I recently experienced a fortnight’s holiday in Wales. I’d been to Wales before, but mainly stayed in North and Mid Wales. This time we headed further south towards the Gower Peninsula. South Wales has the reputation of being the heart of the country and we were looking forward to experiencing the Welsh culture first hand. As we turned off the M6 we noticed the first indications that you’re in Wales. Massive road signs full of consonants and as we wound our way south the vowels became less and less.
It was great fun listening to our sat-nav trying to keep up with the turn by turn instructions containing place names like Llanddeusant. It’s probably why it gave up with about seventy miles to go and we ended up having to buy a new sat-nav.
Unfortunately that’s as Welsh as it got. With the exception of public signage and official leaflets, Welsh was never used. Advertising was all in English, Newsagents were full of English papers and Magazines, Menus were English as were the Polish waiters and shop assistants. The local people we met admitted to us that they didn’t speak Welsh.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of Welsh heritage to absorb. Our first excursion was to Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse at Laugharne. IT was a great place with a Castle to visit and great scenery too. Highly recommended if you’re in the area. As you tour Laugharne Castle you trigger audio sequences where voices from the past tell tales from the castles history, in English only.
During our stay our quest for Welsh culture took us to the Rhonda Valley and a tour of a coal-mine. How Welsh can you get? As we descended into the pit our guide asked each member of the group where we were from. There was a young family from Germany and the father was translating what the guide was saying for his young son. There was also a mature couple on holiday from. “Oh dear”, joked the guide, “Can anyone translate into Welsh?” No one could, not even the couple from Bangor.
During the first half of the twentieth century it became apparent that Welsh was a dying language and a movement began to preserve it. Yet over the twentieth century the total number of speakers of Welsh remained pretty much constant in the face of a sharp rise in the population. It’s now believed that all those who do speak Welsh are bi-lingual.
The long-term prospects must be pretty bleak for any particular language with a small community of speakers, and particularly one like Welsh which is both devoid of great concentrations of speakers, and is surrounded by the particularly aggressive culture of the American and English-speaking world.
Welsh is still a dying language, and it’s dying for reason. No one ‘needs’ to use it. Producing all this dual language signage, government literature etc is both expensive and unnecessary. If people want to preserve the Welsh language, record it and put it in a museum with the rest of the countries great heritage.