Languages of the British Isles – Welsh

By , October 17, 2010 1:39 am

Local tongues

Although by far the most common language spoken in the British Isles is, and has been for many centuries, English, there are other local languages, too.

Some are living languages, such as Welsh and Gaelic, others are extinct, such as Manx and Cumbric.

The most widely-spoken of these today is Welsh, spoken mainly in Wales, and also on the boundary with England. “Welsh” is the name in English – the name of the language in Welsh is “Cymraeg”.

The word “Welsh” came from the Anglo-Saxon for “foreign speakers”.

Percentage of people in each Welsh county who are Welsh-speaking

Percentage of people in each Welsh county who are Welsh-speaking

There is a Welsh Language Board, called Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg, whose website can be found here.

This is the first in a series of articles looking at local tongues spoken in the British Isles.

This post will look at the current number of speakers, where they live, how the language is used, and what type of language and linguistic family Welsh belongs to.

Welsh is the Celtic language I am most familiar with; my family today has a Welsh surname and a scattering of Welsh first names.

My great-grandparents on my father’s side were native Welsh speaking, but left north Wales for Liverpool, as many Welsh people did at the end of the 19th century.

A Celtic Language

Welsh evolved from the Celtic language known now as Brythonic or British, a language which was probably first spoken in the British Isles in the Iron Age.

Celtic languages are usually divided into two sets, P-Celtic and Q-Celtic, and British (and therefore Welsh) is P-Celtic, along with Cornish, Breton, Gaulish and Pictish.

A page from the Early Welsh poetry, the Book of Taliesin

A page from the Early Welsh poetry, the Book of Taliesin

Irish and Scottish Galic, Manx and Celtiberian (spoken in what is now Spain) are Q-type Celtic languages.

A Brief History of Welsh

During the Iron Age and Roman Period, British or Brythonic was probably spoken in most of what is now England and Wales, and probably a lot of Scotland and Ireland, too.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the gradual invasions of Saxons, Danes, Vikings, and other tribes from the east, British speakers became isolated in patches of the British Isles.

The common British tongue slowly separated into separate languages over time; the precise difference between a dialect of British and a new language being open to interpretation.

Gerald of Wales, a 12th century cleric and chronicle writer, who wrote extensively about Wales

Gerald of Wales, a 12th century cleric and chronicle writer, who wrote extensively about Wales

By about 600AD, Welsh was probably already well distinct from Cornish and Breton, although the language across Cumbria and southern Scotland was probably still very similar to what was spoken in Wales.

“Old Welsh”, from about the 7th / 8th to the 11th centuries, was a written language, in Wales and Cumbria. Poetry and prose survives in Welsh from this time.

Middle Welsh, from the 12th to 15th centuries, bequeathed a lot of writing that can be read today.

A modern Welsh speaker can generally get the gist of it, although there have been changes. It’s apparently quite similar to the difference between Chaucerian and modern English.

Early modern Welsh was established at about the time that William Morgan, the Bishop of Llanduff, translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Welsh, in 1588.

The first Welsh dictionaries and grammar books date from the 19th century.

Welsh speakers today

Welsh is a thriving, living language. Children living in Wales learn the language up to the age of 16, and there are Welsh-medium state schools. About 20% of primary schools are Welsh medium, but only two secondary schools.

William Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of St. Asaph, who translated the Bible into Welsh in the late 16th century

William Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of St. Asaph, who translated the Bible into Welsh in the late 16th century

The most detailed recent report is the 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey, which looked in detail at the use of Welsh, levels of fluency, ages of speakers, business and public use, education, and literacy.

The survey found that 21.7% of the population in Wales spoke Welsh, and of those, 57% were fluent speakers. That meant that there were 611,000 Welsh speakers, of whom 315,000 were fluent. 88% of them spoke Welsh daily.

58% of speakers could write Welsh very well, and another 31% could write it well.

Welsh speakers are found more in the west than the east, and more in the north than the south. Therefore, not surprisingly, the heaviest concentration of Welsh speakers is in the north-west, in Angelsey (Ynys Môn in Welsh) and Gwynedd.

Welsh is a growing language – 37% of 3 to 15 year olds are Welsh speaking, 22% of 16 to 29 year old speak Welsh, but only 16% of those in their 40s and 50s are Welsh speakers, and 19% of those over 65 are Welsh speaking.

There is also a small group of Welsh-speaking Argentines, descendants of settlers in the 19th century, who set up a Welsh colony in Patagonia. There are an estimated 5,000 Welsh speakers there today.

Welsh media and publications

By law, the public sector must produce much of its material in both Welsh and English. For example, if you visit the main Home Office website here, you will find a button at the bottom right which says Cymraeg and gives you the Welsh translation.

