Four reasons why you should support the Welsh language

Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Joe Chucas

The Welsh Government this year set out their vision to increase the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.

Growing up in Welsh-medium education, I considered the language to be a hindrance. Going back five generations on my father’s side, nobody in my family spoke it fluently despite living in Wales.

Call it the zeal of the convert, but I’ve now realised that I was badly mistaken.

It’s undoubtedly time for the Welsh Government to wholeheartedly support the Welsh language, which is an integral part of our culture and heritage.

I’ve come to realise that it confers immense benefits even for those (like me) from English-speaking families, in English-speaking towns.

Here are four reasons why you should support the Welsh language, even if you don’t speak it:

  1. Benefit to the individual

Welsh speakers earn on average 10% more while bilingualism more generally provides an observable cognitive benefit.

For example, people who speak two languages or more develop dementia symptoms an average of five years later.

The majority of my jobs have necessitated the use of the Welsh language and there have been times where, were it not for my Welsh language abilities, I would not have been employed.

My experience in University was also greatly improved by the Welsh-speaking community, by whom I was well received despite my Welsh initially being restricted to a formal educational context.

  1. Benefit to the wider economy

But it’s not just the Welsh-speaking individual who benefits, but all of Wales.

Studies find that the wider Welsh economy benefits as well; £1 of funding for S4C means nearly £2 for the Welsh economy, and the impact is estimated to be worth almost £90 million.

Could S4C exist without the Welsh language? It is highly unlikely that Wales would have an extra channel of its own if Welsh language activists hadn’t waged a political campaign for one.

This Economic benefit more than accounts for the £40 million pounds spent on promoting and facilitating the Welsh language.

Much of this £40 million also benefits Wales in other ways, for example contributing towards the funding of schools, youth clubs, sports provision, nurseries and cultural events (such as the Eisteddfod).

This funding, which benefits us all directly or indirectly, only exists because of the Welsh language.

If nationalists’ insistence on promoting the Welsh language is heavy-handed, it is only because there is real demand for Welsh-language provision in schools, which are over-subscribed.

  1. Cultural benefit

You could argue that all of the above misses the point, anyway. The assumption that a language must be solely of practical use and financial benefit dismisses its sentimental and social value.

If we are intent on pursuing a pluralistic society of different cultures, wherein we are united in diversity, why should we all speak just one language?

Minority languages are a unique and irreplaceable part of our global heritage. It would be a dull world if the measure of everything were financial, instead of cultural and social.

Outside Welsh language funding, there is an implicit understanding that there is value beyond the monetary, for example in arts and culture funding.

Should we stop the state funding music lessons because they’re unlikely to create as much monetary value as STEM subjects?

It would be a sinister and cynical decision to decide that monetary value should take precedence over culture.

  1. Bolster Welsh identity

The Welsh language is an integral part of Welsh identity, and it is no coincidence that Welsh identity is strongest in its linguistic heartland.

The fiercest proponents of Welsh nationhood have often been those for whom the language has been of great importance.

It’s no coincidence that those who declare that Wales is merely a principality and not a country are very often also those who claim that the Welsh language is ‘pointless’.

Devolution, nationalism and the Welsh language are inextricably linked, because before Wales had its own political institutions it was a linguistic and cultural nationalism that sustained the idea of Wales as a separate country.

In fact, it’s fair to say that Wales would have long become a county of England if it wasn’t for the Welsh language. We would have gone the way of Cornwall and Cumbria after their languages died out.

There is a desire in Wales for an identity of which we can be proud, and also for an escape from colonial hegemony and unforgivable marginalization.

The Welsh language is an important element in this open inclusive identity, and must survive to fight another day.

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