Mortimer and Henry (Hotspur) Percy Earl
of Northumberland, the "freedom" did not last long. Prince Henry
(after Henry V) commanded the English armies and defeated Hotspur at Shrewsbury
in 1403. Hotspur died on the battle field. Owain was met in 1405 at Grosmont
near Usk in Gwent and his army defeated. Aberystwyth fell in 1408 and the great
Castle of Harlech in 1409.
Shortly after this time an anglicised Welshman Sir
Owain Tudor married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of France. His sons Jasper
and Edmund became the Earls of Pembroke and Richmond. Edmund Tudor married Lady
Margaret Beaufort and in 1457 Henry Tudor was born.
Britain was beset by the wars of the Roses and on 8
August 1485 Henry Tudor and his Uncle Jasper landed at Milford Haven. They
raised a Welsh army and marched against Richard III. On 21 August 1485 Henry
Tudor's army flying the Red Dragon banner of Cadwaladr won the day. Richard was
slain and Henry Tudor was crowned on the battle field. This Henry VIII ‑ Henry
Tudor ‑ a Welsh prince ascended the throne of England.
This brought nothing to Wales and in 1536 his son
Henry VIII granted the Royal Ascent to the Act of Union. This Act brought Welsh
law and administration into line with England. The policy of the Tudor
Government was to incorporate Wales into England by removing all differences,
especially the language. Six years later, the 1542 Act set out to
"extirp" the Welsh language and to exclude monoglot Welsh speakers
from holding office under the Crown.
The problems which the English Crown had with first
the Pope, then the Spanish Empire and others meant that for the next two
hundred and fifty years or so, Wales became a backwater.
In the 1730's education became an issue of importance.
The only Welsh attempts at establishing universities foundered with Owain
Glyndwr's failures. There is however the foundation of the Welsh College at
Oxford ‑ Jesus College ‑ founded in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I. In 1731 Griffith
Jones, vicar of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, established a school in his
parish to teach people to read Welsh. Not children but adults, perhaps the
first instance of "adult education". By the time of his death in 1761
Jones' Circulating Schools numbered over 3,000 and were teaching some 158,000
people ‑ children and adults.
In 1751 the first Welsh Society ‑ The Honourable Society
of Cymmrodorion ‑ was formed. The Society still exists today and the Patron is
Her Majesty the Queen.
The major change in life in Wales came at the end of
the Eighteenth Century and at the commencement of the Nineteenth when the
conjunction of fuel ‑ first wood for charcoal then coal ‑ iron ore, limestone
and water led to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. At one time Wales was
the major producer of iron in the world. The iron towns of the Heads of the
Valleys area needed workers and thousands flocked into the area. Most of these
immigrants came from the farming communities of Wales. Others came across the
Severn from Somerset and Gloucester, yet others from Hereford and Shropshire. A
large number came from Ireland.
The iron masters were English and supported the
Established Church of England. The majority of the workforce were Welsh and
non‑conformist. The situation, linguistically, became very confused with
instructions and directions in the workplace given in English yet home life
and religious life were conducted in Welsh. Obviously monoglot Welsh speakers
were disadvantaged and the anglicisation process took a substantial step forward.
Education was becoming a major focus of attention of
those in Government, given the agitation for political reform. During this
period there were a number of Royal Commission examining the state of
education. In 1839 the Chartist Rebellion took place and was crushed outside
the Westgate Hotel in Newport. The Chartist leaders were arrested, sentences to
death but this was commuted to life imprisonment. Disturbed by this unrest, the
Government sent commissioners to examine the state of education. The
commissioners were monoglot English lawyers who conducted their interviews in
English largely with people for whom this was a foreign language and came to
the conclusion that the Welsh were an illiterate, ignorant and heathen people.
They certainly read very little English, had no way of comprehending the
questions put to them and did not support the Anglican Church. The 1847 Report ‑
published in blue covers ‑ became known as "Y Brad Llyfriau Gleision"
‑ the treachery of the blue books.
The recommendations were for teaching and led to the
establishment of schools ‑ some funded by the Works ‑ for the children of the
workforce. In order to discourage the children from speaking Welsh the
"Welsh Not" was used. Initially this was a heavy oak board hung by
string around the neck of a child at the level of the knees. It had written on
it "Welsh Not" and would be worn all day. Later this was replaced by
a much smaller device and ridicule and shame were used. At the end of the day
the wearer of the "Welsh Not" would be caned.
The Welsh chapels continues to operate and successive
waves of immigration especially to mine coal, from the Welsh speaking , gave
fresh impetus to these chapels.
