Cymraeg belongs to us all' speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language.
Foreword by Ned Thomas, editor, literary critic and cultural commentator
I am truly glad of this opportunity to introduce Jeremy Miles's talk. He is of course our Minister of Education and also has responsibility for the Welsh language, a brief which he interprets very broadly - and rightly so, since there is no department of the Welsh Government that does not impinge on the language in some way. His expressed desire for dialogue opens the way for my short intervention at the start, but going further he wants to elicit responses which then become action for the language.
The immediate context for today's talk is the sixtieth anniversary of Saunders Lewis's radio lecture Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language). This allows us to measure the gains made since 1962 across a wide range of sectors. To put things in one sentence, the status of the language was transformed as were attitudes to the language. More recently Welsh has became an official language on the territory of Wales which now has acquired its own Senedd and Government.
As a result of these transformative changes the context in which we discuss the language today is far more complex than in the time of Saunders Lewis. Institutions we campaigned long to establish may now be endangered by across-the-board cuts while policy changes affecting the whole UK (e.g. for broadcasting) may have worrying implications for Wales. Some services which had bilingual policies lost these when they passed from the public sector into private hands. IT brought new opportunities for the language but at the same time moved work into the cyberspace which was formerly undertaken in Welsh in local offices. We are far more sophisticated in our understanding of language planning than we were in 1962 but too often we have to react to circumstances rather than work to plan.
There is one topic which has never ceased to be discussed over half a century under a variety of headings but with no satisfactory outcome. I have in mind the steady erosion of the areas where Welsh is proportionately strongest, due to their economic weakness, outward and inward migration, and soaring house prices. Linguistically this is a loss to the whole of Wales and can undermine the gains made in other places and sectors. I once expressed this double nightmare far too glibly like this: more and more Welsh signs point to fewer and fewer Welsh places. We could split hairs over the definition of what is a Welsh place, but we know all too well what is at issue. Making Welsh visible can give the language status; learning a language can be an enriching experience for an individual, but using it in every day life is what keeps a language alive and that requires there to be Welsh-speaking communities which those who learn Welsh can then attach themselves to.
So here we are today, exhausted by the long pandemic, facing cuts in living standards, the fate of the planet uncertain not to mention the fate of the language. The situation draws us closer together and calls for resilience and to make the language part of that resilience. Resilience is not just passive strength, it involves pushing back, and in the Minister's words changing gear. You will see that his talk emphasises cooperative projects and ideas that come from the grass roots. That I think is a timely emphasis. We have all come to appreciate our immediate locality more and it is we who live there who best understand its needs and its linguistic pattern.
Speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language
View the Minister's speech on YouTube.
Sixty years ago this week, the Welsh speaking world was shaken to its core, on hearing to Saunders Lewis delivering one of the most significant lectures in the Welsh language.
I am, of course, referring to Tynged yr Iaith (the Fate of the Language), Saunders Lewis' radical wake-up call, which continues to fire the imagination generations later.
Two days earlier, the then Secretary of State for Wales, Jim Griffiths, was interviewed for a BBC programme broadcast some weeks later. He said, The main problem in Wales today is saving the language. I believe this will be the main problem for the next ten to twenty years,
Saunders Lewis spoke of the fate of the language'. Jim Griffiths talked of saving the language'. Which word would we choose to use here, tonight, sixty years later?
We've held our ground, and that's something we should be proud of, when we consider the challenges of the past sixty years, but it's our aim to see a substantial increase in spite of these challenges and we haven't yet managed to do that.
In 2011, 19% of people in Wales could speak Welsh. The 2021 Census results will soon be released. And whatever these figures bring, we've got a real chance for us to make a difference over the next few years. And there's no shortage of work.
We're going to have to be bold. We'll have to make some brave changes, discuss things honestly, support each other and not be afraid to tackle difficult issues.
We've got to look to the future. And that's what I'd like to do tonight. We'll look at where we're at today and I'll present my vision for tomorrow.
And all of us in this room, and those of you watching remotely have a part to play, and a real chance to influence our language's journey to its future.
