Spotlight on Welsh: An Enduring Minority Language
Welsh might be a minority language (defined as one spoken by under 50% of a country’s population), but it’s one that’s endured. Many other minority languages with Celtic origins have all but died out, but Welsh is still relatively widely spoken.
The History of the Welsh Language
Welsh is believed to have been spoken in Britain even before the Roman occupation and over time, there have been many different evolutions of the language, including Old Welsh, Middle Welsh and Modern Welsh.
The roots of Welsh have spread across the world, with approximately 5,000 Welsh speakers living in Patagonia, Argentina, where Welsh settlers arrived in the 19th century.
Characteristics of Welsh
Welsh shares many features with other Celtic languages, and it has northern and southern dialects.
There are 13 different vowels in Welsh; these are characterised by their varying lengths, which can completely change the meaning of a word.
Another feature of the Welsh language is initial consonant mutation, where the first consonant of a word may change depending on the grammatical context.
How Many People Use Welsh Today?
Around 29% of the population of Wales reported being able to speak Welsh as of June 2020, according to the Annual Population Survey. Approximately 110,000 people living in England are also believed to be able to speak Welsh, while there are pockets of Welsh speakers around the world, such as in Patagonia.
Carmarthenshire is the part of Wales believed to have the highest number of Welsh speakers, with around 90,600 people able to speak it.
In the most recent Annual Population Survey, 16.2% of people reported that they spoke Welsh daily, while 4.8% said they spoke the language weekly. Some 32.7% of those surveyed said they could understand spoken Welsh, 25.5% can read the language and 23.3% reported being able to write it.
Is Welsh in Danger of Dying Out?
Welsh was first classified as a minority language in 1911, but it has held onto this status ever since. Of course, as people move into or out of the country, its use may fall in and out of favour among some, but the language is still ever-present across Wales.
Road signs and many other information signs in Wales feature both Welsh and English, while some schools in Wales teach primarily in Welsh – it’s compulsory for all children aged 5-16 to learn Welsh at school, at least as a second language.
The continued teaching of Welsh in schools provides hope that the language will be passed on to future generations and that its heritage will be kept alive for many generations to come.
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