Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages. It is spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa (the Welsh colony in Chubut Province, Argentina). It is spoken by over 700,000 people across the United Kingdom with a further 5,000 in Argentina. Interestingly, a greeting in Welsh is one of the 55 languages included on the Voyager Golden Record chosen to be representative of Earth in NASA’s Voyager program launched in 1977. The greetings are unique to each language, with the Welsh greeting being Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd, which translates into English as “Good health to you now and forever”.
Since 2012 its use has been regulated by the Welsh Language Commissioner, currently Meri Huws, in conjunction with the Welsh Government. The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages be treated equally in the public sector, as far as is reasonable and practicable. Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh has been compulsory in all schools in Wales up to age 16, and that has had a major effect in stabilising and to some extent reversing the decline in the language.
History of the Welsh Language
The Welsh language has had a long history of usage in literature, poetry and song, predominantly fuelled by the Welsh translation of the Bible, complete in the mid 16th century. Welsh emerged in the 6th century from Common Brittonic, the common ancestor of Welsh, Breton, Cornish and the extinct language known as Cumbric.
Four periods are identified in the history of Welsh, with rather indistinct boundaries: The period immediately following the language’s emergence from Brittonic is sometimes referred to as Primitive Welsh; this was followed by the Old Welsh period, considered to stretch from the beginning of the 9th century to the 12th century. The Middle Welsh period is considered to have lasted from then until the 14th century, when the Modern Welsh period began, which in turn divided into Early and Late Modern Welsh.
On 7 December 2010, the Welsh Assembly unanimously approved a set of measures to develop the use of the Welsh language within Wales. On 9 February 2011 this measure, the Proposed Welsh Language Measure 2011, was passed and received Royal Assent, thus making the Welsh language an officially recognised language within Wales. The Measure:
- confirms the official status of the Welsh language;
- creates a new system of placing duties on bodies to provide services through the medium of Welsh;
- creates a Welsh Language Commissioner with strong enforcement powers to protect the rights of Welsh-speaking people to access services through the medium of Welsh;
- establishes a Welsh Language Tribunal;
- gives individuals and bodies the right to appeal decisions made in relation to the provision of services through the medium of Welsh
- creates a Welsh Language Partnership Council to advise Government on its strategy in relation to the Welsh language;
- allows for an official investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner of instances where there is an attempt to interfere with the freedom of Welsh-speaking people to use the language with one another.
With the passing of this measure, public bodies and some private companies are required to provide services in Welsh.
In November 2008, the Welsh language was used at a meeting of the European Union’s Council of Ministers for the first time. The Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones addressed his audience in Welsh and his words were interpreted into the EU’s 23 official languages. The official use of the language followed years of campaigning. Jones said “In the UK we have one of the world’s major languages, English, as the mother tongue of many. But there is a diversity of languages within our islands. I am proud to be speaking to you in one of the oldest of these, Welsh, the language of Wales.”
Secure communications are often difficult to achieve in wartime. Cryptography can be used to protect messages, but codes can be broken. Therefore, lesser-known languages are sometimes encoded, so that even if the code is broken, the message is still in a language few people know. The Royal Welch Fusiliers, a Welsh regiment serving in Bosnia, used Welsh for emergency communications that needed to be secure. Welsh was not used in the Falklands War because of the Welsh-speaking Argentine population in Patagonia.
Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh has been compulsory in all schools in Wales up to age 16, and that has had a major effect in stabilising and to some extent reversing the decline in the language. Welsh is now widely used in education, with 73,263 children and young people in Wales receiving their education in Welsh medium schools in 2014/15. The ability to speak Welsh or to have Welsh as a qualification is desirable for certain career choices in Wales, such as teaching or customer service.