I’m suppressing a strong urge to say ‘I told you so’ having read that the number of Welsh speakers has dropped overall despite an increase in population. OK, a decrease in 14,000 to about 14% is by no means a huge decline but it does put some of the recent calls for language parity in a different perspective don’t it?
As your average English-speaking monoglot, I don’t feel particularly moved one way or the other about today’s census findings. There is a mild regret on my part that I’m probably better equipped, for reasons of practicality, to order a drink in Spanish than in Welsh but that’s as far as it goes.
Whenever someone talks about the decline of the language I think about Martin who can be found playing his own unique version of pool in the side room at the Bogarth Arms. He has two children, one in university in Birmingham and the other working somewhere around Leeds. He speaks conversational Welsh to his wife and to his Dad. He sometimes chats in Welsh to Gillian behind the bar but the sprinkling of English involved means that even I can get the gist of what they’re saying.
He can get passionate about Cymraeg but I remember the time when we were at a game in Neath and the S4C chap came over for some crowd reaction and Martin declined saying his “Welsh wasn’t good enough” (whatever that means).
I have no idea how much is spent on sustaining the Welsh language in Wales but my neighbor who works for the DVLA claims that their translation costs alone could build a new primary school every year.
I don’t think there is an argument to be made that the fostering of Welsh should be measured simply in terms of value for money. But given that it is effectively the lesser language of Wales when it comes to usage (even if it does have equal legal status) we should think twice before allowing it to be austerity-proofed when there are other priorities to be considered.