Signs point to revival of Welsh language
By LOUIS J. SALOME, c.1997 Cox News Service, DOLGELLAU, Wales

In script and on tongues, there is visual and oral proof the Welsh language is making a comeback that its Celtic bards would celebrate in song and verse. As revivals go, this one is a swelling blip on language monitors. It is more evident in atmospherics than statistics, although the figures are positive. The gradual decline in the use of Welsh is centuries old, and the way ahead remains more clouded than clear.

“We’ve got our backs against the sea,” is the usual way Welsh-speakers in this picturesque northwest Wales village of stone buildings and one-lane streets, not far from the Irish Sea, define their predicament.

“I am concerned about the language. If you lose the language, you lose everything. You lose the soul of the nation,’` said Tecwyn Owen, 61, of Dolgellau (pronounced Dohl-GETH-lie), who used to teach Welsh to adults.

“It’s a constant fight to keep the language.” Clive James of Caernarfon, the language policy officer for Gwynedd County in North Wales, is more optimistic. “The knowledge and use of Welsh is on the increase, especially among children,” he said. “The survival possibilities of Welsh are improving all the time.”

Welsh-speakers, about 19 percent of Wales’ 2.9 million people, are accustomed to language adversity despite the positive signs around them.

Since the Act of Union in 1536, when King Henry VIII with his Welsh roots incorporated Wales into England, the Welsh language has been beating a slow retreat. Only now has that retreat been halted.

Welsh has close links to the Celtic languages of Breton, Cornish and Cumbrian, but more distant ties to other Celtic tongues like Irish, Scottish and Manx Gaelic. The Welsh alphabet has 20 single letters and eight double letters, such as ch, dd, ff and ll, which act in unison to produce a different sound. It has no j, k, q, v, x or z.

The Act of Union said English should be the language of the Welsh courts and no person speaking only Welsh should hold public office.

Now the Welsh tongue is lashing back. For example: --Nearly all pupils ages 5-16 in state schools must study Welsh as a first or second language. Other subjects are taught in Welsh in areas where Welsh-speakers predominate. --For the first time, the percentage of children, 24.9 percent, who speak Welsh is higher than the percentage of Welsh-speakers in the general population. This trend is expected to grow because the mandatory teaching of Welsh in state schools only began in the early 1990s. --Since 1993, Welsh and English have been considered equal languages in Wales’ government and judicial systems. Government agencies must publish information in both languages and some private companies voluntarily do the same. --Road signs are in both Welsh and English. --W elsh is common on television and radio, and newspapers written in Welsh are widely available. “I don’t know what the future of Welsh will be,” said Tecwyn Owen, the former Welsh teacher. “It’s a constant fight. You have to be aware and have to be hard in your attitude to keep the language if you feel anything for it.” For use by clients of the New York Times News Service

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