The growth of trade unions, seeking to encompass all
workers ‑ Welsh, English, Irish ‑ sought to use a common language. Since they
had to negotiate with the iron masters or coal‑owners who would nto speak
Welsh, they were forced to use English. This became the lingua franca of the
Trade Union movement.
In 1904 there was a most incredible phenomenon. The
Welsh Revival. A great preacher emerged and began calling the people from their
godless ways. This touched a chord in the Welsh psyche and a huge wave of religious
fervour swept Wales from West to East, South to North. Pubs closed down, sports
fixtures were cancelled, major outdoor preaching festivals took place,
religious services took place every evening and at least three times on
Sundays. All of this was conducted in Welsh. The Revival petered out but the
legacy was a revival of the Welsh language.
The enormous blood letting of the First World War
where a great many Welsh men and boys flocked to the colours and died in their
thousands at Ypres, the Somme etc., was a tradegy for all. For a small nation
the cost was disproportionately heavy.
The inter‑war years in Wales brought desolation and
destitution as the market for Welsh steam‑coal collapsed both because of the
Depression and the switch from coal to oil by both naval and merchant vessels.
Many Welsh people migrated to England and America to find work. Even today
there are sizeable Welsh populations in Coventry, Birmingham, and Reading in
addition to the traditional venues of London, Bristol and Liverpool (for the
North Walians). Each of these cities has its own Welsh Society, which
celebrates 1 March (St. David's Day) and other Welsh festivals as well as
providing a support network for newcomers.
The Second World War produced its own problems and
again Welsh troops were in action in every theatre. Curiously enough, during
the Winter War between Finland and Russia, Welsh troops were placed on standby
to go to Finland's aid. They never got to Finland. They did get to Norway and
were evacuated from Narvik. There was one celebrated use of Welsh during the
war when the Japanese were being driven out of Burma and Malaya. Welsh radio
operators spoke to each other in Welsh, the Japanese thought it was a code but
they never broke it !
The social changes after the war revealed a world
dominated by the largest English speaking nation ‑ America. Rapidly English
became the Latin of the new order. All over the world there was a manifest
desire to learn English. In Wales there was English tuition through the school
system alongside Welsh, gradually the level of Welsh education fell. With the
increasing secularisation of society the chapels became refuges of an ageing
population no longer regenerated by young mature adults. As the chapel
populations died so their establishments became used for other non‑religious
purposes. To all intents and purposes Welsh was dying.
This was the scenario when Saunders Lewis ‑ the
Catholic founder of Plaid Cymru ‑ gave his famous radio broadcast on 13
February 1962 ‑ Tynged yr Iaith ‑
The fate of the Language.
This broadcast was the spark which lit the fire of the
latest surge for the preservation of the Welsh Language. Within a few months a
group of students at University College, Aberystwyth formed Cymdeithias yr
Iaith Gymraeg ‑ The Welsh Language Society. Within a very short period of time
largely because of the activities of the activists polarising views, stirring
consciences on one side and inflaming tempers on the other, the Welsh language
had become one of the major social and political issues in Welsh life.
The Post Office was initially the major target
impinging as it does on the lives of everyone. In February 1963 a group of
people blocked the bridge at Trefechan, Aberystwyth by sitting down in the
road. Post office vans, inscribed Royal Mail suddenly had Post Brenninol as
well. Post offices were also Swddfa'r Post, bilingual forms and other official
documents began appearing but only have major protests and demonstrations on
the one side aided by the quiet workings of others ‑ perhaps guilty about their
past failings. Not everything was achieved by the road‑sign painters with their
tins of green paint. Even as the campaign was being launched a report The Welsh
Language Today was published at the end of 1963 by the Council for Wales and
Monmouthshire. Amongst its seminal recommendations, the council recommended
that Welsh should have official status, that people should have the right to
use it in courts, inquiries and tribunals, in local government, in election
papers, in correspondence with government departments and in official
Nor did the Council shirk the emotional aspect of the
language question. In its summary it said it had aimed at finding a policy on
which the whole of Wales could write :
"We are conscious of divisions in Wales on this
question, but we are convinced that the majority of people in Wales are anxious
to see the Welsh Language survive and flourish. The survival and strength of a
language depend upon the exercise of the general will of the community. If the
community do not favour the use of the language, government and other institutions
can do little. Language cannot be imposed on a people: it must be embraced
voluntarily ... While the language cannot be deliberately imposed upon people,
neither should its use be thoughtlessly or deliberately undermined ... There
are two guiding principles : firstly the firm protection of individual rights
to use the language, and secondly a positive and practical sympathy towards the
aspirations of those who wish to see it survive and flourish. In this we take
the view that those who do not speak the language have corresponding rights,
and that these rights should be fully acknowledged." (The Welsh Language
Sadly one has to recognise that this latter sentiment
does not find favour with the Language Activists.