Saunders Lewis delivered, as I'm delivering tonight, his lecture just before the Census figures relating to the Welsh language were announced. Before long, we'll find out how many people in Wales said they could speak Welsh in 2021.
We'll know where we are on our journey towards a million Welsh speakers.
In 1962, Saunders predicted shock and disappointment. I very much hope this won't be the case this year. But let me tell you that the latest figures and the new challenges they'll undoubtedly bring will be part of our policy landscape in the future.
So that's the context of tonight's speech. But it's also about far wider things than just the Census figures:
I want to look at where we are and consider what's important when looking at the future of our language. I want to look at things afresh.
And I want to discuss my vision as Minister for the Welsh Language, and ask you to support it-and challenge it creatively.
Let's ask ourselves-have we been concentrating on the right things? I'd argue that we've not placed enough emphasis on some things which could and can make a difference.
And by asking you to support my vision tonight, I also want to challenge every single one of us to ask whether we're doing enough to include everyone in the conversations we need to have? Everyone, not just those of us interested in language policy, however important those discussions are.
Part of my vision and tonight's speech is to talk about change. While some things work well, generally, we need to:
- Change the way we work
- Change the things we do
- And change the concept we have of who should do what in all this.
Change. What do we need to change?
If the world's changed over the past sixty years, well it's been transformed over the past two years.
We've all had to change how we work. And I've only got to look around the room this evening-everyone sat at a social distance-and so many of those we'd have liked here with us having to watch remotely.
The context of our work has changed: COVID-19, Brexit, the increase in in-migration during the Pandemic and even before that.
We need to understand what's happened and how it's affected us all.
Back now to the we' and the us' I keep talking about. Who's this us'? One thing's for sure, it's far more than just us' in the Welsh Government.
Welsh belongs to us all, and we've all got a contribution to make to ensure a prosperous future for our language.
When I say that Welsh belongs to us all:
I mean the communities where Welsh is prospering;
Communities where Welsh is growing or where there's great potential for it to grow;
Our language belongs to all who want to learn Welsh. Join us and let's celebrate as you open the door to a new world, with new friends, new opportunities and a unique culture;
It belongs to people who've not had Welsh as part of their everyday routine for a while;
And let's remember those worried about people correcting their Welsh. To them, I say use the Welsh you've got whenever and wherever you can. And let me tell you, there's no such thing as perfect Welsh;
But more than all these blatantly obvious things, it means that all our public bodies leaders have to take an active responsibility for Cymraeg 2050.
So, when I say that Welsh belongs to us':
I mean us, the people of Wales, not just those of us who spend our time thinking about language policy
Us as one public service-not just us within Welsh Government
This goes beyond creating rights, and indeed beyond creating new speakers-important as these two things are.
I mean that we all have to play our part so we can make sure our language is here for future generations.
So that's the argument I want to make. And considering where we are today as we look ahead, there are already lots of positive things to celebrate.
- The majority of our country (86% of adults in Wales) agree that the language is something to be proud of
- We've got more adults learning Welsh than ever
- We've had three language acts
- We've got a Welsh language television channel
- There's a whole host of Welsh language services available, and Welsh has made its mark in the digital world.
- And all this, way after the beginning of the twenty first century, when the Welsh language would cease to exist as a living language' according to Saunders Lewis.
So things have changed since Tynged yr Iaith.
Back in 1962:
- Who'd have thought that so much would change?
- That we'd have our own Senedd?
- That we'd have our own Minister for the Welsh Language?
And we really do need to remember that a language dies every two weeks at the moment: who'd have thought that Welsh would buck the worldwide trend and survive?
I'm going to be honest with you. These big changes haven't all happened just because of the work of government.
I could go further and say that many of them have happened in spite of the government of the day over the decades.
And we're indebted to every single person who campaigned, protested and brought their influence to bear so that we could be where we are today.
We wouldn't be here tonight without them.
Some of you are here tonight, others watching remotely.
Diolch i bob un ohonoch chi. Thank you to every single one of you. Your success is a vital part of our language's success.
But past success doesn't necessarily beget success in the future.
Are those positive attitudes we see, the increasing number of Welsh learners and Welsh language services enough in themselves? Of course not.
