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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 1127

Part of Session 120: Sociolinguists on Facebook on the Indigenous Languages in the City (Other abstracts in this session)

Cymraeg yn y Ddinas - An Old Language in a Modern City

Authors: Williams, Lisa Anne
Submitted by: Williams, Lisa Anne (Ysgol Croesyceiliog, United Kingdom)

The small country of Wales (nearest neighbour: the much larger country of England) was first allocated its own capital city (Cardiff/ Caerdydd) in 1955. However, it was not until 1999 that Wales was given a degree of self determination and not until 2012 that the Welsh government was informed that Wales finally, and for the first time, met the criteria to be designated a country in its own right.

In the meantime, there surprising changes occurred in the linguistic as well as the political and cultural landscape.

Until 1991, Cymraeg the (Welsh language) was, in terms of speaker numbers, on the wane both in the capital city and in Wales as a whole. Eclipsed by English and in some environments even by Somali, Kurdish, Urdu and Arabic, language demise was a given. Traditional religious, community and cultural bonds which had ensured the language's survival since the 1536 and 1542 Acts of Union with England  - prohibiting the use of Welsh in all official circles - were dissolving and, despite small victories (increased use of Welsh on road signs; the birth of the Welsh television channel S4C); speaker numbers were in freefall, particularly among the young and in the traditional rural heartlands. Welsh was in decline. A language left behind by the modern world.

Then something changed. The 2001 census showed a rise in speaker numbers across Wales, but  particularly in the 3-15 age group and especially in larger urban centres. Demand for Welsh medium education rose, again notably in urban environments. By 2011, there were 18 Welsh medium schools in the capital alone and new ones planned. A third 1,500 capacity high school opens in Autumn 2011. Cardiffians of all ethnic and cultural traditions are learning Welsh and using it in everyday life. Even in the neighbouring city of Newport (until 1972 firmly in Monmouthshire - administered primarily in England), three new Welsh language schools and a Welsh medium on line newspaper have been established during the last two years.

What has changed? In my paper I will be examining the catalysts behind  the swing towards Welsh among the culturally diverse communities of the South Wales urban environment based on original research. Interviews with local learners, speakers and educators from all cultural and socio-economic communities of Cardiff and Gwent are telling and demonstrate why, against the odds, the Welsh language is in resurgence in the city.  

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