The Welsh Language

The Welsh Language: A History

Janet Davies
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 2
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  • Book Info
    The Welsh Language
    Book Description:

    The most up-to-date history and assessment of one of Europe’s oldest living languages.

    eISBN: 978-1-78316-020-4
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. The Welsh Language: A Personal Perspective
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    For many people in Wales, the Welsh language is the essence of Welsh identity. Yet, for the majority of the people of Wales, the language has only a marginal impact upon their lives. That was my experience as a child. I was brought up on the borders of Breconshire and Monmouthshire, a district where a considerable number of the inhabitants had a knowledge of Welsh a hundred years ago. By the 1950s, however, none of the native inhabitants could put together a sentence in the language. A few incomers were Welsh speakers, a fact that sometimes impinged upon us. Our...

  7. 1 The Origins of Welsh
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Welsh language, like most of the languages of Europe, and many of those of Asia, has evolved from what linguists term Indo-European. Indo-European was spoken at least 6,000 years ago (4,000 BC ) by a semi-nomadic people who lived perhaps in the steppe region of southern Russia, or perhaps in Anatolia. (Anatolian personal names with Indo-European associations have been found in Assyrian texts of the twentieth century BC.)

    Speakers of the language migrated eastwards and westwards; they had reached the Danube valley by 3,500 BC and India by 2,000 BC. The dialects of Indo-European became much differ entiated, chiefly...

  8. 2 Welsh in the Early British Kingdoms
    (pp. 15-22)

    Early Welsh, a phase in the history of the language extend ing from its beginnings toc. 850, only survives in a few inscriptions and marginal notes or glosses. The most interesting of the inscriptions is that on a memorial in the parish church of Tywyn in Meirionnydd. It was carved c.810 and ends with the words CUN BEN CELEN TRICET NITANAM (Cyngen’s corpse dwells beneath me [the stone]). Although the inscription appears incom prehensible to the Welsh speaker of the present day, the wordscelen, tricetandtan(innitanam) are related to the modem formscelain(corpse),trigo...

  9. 3 Welsh in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 23-32)

    The victory of William of Normandy led to the expropriation of the land of England by the new king and his followers. The English language, which had enjoyed high prestige and been the medium of a distinguished literature, fell upon hard times.

    With the conquest, French became the language of the English court, of the homes of the nobility and of high culture. As late as 1300, an English chronicler lamented that ‘there is not a single country which does not hold to its own language save England alone’.

    The Welsh language did not, at that time, suffer a fate...

  10. 4 From the Act of ‘Union’ to the Industrial Revolution
    (pp. 33-54)

    In 1536 the advisers of Henry VIII secured the passage through the English parliament of the so-called Act of Union. The Act incorporated Wales into England and made the inhabitants of Wales subjects of the English Crown in the same way as were the inhabitants of England. Thereafter, in the eyes of the law, the Welsh were English. Yet it would be equally valid to argue that, as there was no longer any advantage in boasting of the condition of being English, henceforth everybody living in Wales was Welsh, a principle that would be built upon in subsequent generations.


  11. 5 The Welsh Language in the Era of Industrialization
    (pp. 55-68)

    Wales in 1750 was a country almost wholly rural in its economy, with hardly a town exceeding 3,000 in population. This pattern was to become vastly more complicated as a result of the surge of economic activity which occurred from about 1770 onwards. Wales probably had about 489,000 inhabitants in 1770, most of whom were employed in the cultivation of the land or in work directly dependent upon agriculture. By 1801, when the first official census was held, the population had risen to 587,000 and by 1851 Wales had 1,163,000 inhabitants, only a third of whom were involved in agriculture....

  12. 6 Welsh in the Later Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 69-86)

    The history of the Welsh language in the second half of the nine teenth century is extremely complicated, with wholly contradictory forces at work. Although the period saw the birth of modern Welsh nationalism, some of the clearest voices from within Welsh-speaking Wales were those accept ing, indeed welcoming, the demise of Welsh distinctive ness. The legacy of the ‘treachery’ of 1847 was not the only factor involved. These years saw the virtual completion of the Welsh railway network; with the country so manifestly being opened up to English influence – often by discriminating against Welsh-speaking potential employees (an issue raised...

  13. 7 Welsh in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 87-100)

    The censuses of 1901 and 1911 differ from that of 1891: they give details of children over the age of three rather than two, they break down their figures by age group and their tables are arranged by county rather than by registration district. They record an increase in the number of Welsh speakers – 929,824 in 1901 and 977,366 in 1911 compared with 920,389 in 1891 – but a decrease in the pro portion of the Welsh population claiming to speak the language – 49.9 per cent in 1901 and 43.5 per cent in 1911, compared with 54.4 per cent in 1891....

  14. 8 The Second World War and After
    (pp. 101-158)

    The impact of the severe depression of the 1930s upon the Welsh language cannot be measured with exactitude because, with the Second World War raging, no census was held in 1941. When hostilities broke out, there were many in Wales who believed that another experience of total war would lead to the obliteration of the distinctiveness of Wales. The founding in December 1939 of Pwyllgor Amddiffyn Diwylliant Cymru (The Committee for the Defence of the Culture of Wales) re-flected that concern. The committee later became known as Undeb Cymru Fydd (The New Wales Union). In fact, the war proved less...

  15. 9 The Welsh Language Today
    (pp. 159-170)

    A degree of official support and an enormous amount of organizational vitality, evident by the late twentieth century, seemed to augur well for the future of the Welsh language. The census of 1991 revealed that 508,100 of the inhabitants of Wales, 18.6 per cent of the population over the age of three, claimed to have a knowledge of Welsh. Because of changes in the enumeration system, these figures were not strictly com parable with those of previous censuses. Nevertheless, they offered some grounds for optimism about the future of Welsh. The percentage of 18.6 represented a minute decline from the...

  16. 10 Welsh and the Other Non-State Languages of Europe
    (pp. 171-178)

    About 500 million people live in Europe west of the former Soviet Union. Of these, about 455 million have as their mother tongue the major language of the state in which they live. The remaining 45 million fall into three main categories. About twelve million are recent immigrants or the children of recent immigrants to the area in which they live. Some of them – the Arabic speakers of France or the Urdu speakers of Britain, for example – have come from outside Europe, while others, like the Portuguese speakers in France or the Italian speakers in Germany, are trans-frontier migrants within...

  17. 11 The Characteristics of Welsh
    (pp. 179-188)

    Languages, when they are described, always appear to be more complicated than they are in reality. Contrary to what many Welsh speakers like to believe, Welsh is not a difficult language, as the thousands who have gained complete mastery of it in adulthood bear witness. In many ways, it is an easier language to learn than English. Unlike English, it has the inestimable advantage of being largely phonetic; that is, the words are pronounced as they are written, with none of the confusion which arises in English over such words as ‘cough’, ‘bough’, ‘through’, ‘though’ and ‘thorough’. While English has...

  18. Postscript
    (pp. 189-190)

    I shall finish, as I began, on a personal note. I mentioned that in my childhood it seemed odd to me that there should be people who not only spoke Welsh effortlessly, but did so all the time. Now that I speak Welsh myself, this does not seem odd at all. What does seem peculiar, in view of the manifest vitality and innovativeness of Welsh-speaking Wales, is the constant lament that the end of the language is in sight. Perhaps I am fortunate in that, not having been brought up in a community in which Welsh was the dominant language,...

  19. Further Reading
    (pp. 191-192)
  20. Index
    (pp. 193-208)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)