We've got to go much deeper than that.
There are 100 thousand fewer Welsh speakers now than when Tynged yr Iaith was published.
The Bro Gymraeg'-our Welsh language heartlands have witnessed a drop in the percentage of Welsh speakers.
We've got a problem with second homes in these areas.
There's a problem with young people moving away from them.
And although geographical communities are important, COVID-19 and Brexit have challenged our understanding of geographical communities, and living and working patterns.
They've changed the landscape in which we work.
We've got to respond to all this, build on what works, push boundaries and experiment with new ways of working.
And if these new ways don't work, we've got to be brave: we need to be open about it, learn from it and adapt what we're doing.
Ensuring a prosperous future for a language is a never-ending learning process.
So, as a Government, we often say that Welsh belongs to us all-that our language belongs to every single one of us living in Wales today.
But can we honestly say we're doing enough to make sure everyone understands this and that everyone in Wales feels the same way?
What more can we do to include people who learn our language in our lives?
I was lucky enough to be brought up in a Welsh speaking home in Pontarddulais in the seventies and eighties-a few years after the Welsh Language Society was formed there!
But would this boy from Bont feel that the Welsh language belonged to him if he hadn't had the language in his life from the beginning?
I'm not sure, but what I am sure about is that I'm very grateful to my mother and father for sharing their language with me.
Many of my friends didn't speak Welsh at home, even though their parents could speak it.
And would the boy from Bont be as likely to speak Welsh if he were born today?
Maybe not. So that's something we need to look at, using sound evidence.
So Welsh belongs to us all. But for me, it's more than just belonging, it's more than just talking, Cymraeg is something I feel: it's who I am.
And one of the difficult questions I have to deal with is how to get more people to feel the way I feel-the way we feel. Something for the chat later, maybe.
And when we say Welsh belongs to us all, and that everyone has a contribution to make, that makes us face another perception that exists. There may be a natural temptation to think that the fate of our language depends on institutions, be those governmental ones, schools or maybe mentrau iaith.
But they're only part of the picture and we need to ask:
- What else can we do ourselves?
- What can we, as individuals, every single one of us who loves the language, do differently after tonight?
There's no doubt-it's a huge challenge-and the situation of Welsh is very different across Wales.
And it's our responsibility to safeguard and support the language in every part of Wales.
Politically, I'm a Labour man, and I'm also a member of the Co-operative Party.
I firmly believe it's important to support people to take control of their lives as much as they can; building aspirations, increasing skills and making sure everyone has equal access to opportunities and so on.
It's the same with the Welsh language. We want to empower people to do more for themselves, and not just provide activities for them.
That's why we're going to create more Welsh language cooperatives, places where people can work and use their Welsh naturally. Some people call these Monolingual spaces'.
And using a language is what matters.
There are two main aims in our Cymraeg 2050 strategy.
Our first aim, to reach a million Welsh speakers has captured the public's imagination more than our second i.e. of doubling daily use of the language.
So while emphasis has hitherto been on our first aim, it's now time to place that same emphasis on the second-on language use.
I'm not going to concentrate on use to the detriment of anything else, use versus rights' is not the place I want to be.
And I certainly don't agree with the accusation by some people that we're creating "dangerous and false duality" when we discuss use and provision or regulation.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: everything I do as Minister for the Welsh Language is going to be based on maintaining or increasing the use of our language.
I know it's difficult, but nothing good isn't hard!
So, I wonder: do we organise, design and provide things without looking at and considering what could help our fellow-speakers to use these things?
User-centred design is very common in other areas.
Do we use it enough in Welsh language circles?
Are we scared of how consumers may respond?
Are we brave enough to want to change?
- Therefore, my message is simple: Welsh is for using, and not just for service provision.
- And I'm all about speaking Welsh not just setting up organisations.
I wonder whether we, in the language policy community, have concentrated too much on bricks and mortar solutions (or clicks and mortar nowadays, especially as we're here in M-Sparc tonight), calling for the establishment of organisations to promote' the language.
We've got to look at how we can work together to create intelligent responses, based on evidence, rather than just create another organisation.
