Bala, Gwynedd, Wales
The Welsh are serious about their language. As I wrote in ‘Croeso i Gymru: Welcome to Wales’, Clive and I were aware that in recent years, the government initiated programs to reverse the declining use of written and spoken Welsh.
We were still surprised at how much Welsh we saw and heard on this trip. According to Wikipedia, the 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey reported 21.7% of the population of Wales were Welsh speakers, up from 18.5% in 1991. Since 2000, teaching of Welsh to students up to age 16 is mandatory in all schools.
Many of those who speak Welsh as a first language live in the north and west of the country, where we’re spending our time.
In Bala, in the Gwynedd region, we were surprised at how much spoken Welsh we heard. We bought a tourist map (in English) at the local bookshop, Awen Meirion, but virtually all the llyfrau (books) and other maps (mapiau) were in Welsh.
It Goes Deeper
I found an online reference to a novel based on Welsh history, ‘Tongue Tied’, by Peter Griffiths. Among other themes, according to the publisher, the book explores “the tension that arises at times between the majority of Welsh people who can’t speak Welsh and the minority who can; and the divisiveness of the language in these instances is compared, with sadness, to its crucial unifying role over the millennia.”
Our exposure to the Welsh language was largely limited to roadsigns and overheard conversations. In some cases, we could see the similarity between Welsh and English words; in others, they’re completely different.
We noticed, as often happens when you travel, that locals speaking Welsh to each other seemed to know instinctively we were visitors, and automatically spoke English to us.
Whether marvelling at the complexity of the language and wondering how difficult it would be to learn, or simply enjoying the sounds of children talking, we were impressed.