FLTA November 16, 2001
Language attitudes and identity of Welsh language learners
Matsuyama Akiko The Welsh language
?Welsh is a Celtic language and belongs to the Indo-European group of languages.
Gaelic and Cornish are other examples of Celtic languages.
?According to Census figures, nearly 50% of the population spoke Welsh in 1901,
while in 1991, 18.5% of the population (about half a million) were reported as
?Proportions of Welsh speakers vary from place to place. Higher proportions of
Welsh speakers are found in the rural parts of Wales. Larger numbers of Welsh
speakers are found in urban parts of Wales but the proportions remain lower.
Around the capital city of Cardiff, for example, percentages of Welsh speakers are
between 5 and 10 %.
The Welsh language education
?The Education Reform Act of 1988 ?the National Curriculum in Wales included
Welsh either as a first or as a second language.
?Two types of schools use Welsh as a medium of instruction: „traditional‟ or „natural‟ Welsh schools in Welsh-speaking areas; and ‟designated bilingual schools‟ („Welsh
schools‟) specialised to use Welsh as the main medium of instruction in
English-speaking areas. In these “Welsh-speaking” schools, Welsh is a „core‟ subject together with mathematics, science and English, while in English-medium
schools, Welsh is a „foundation‟ subject together with technology, history, geography,
a modern foreign language (in secondary schools), music, art, and physical education.
Before the establishment of the National Curriculum, nearly 20% of the schools did
not teach Welsh at all. Such schools were required to start providing the Welsh
language teaching. And many of the schools that already provided Welsh language
teaching needed to extend the teaching of Welsh up to the end of secondary
Language attitudes: how have studies of language attitudes been done so far?
?The issue of language attitude can immediately involves the process of learning a
language, and its success and failure. On the other hand, it is an issue relating to
language policies and the future of the language. Especially in the Welsh context,
where traditional agencies like families and communities are struggling to transmit the
language to the next generation, education is relied upon as an agency of producing
and reproducing the Welsh language. Considering the current Welsh context, this
study is focused on „language attitudes to Welsh‟. ?There are several ways of measuring language attitudes, but the most-used
instrument in the Welsh context is attitude scales with statement items. In such
attitude scales, a list of sentences is presented in the questionnaire. Examples for
measuring attitudes to the Welsh language may be:
Welsh is a language worth learning.
I like hearing Welsh spoken.
It‟s a waste of time trying to keep Welsh alive. Subjects are asked to report how much they would agree with those statements
according to a rating scale provided. For instance, ticking „1‟ may represent „strongly
disagree‟ and ticking a „5‟ may represent „strongly agree.‟ The number chosen would
most appropriately match the respondents‟ feelings. The sum or the means of the
scores across the series of statements would be considered to summarise the attitude
of a given respondent or a given respondent group.
?Earlier attitude studies concerned who were more or less favourable in attitude to
Welsh. Factors considered in previous studies were gender and age of individual
respondents, or types of schools attended, and proportions of Welsh speakers within
local populations. Attitude tend to be more favourable when pupils are female or
younger, or when they attend Welsh-medium schools or they live in locality of higher
percentages of Welsh learners.
?Issues of teaching Welsh is often linked to Welsh identity, but there is little research
evidence on ethnic identity of Welsh language learners.
?A methodological issue. One of the criticism against attitude scales was, if we
simply record 1-5 we do not know why participants responded that way. With such
scales, we can see who are more or less favourable to Welsh, but can not understand
why that happens.
Available data about Welsh identity ?The 1997 Referendum Survey: 63% of the sample described themselves as Welsh,
26% as British; 17% were reported as fluent in Welsh, 12% as speaking Welsh but
not fluently, and 71 % as speaking only Welsh.
?The percentage of people with Welsh identity is far higher than people speaking
Welsh. In the current Wales, the relationship of Welsh language and identity has
become unstable, and Welsh language may no longer be the basis of Welsh identity.
?A „three-Wales‟ model (Balsom 1985): in „Y Fro Gymraeg‟, the Welsh language is
widely spoken and Welsh identity is popular; in „Welsh Wales‟, the Welsh language is
not widely spoken but Welsh identity is strong; n „British Wales‟ the Welsh language is
not much spoken and the British identity is relatively popular.
Data for the study was collected in each of the three areas.
?Data was collected with an open-ended questionnaire. Participantswere15 or 16
years old at the time of the questionnaire survey. 625 pupils from 8 secondary
schools in the „three-Wales‟ model took part in the survey. 8 schools were recruited
from the three areas in the 'three-Wales' model (Balsom 1985). Majorities of the participants in the school in 'Y Fro Gymraeg' and in one Welsh-medium school in
„Welsh Wales‟ were considered very fluent in Welsh, whereas most participants in the
six other schools were learning Welsh as a second language.
?Participants were presented with 3 groups of questions about (1) group identity, (2)
conceptualisations of the 'Welsh', and (3) their ideas of the Welsh language.
?More proportions commented „positively‟ or „very positively‟ on the Welsh language in the Welsh-speaking area and in the Welsh-medium school. In the other six
schools, comments tended to be „negative‟, but „very negative‟ accounts were very few.
?Issues on ‟Welsh cultural distinctiveness‟ and „Communicational considerations‟
were more often associated with „very positive‟ or „positive‟ comments on the Welsh language; „Regional distributions of Welsh speakers‟ often appeared in the „neither positive nor negative‟ comments; and „Numbers and proportions of speakers‟ were often mentioned in „negative‟ and „very negative‟ comments.
?When results are summarised by identity groups, proportions of „positive‟ and „very positive‟ comments were the highest in the group whose Welsh identity was more
important. Numbers and proportions of speakers were the most frequently
mentioned in all identity groups, but in the group with stronger Welsh identity, one in
five made comments on Welsh cultural distinctiveness.
?Analysis by identity groups has shown that the comparative strength of Welsh
identity has some link to awareness of Welsh distinctiveness and positiveness
towards the language, but it is not a very straightforward link. One third of the
participants with strong Welsh identity returned negative accounts of the importance
of learning Welsh. What is more directly associated with positiveness to the Welsh
language may be cultural awareness.
?Factors associated with „Welshness‟ include being born in Wales, having Welsh
members in the family, speaking the Welsh language, feeling proud of or enthsiastic
about being Welsh, and understanding Welsh cultural tradition. In the school in a
Welsh-speaking area, more than 80% of the sample discussed the issue in terms of
speaking the Welsh language, and in other schools percentages were between
20-30 %. In the school in a Welsh-speaking area, the majority of those who
mentioned the language had strong Welsh identity and made positive accounts of the
importance of learning Welsh, but in other schools, such pattern was not found. It
may be because the definition of a Welsh person who speaks Welsh can be readily
applied to themselves in the sample from the Welsh-speaking area and result in even
stronger appreciation of the value of the language, but in other schools such
application becomes a matter of dispute, which may leave Welsh learners in an
ambivalent position in terms of the value of the language if they are not confident in
their linguistic skills in Welsh.
Conclusion Analysis of identity constructions illustrated what may be a long-term change in ethnic identity and its association with the traditional language. When we think of long-term
promotion and maintenance of the Welsh language, the controversial position of the
language in Welsh identity can be an obstacle for the maintenance and promotion of
the Welsh language, according to Fishman (2001). As one of reasons whey it is so
hard to strengthen threatened languages, Fishman (2001:21) points out that:
“the loss of a traditionally associated ethnocultural language is commonly the result of many long-ongoing departures from the traditional culture, thereby robbing that culture of most of its erstwhile and potential defenders and establishing a rival identity that does not require (although it may still claim to admire) the traditionally associated language.”