I'll keep this to the point: discussing language promotion' without defining exactly what that means has been rather too comfortable for some. It's a broad concept-specific it certainly isn't.
Promotion' isn't something that happens independently of the rest of our work-it is our work. There's no agreed definition for promotion'-my definition is to increase the use of Welsh.
I'm now going to turn to some of the specific new things we're doing on language policy in Government. I'd also like us to chat about something I've already touched on, what can we here in Government, and the rest of us do differently?
We've been saying for a while that Cymraeg 2050 adopts a whole-government approach. So it's similar to equality, climate change and so on.
But although we've been saying that for a while, putting our words into practice means that everyone across the whole of the Welsh Government needs to take ownership for language policy. And that's a new concept for some.
So, I've recently started a regular series of meetings with other Ministers to make sure that Cymraeg 2050 is on everyone's agenda.
Mainstreaming Welsh across all areas of our work in Welsh Government. Making sure Welsh is considered in the context of every team's work, in every department across Government every time.
We know it's going to take a while, and we've got examples of how other departments, with the help of my team, have already done some good work to increase the use of Welsh. For example:
Our work across Government to tackle the second homes issue
Our internal administration, where we've already said that every single one of our officials within the Welsh Government will be able to understand Welsh by 2050, and many more able to speak our language.
And as a different model, we'll look at building on Arfor's work within this Government, as the agreement with Plaid Cymru states.
I intend to see many more policies coming from these meetings with Cabinet colleagues-far reaching ones.
And I'm emphasising the need for Welsh to be considered in policy.
And language policy is so much more than compliance.
So, here in the Welsh Government, we'll go further and make sure that we don't just comply with our language duties.
And the Government already has a wide range of ambitious policy aims in the Programme for Government and the Cymraeg 2050 Work Programme during this Senedd term.
But I'm also pleased that these policies form such an important part of Welsh Government's co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru that I've already mentioned.
Strategic cooperation will mean we make progress for our language, and this agreement is a good example, including work on those important areas I've just outlined, for example, the second homes crisis, the economic challenges for the language, and so on. More on that later.
And working to safeguard our language as a community language is one of the most important things we can so.
I'm not going to get into what is community' tonight. There have been plenty of academic discussions about that. But it's fair to say that what a community is has changed since 1962!
Back then, the digital revolution was far beyond the horizon.
Nowadays, technology allows us to chat to friends around the world as if they were in the same room as us-and that's been great during COVID-19.
But staring into a screen just isn't the same as being with people face to face. And I'm sure we can all agree on this tonight.
And technology can't take the place of physical or geographical communities.
But then again, communities aren't what they were either.
Before the pandemic, we'd travel to work, we'd travel to shop.
There's not very many of us who just physically or technologically now live just in our own square mile.
And the nature of how Welsh works varies across Wales. Benllech, Blaenrhondda and Blaenau Ffestiniog may all need different approaches.
So you'll soon see a new geographical focus in our work. And for avoidance of all doubt, I'm not talking about establishing a Gaeltacht, although we do have lessons to learn from Ireland.
Perhaps it will be akin to an SSSI-let's call it an area of linguistic sensitivity. We can't adopt a blanket approach.
We're consulting on this SSSI' approach as part of our Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan, and there's still time for you to have your voice heard. Please make sure you do-we want to hear from every one of you.
And before we move on, do take a moment to think about your own community or home in the context of Welsh. What could we, and you, do differently there?
Do we take enough responsibility locally for our own communities?
I've already touched on how the language in the community where I was born and brought up has changed. I left Pontarddulais at eighteen and lived away for twenty five years.
And I'm passionately pleased to be back here in Wales and I love being able to use so much of my Welsh at work every day.
That time away-whilst keeping in touch with family of course- gave me a chance to look at what's happening from afar. And I saw the community where I was brought up changing.
The Welsh speaking community's still there-my family's still part of it, but it's just not as strong as I remember it when I was growing up.
And I know the same thing's happening, for a number of different reasons, in other places.
And I also know that you can see it happening, here, in parts of Anglesey, in your own communities, too.