The Hughes‑Parry Committee set up in 1963 with a remit
to clarify the legal status of Welsh and consider whether changes should be
made to the law. Their report was presented in October 1965. It came out in
favour of the principle of equal validity for Welsh and English. This meant
that any form or document in Welsh would have the same validity in law as if it
had been written in English. The committee decided against complete
bilingualism, a disappointment to Cymdeithias. The principle of equal validity
was approved and incorporated into the Welsh Language Act of 1967. This ended
the 425 years during which Welsh officially did not exist.
The Welsh Language Society saw what they believed they
alone had achieved by low key demonstrations and up graded their activities,
roadsigns were daubed, there were sit‑down protests and demonstrations, they
abused those in authority who could not or would not speak Welsh. The campaign
focused around trying to prevent or at least hinder the Investiture of Prince
Charles as Prince of Wales. Matters became very heated as the campaign took a
sinister turn with the bombers planting their deadly devices. After the
Investiture the road signs campaign became if anything even more dynamic.
Thousands of signs were daubed with green paint, hundreds pulled down and
dumped at County Council headquarters or at the Welsh Office in Cardiff. Nor
did fines or imprisonment stop or even deter these protesters. They accepted
imprisonment in the belief that they were latter‑day Welsh martyrs. For all
that it was clear that the spirit of the 1987 Act was not working even if the
letter was ‑ and that is open to question.
In a number of ways the language struggle hardened in
1971. As views polarised there was an increasing resentment and condemnation
of the militant language campaigners from some quarters. In this sensitive
situation many people began to question whether there was now a genuine danger
of a harmful division developing in Welsh society. There were those monoglot
English speaking Welshmen who were being made to feel very second‑class. As an
example whilst English people who work for BBC or HTV do not have to speak
Welsh, a Welsh person applying who does not speak Welsh will not even be
Almost in spite of the Welsh Language Society and
their political arm Plaid Cymru, although y Blaid denies any connection it is a
fact that every member of Cymdeithias is a Plaid member also, there is a
genuine feeling of warmth and sympathy for the language both as a living medium
of communication and as a vehicle of our national culture. This can be evidenced
in the success of the two Eisteddfodau held in anglicised South Wales in 1988
and 1990. In 1988 170,000 attended the Eisteddfod at Newport many, many of
them were non‑Welsh speakers. At Rhymney in 1990 over 130,000 people attended.
Again this is an area where most people are monoglot English speakers. It did,
however, give a boost to the language.
Eisteddfodau have a long tradition as musical contests
with poets, singers and musicians tried for success. The ultimate accolade
accorded to the premier poet was a wooden chair ‑ eisteddfod stems from the
Welsh word eisteddwch ‑ to sit. The National Eisteddfod in its modern form was
re‑introduced by Iolo Morgannwg, together with its gorsedd of bards ‑ pseudo‑druidic
ritual invented by Morgannwg. Notwithstanding this somewhat doubtful historical
base, the Eisteddfod has gone from strength to strength, meeting each year in
August alternating between North Wales and South Wales. Up until 1950 there was
no bar on the use of English other than the Chair and Crown poetry. At the
Caerphilly Eisteddfod of 1950 the All Welsh Rule was proposed and accepted. Now
it is the norm that all participants at the Eisteddfod both in the Pavilion
and on the maes itself are expected to speak Welsh. As the host of the 1990
Eisteddfod at Rhymney, I welcomed all the participants ‑ in Welsh. The
eisteddfod visit to an area always provides a substantial boost for the Welsh
language in that area with the anticipation of the event, the event itself and
the post‑event atmosphere. A great deal of voluntary work is entailed and the
enthusiasm of participation often provides the spark to ignite the process of
learning the language. Although there are very strong non‑conformist religious
elements involved in the eisteddfod ‑ many of the Bards are Reverend gentlemen
of Baptist, Unitarian, Primitive Methodists traditions and others ‑ there has
been a growing secularisation with the re‑emergence of Welsh folk songs and
folk dances both of which were ruthlessly supressed during the Non‑conformist
Revival of 1904. Dancing was seen as enormously sinful whilst any singing was
only to be religious hymns in chapels mainly on Sundays.