Road signs, banks and major shops all tend to have signs in both languages, too.

There is a Welsh-only television station, S4C, whose (English language) page can be found here. The BBC produces some television programmes in Welsh, too.

The BBC has a Welsh radio station, Radio Cymru, and there are about 10 other radio stations that broadcast partly or mostly in Welsh.

To hear Welsh, spoken over pictures of Wales, see this youtube video: Spoken Welsh

28 Responses to “Languages of the British Isles – Welsh”

  1. zerodtkjoe says:

    Thanks for the info

  2. Find a Solicitor says:

    good stuff :) , how long has this blog been going for???

  3. books for babies says:

    These are some great points!

  4. Link Building Services says:

    Love the blog here. Nice colors. I am definitely staying tuned to this one. Hope to see more.

  5. watcher says:

    This is the perfect post and may be one that is followed up to see what the results are

    A close friend sent this link the other day and I will be excitedly looking your next piece of writing. Carry on on the brilliant work.

  6. John says:

    Just wanna commentabout this article, after reading whole of this it make me to have new goal about one important event, hope I can read more great news again from you so I subscribe your website.

  7. Damier Canvas says:

    Took me awhile to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be very useful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also engaged! I’m sure you had fun writing this article.

  8. Link says:

    Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  9. Study says:

    Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all. It’s people like you that make my day :)

  10. christian love says:

    Good morning, This is an outstanding article, but I was wondering how to suscribe to the RSS feed?

  11. Engleza incepatori says:

    Very nice information,I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  12. Karey Christley says:

    Beneficial This really is one of the best web sites I’ve ever read on this subject.

  13. lose 10 pounds in a week says:

    Hey, Good evening Have you ever considered adding alot more videos for your weblog posts to keep the readers way more entertained? I mean I just study via the entire post of yours and it was very excellent but since I’m far more of a visual learner,I found that to be additional valuable well let me know how it turns out! I appreciate what you guys are always up as well. Such clever operate and reporting! Maintain up the fantastic works men I’ve additional you men to my blogroll. This is a outstanding article thanks for sharing this informative details.. I will visit your blog often for some latest article. Greetings from Lancaster

  14. online forex trading says:

    Every time I see a really good blog post I usually do one of three thing:1.Forward it to the relevant friends.2.Bookmark it in some of the common social sharing websites.3.Be sure to return to the blog where I first read the article.After reading this post I’m really concidering going ahead and doing all three!

  15. Best Acne Scar Treatment says:

    Hi, how are you? I have been looking for content like this for a research project I am working. Greetings fr0m Bristol

  16. Issac Maez says:

    nice blog, I like!

  17. Nicky Howorth says:

    Hi. I wanted to drop you a rapid note in order to convey my own thank you. I’ve been recently following your webpage for a month or so and have picked out up a ton of good facts as well as liked the way you’ve organized your own webpage. I am attempting to operate my own webpage however I believe its way too typical and also I want to concentrate more on smaller subjects. Being all things to all people is not all that its cracked up to be.

  18. dodgers says:

    This is a great post and may be one that can be followed up to see what are the results

    A companion sent this link the other day and I am desperately anticipating your next post. Continue on the first class work.

  19. tarot gratuit says:

    This write up is nice. I’ll post in my blog and translate it in French.

  20. LG Cell Phone Covers says:

    Wow, that was an amazing article! Thank you so much for your fantastic writing, i’ll be reading regularly from now on.

  21. d?browa says:

    Super blog! I actually love how it is easy on my eyes and also the data are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which must do the trick! Have a nice day!

  22. unstoppable confidence says:

    Took me time to study all of the comments, but I truly loved the article. It proved to be very helpful to me and I’m certain to all of the commenters right here! It is usually nice whenever you cannot only be informed, but also engaged! I’m sure you had joy writing this article.

  23. Joanna says:

    I’m thrilled to know Welsh has not been allowed to die like many ancient languages, and that it’s still used daily. That said, despite visiting “understand Welsh” sites many times, I’ve decided Welsh is beyond my abilities. I would’ve had to grow up in Wales to understand (or read) a single word!

  24. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elle Pedersen, Political Packrat. Political Packrat said: Fascinated by "Languages of the British Isles – Welsh | History and traditions of England" ( ) #welsh [...]

  25. Dara Mcglothian says:

    This blog is bookmarked! I really love the stuff you have put here.

  26. Anonymous says:

    WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share.. more wait .. ;)

  27. Candi Ocha says:

    Alicja is great! Really lovely and smart girl, great actress. I wish her LUCK!Report this comment as spam or abuse

  28. Rikki Strawther says:

    Hi! I stumbled upon your site through one of the websites linked to you. I rarely comment on blogs but I thought I’d just say hi. So keep up the good work! Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Panorama theme by Themocracy