And that's why we're going to be doing a lot of work on this.
This was one of the first things I wanted to tackle when I was appointed Minister. And I've already acted on (1) Welsh language communities (2) second homes, and (3) widening Welsh-medium education and opportunities to learn our language.
Let's look specifically at the first one. I want to tell you what we're doing with our Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan.
I know there have been calls for us to move quickly, but we've got to work at a pace which makes ensures it'll have the effect we want and need it to have.
So we'll trial or test first, and then act even more thereafter.
To start-and I've already referred to this-we've got an opportunity to support people to create social or community enterprises: for example, we'll help local people financially and practically to buy their local pub or post office and so on.
Turning them into places where we can use our Welsh. Putting the power in the hands of the people. Empowering local communities.
They'll be places which can generate income for the community, places for people to get a taste of our language. Places where the community can get together, in Welsh.
Or maybe set up a cooperative holiday business, with the profit being invested back in the community. Or another cooperative business.
These are examples of what's known as monolingual spaces', and I've spoken about these before, when we responded to the COVID-19 crisis back in July last year. They're vitally important.
And it's important for us to be led by local people here. By their reality. We'll be led by what's good for our language. We'll be led by the reality of the linguistic situation.
And we'll make sure that housing, economic development and our language work together, in harmony.
And we'll work, to make sure that houses, homes, are available for local people, where they were born and brought up, for a price they can afford.
And there's a number of other things we'll be consulting on as part of the Plan; things like creating cultural ambassadors (who'll be working to make sure people know about our language, and what it contributes to local culture and heritage), and we'll be safeguarding our place names.
I'm looking forward to hearing your responses to these plans, so that we here in Government, working with Plaid Cymru, can take the next steps in light of what our communities tell us.
Now, come with me on a quick trip to visit our Celtic cousins in Scotland and Ireland, to see some of the work happening there.
Have you heard of a book called The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community? Let me tell you, the findings aren't comfortable reading.
I think we need something similar here in Wales. Some of the findings have made me think. They've raised some important questions in my mind.
Forgive me the academic language, but I believe we need to look at this in the context of our own language too:
Combined with the lack of targeted scrutiny of the contraction of the Gaelic speaking collective, an ideological vaccum was filled by the civic promotion of Gaelic which conforms with an individualist ethic and continues to confine Gaelic to a secondary, optional identityin fact, promoting high status symbolic interventions can dissipate resources and energy from targeted community support efforts and it is quite common in threatened language scenarios.
Let's look at it in lay terms. We've got to stop ourselves from becoming too focused on linguistic symbolism or status at the detriment of the socio-linguistic truth.
Let me be crystal clear: if we fail to keep our Welsh speaking communities, there's a risk that the Welsh language will turn into what one commentator called the Irish language, nothing more than a subaltern hobby language.
Yes, people will still learn it, but they won't use it meaningfully-if at all.
We need to keep a watchful eye on what's happening in Ireland with their language.
During the 2016 Census, 1.77 million people said they could speak Gaelige, but only 78,000 speak the language every day outside the classroom.
Seventy. Eight. Thousand.
What I've just discussed is based on work in Scotland and Ireland. But things are more hopeful here in Wales, aren't they?
Yes, of course. But our ambition and opportunities are bigger too
We need to know the state of our Welsh speaking communities. Yes, our aspirations for our language are ambitious, but, believe me, I'll be grounding our aspirations in firm reality:
- In the reality of the lives of people who use our language.
- In the reality of the difficulties we must face.
So, as I've already said, Welsh belongs to us all.
I want to create a Wales where everyone has a part to play in supporting and strengthening our language. A Wales where everyone is part of the solution.
Identifying and supporting areas where the language is growing is central to the vision. But of course-and it pays to emphasise this when we're discussing Welsh speaking communities-Welsh also belongs to people who speak the language every day, those people who live in communities where the majority of people can speak Welsh.
That's why I'm setting up a Commission led by Dr Simon Brooks, to look at Welsh at a community level. Not a building or organisation, but a group of experts to tell us the truth, however unpalatable it may be.
Can I now turn my attention to education? I am, of course, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language.