The recent history of the Welsh language seems to be
one of campaigns and protest. In the early years of this Twentieth Century
there was the campaign for the Disestablishment of the Anglican church. The
vast majority of people in Wales either support alternative churches, the
Catholic church or had no religious affiliations at all yet all who owned or
occupied land had to pay tithes to the Anglican Church. The clear injustice of
this eventually found favour in Parliament despite the vigourous opposition of
the Anglican Church who saw a lot of its revenue being lost. The Anglican
Church ‑ now known as the Church in Wales ‑ has been disestablished for some 73
Other campaigns have been for a Secretary of State for
Wales with the same status as Scotland and Northern Ireland together with a
seat in Cabinet ‑ Government ‑ Cymru Fydd established in 1886 very quickly
became involved in the demand for a Welsh Secretary of State. In the heady
days leading up to the First World War, there was a campaign for Welsh Home
Rule with a Secretary of State being seen as a first step. There were many
hopes and aspirations which died on the battlefields of Flanders. Nor was the
Welsh dimension high on the list at the inauguration of the League of Nations.
The revival of interest in a Secretary of State for Wales in the interwar years
also was frustrated by war, this time the Second World War. Eventually, despite
Tory party opposition Jim Griffiths was appointed for the first Secretary of
State by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1964. Since that time there have been
eight Secretaries of State including one ‑ Peter Walker M.P. ‑ who was English
Yet another campaign was for a separate television
channel for Wales. One of the foremost self‑publicists in Wales took this on,
and Gwynfor Evans former Plaid Cymru M.P. for Carmarthen, President of Plaid
Cymru threatened to go on hunger strike in unless a separate Welsh Language
channel was made available. This would be additional to BBC Radio Cymru which
broadcast in Welsh S4C ‑ short for Sianel Pedwar Cymru ‑ was formed in November
1982 with a remit of providing Welsh Language T.V. broadcasting. These
programmes are supplied by the BBC and ITV as well as independent producers.
The station produces some 28 to 30 hours of Welsh Language broadcasting per
week out of a programme of 140 hours per week. So even the premier Welsh
language medium only offers 21.43% ‑ at best ‑ of its total programme hours in
Welsh. The remainder is in English. S4C does however produce the Welsh learners
programme "Now you're talking" which is attracting audiences of some
100 to 120,000 and a take‑up of the documentary material of 8000 per fortnight.
All of this activity, political and non‑political,
parliamentary and non‑parliamentary, has raised the profile of the Welsh
language both for good and for ill. Opinion has been polarised with many ‑ even
monoglot English speakers ‑ actively working for the language whilst others are
quite happy to see it die. The usual statements of this latter group are along
the lines of cost ‑ "It costs us double in Wales for everything because of
the bi‑lingual policy" or along the lines of internationalism ‑ "We
live in a wider world than just Wales so our children need to learn
"useful" languages like French or German of Spanish or even Japanese."
Arraigned against these are those who love the language and reject the notion
that our national culture and history should be either lost for ever or only
available in a foreign language ‑ English.
This heightened profile for the language has had an
impact on adult education. As an example, my own Centre for many years ran a
single, two hours per week Welsh class which attracted only eight people.
During my 16 years as Warden the provision has increased to 5 regular 2 hour
classes plus frequent day‑schools and intensive courses. All of these are
extremely popular and attract people from all shades of opinion. In all some
10,000 Welsh learners are registered for classes in Wales. To there must be
added the ‑ as yet ‑ uncounted thousands using broadcasts or private study materials.
The pressure to learn Welsh as adults, has been increased also by other
provision. Of especial note is the Welsh Pre‑School Playgroup Movement :
Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin which runs pre‑school playgroups for children under
the age of five years ‑ through the medium of Welsh. Obviously to maximise the
benefit to these children the parents need to be Welsh speaking and many are
now learning Welsh in order to assist their children. Added to this has been
the growth of both Welsh medium schools and Welsh units attached to English
medium schools. Again parental support is vital and this has been a powerful
motivating factor in bringing these parents to learn Welsh as adults.
Many are aware of the recent U.K. Government's
decision to impose a National Curriculum on all State schools in the U.K. ‑ it
does not apply to the private or so called "public" schools e.g.
