Language attitudes and identity of adolescents learning and using

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Language attitudes and identity of adolescents learning and using

    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 collection

    ?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.


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