Without a doubt, I know how much influence a school has on the language within the community, especially where the Welsh language is less strong, or doesn't exist in that community as an everyday language.
Schools are the most effective tool we have to create our new speakers for the future. And it's great that so many non-Welsh speaking parents are putting their faith in the Welsh-medium education system. Thank you to you all.
And I want to see more of this happening! I want Welsh-medium education to be more accessible. I want our language to be respected and properly taught to children in our English medium schools.
Not everyone's in favour of the categorisation policy I introduced before Christmas. I know that. But I'm convinced that it gives us a real chance to push all our schools along the language continuum, so that all our young children have the opportunity to become bilingual citizens, proud of their Welsh identity.
So we'll create a new Bill to ensure that every single child in Wales has equal access to Welsh-medium education.
And because Welsh belongs to us all, you'll have seen the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru announcement this morning, that we'll be giving everyone the opportunity to reach their potential at whatever ability level that works for them, free of charge up to the age of twenty five.
This will ensure that we'll be giving many people a second chance- a first chance for some-so that thousands of our young people will have the opportunity to become confident bilingual citizens by the age of twenty five.
I want Wales to be a nation where everyone has a second chance. No one will be left behind.
But, of course, we must have teachers to deliver these schemes, and as I've mentioned publicly before, we'll introduce a ten-year workforce plan addressing the challenges.
And in addition to this, I'm pleased to say that from September onwards, we also intend to provide free Welsh lessons to the education workforce-whether teachers or assistants-so that we can ensure that more of our education staff can speak some Welsh, to help guide our schools along the path towards more Welsh language provision over time.
One thing I haven't mentioned up to now is local government. And Saunders Lewis had plenty to say about that!
I've already outlined what we're doing in Welsh Government. We're on a journey, and we want to see what everyone else can do as well.
Important steps have been taken within local authorities, and the journey some authorities have taken within their education strategic plans is great-but there's much more to be done.
And, of course, there's room for us all to support each other, so tonight, I'd like to make it known that I want to meet each cabinet lead for the Welsh language in each local authority every term from now on, so we can share good practice, co-ordinate our work, and learn from each other.
Our revolutionary means'-our dulliau chwyldro'-may be different to those in Saunders Lewis' mind sixty years ago, but let me say that our passion for our language is just as real, as honest and as powerful.
We've recently entered into a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru and look forward to working together for our language.
The agreement is ambitious and signals the determination we, as political parties, have for the Welsh language.
It includes work to increase the use of our language in more places, on an innovative Welsh Language Education Bill, to increase the number of our teachers who can teach in Welsh and to ensure that more organisations come under the Welsh Language Standards.
We'll also be working together to safeguard our place names as well as on a number of other things.
And I'm delighted to see Rhun ap Iorwerth here - I'm in his constituency, so thanks for the welcome to Ynys Mn. And I'm looking forward to work with Sin Gwenllan and Cefin Campbell, who are leading on these aspects of the agreement. I'm confident that our joint approach will prove productive.
And I promise every single one of you here tonight, that while I have the honour of leading on safeguarding our language within the Welsh Government, that Welsh will not be a a language in retreat, as Saunders warned.
For this to happen, we have to trust each other. All of us. Those of you here tonight, and those of you watching remotely.
Now, more than ever, we need to work together, contribute towards and celebrate successes, offer a helping hand to each other when we're faced with challenges-and learn from each other-and together, and our mission will continue.
At the start I mentioned Tynged' (fate) and Achub' (saving)- the words of Saunders Lewis and Jim Griffiths, and I pondered over what word we'd use tonight.
I'm going to be bold and ask for more than one word: they are faith, learning and belonging.
Faith, because we've got to have faith in each other and in our mission to succeed.
Learning, because that's how we can change things-by learning together.
Welsh belongs to us all. It's rooted deep in our very being. It's part of what makes us us'. So, yes, it's our responsibility-every single one of us- to come together to ensure a prosperous future for our language, and it's also a chance for us to remember that everyone has a part to play, everyone has a voice- Cymraeg belongs to us all.
Diolch yn fawr.