Eton, Harrow, Winchester etc., which their children attend ‑ with a certain set
of core subjects which have to be taught. In Wales, the Government decided that
Welsh would be a core subject and, apart from about 6 schools close to the
English border, every school in Wales must teach Welsh up to the age of 16
Resources to maximise the benefits of all this
activity are slow in coming however. The Government has increased its funding
for Welsh language teaching but much more is needed. There are only 20 to 30
full‑time tutors and organisers of Welsh in the whole of Wales. If there is to
be a genuine attempt on the part of Central Government to aid Welsh this figure
needs to be increased to 100 to 150. Also, Local Government, starved of cash
over these past 12 years, needs additional funding and support to be able to
provide a truly bi‑lingual service to the people. There are no signs of that
happening as yet.
Lest one gets the impression that all is enlightenment
and unstoppable progress to a Welsh speaking Wales, we must be aware of the
size of the problem and the forces opposing this progress. Since the 1901
Census, Welsh language useage has declined from 49.9% to 18.9% in 1981. The
figures for the 1991 Census have only just been collected ‑ so we are unable,
until 1992, to determine whether this decline has been arrested. A word here
needs to be said about the Welsh language questions on the Census form. There
are only 3 ‑ 1. Do you speak Welsh; 2. Do you read Welsh; 3. Do you write
Welsh. These were all yes/no questions with not opportunity for shades of
answer. Nor was there the question: "Are you learning Welsh?" This I,
and many others, believe to be an opportunity to gain accurate information,
lost. We shall not have the opportunity to redress the balance until the 2001
To return to the forces against the Welsh language
besides the opposition within Wales. Here one must consider the enormous
growth of English language television. The three most popular weekly programmes
are all English language soap‑operas : 1. Coronation Street; 2. Eastenders;
3. Neighbours. These attract audiences in millions, Coronation Street had a top
audience figure in excess of 30 million in the U.K. When one adds the trans‑Atlantic
output as well with Dallas as probably the best known, the episode involving
the shooting of J.R. had an incredible viewing audience. Countering these
attractions is a major task which has only been marginally attempted by S4C
which broadcasts Pobl‑y‑Cwm and Dinas. Neither enjoys anything like the same
audience figures as the 3 main English Language soaps.
There is also the political focus shift. Wales is on
the western edge of Britain and, in common with other areas of the U.K.,
suffers from a lack of inward investment. With the growth of the strength of
the European Economic Community, especially if Austria and Hungary join,
Britain itself will become a marginal nation unless London can retain its
financial status, and unless this present Government can stop believing its own
propaganda and stop fuelling their Recession and get the economy moving. Or get
out of the way so that others with a better attitude and aptitude can. The
shift of focus has grave implications for the Welsh language. English is seen
as the major international language together with the other EEC major languages.
Welsh is not a major EEC language ‑ nor indeed are Welsh language translation
facilities needed at either Brussels or Strasbourg.
What then is the future ? The prospect or even the possibility
of shutting down all English language broadcasting in Wales is not even on the
horizon. Even if one could get BBC & ITV to agree, the impact of satellite
broadcasting is growing and growing. Jamming these transmissions poses serious
constitutional questions in a free democratic nation. Even the Mary Whitehouses
who claim to be the ‑ self appointed ‑ moral guardians of the nation are having
problems in addressing the issue of what they believe to be unacceptable
programs being received by satellite dishes in Britain. There is then, no
prospect of English language broadcasting being reduced. The possibility of
dubbing everything into Welsh has been looked at ‑ the classic Western Shane
was dubbed into Welsh a few years ago. The exercise was extremely costly and
very poorly received. One also has to ask is all of the cost involved in
protecting the Welsh language justified if less that 20% of the population are
Welsh speaking ? That is less than 460,000 out of a population of some 2.3
million. By way of contrast all are English speaking. There are no monoglot
Welsh speakers in Wales, there are many who refuse to speak English but those
does not mean that they cannot. The other factor is the gradual erosion of the
energy and enthusiasm of the language activists. They need an annual injection
of new members with both of these attributes. One wonders for how long this
Perhaps the only way to arrest the decline and to
start the rebuilding is by a massive injection of financial resources into
adult education for the Welsh language coupled with an equally massive and
sustained advertising programme on both BBC & ITV urging the populace at
large to attend these classes. The negative actions of the roadsign painters
and the cottage burners of North Wales needs to be replaced with a positive
forward looking language philosophy leading to a real achievable policy for
promoting the language. For that one needs the political will and not just of a
ranting minority but of the majority of the people in Wales.
One has to ask the question, will our distinct
national character be lost if we lose our language. One has to look at the
experience of both the Irish and the Scottish who are even more monoglot
English speaking than we in Wales.
It would however by an extremely sad day if we ever said goodbye to the
oldest living language ‑ over 2000 years ‑ in Europe.