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History of the Welsh Language

Perhaps there are those of you who may be a little disappointed that this page has not being written in Welsh. I make no apologies for not doing so, for there are those around the world who have an interest in all things Welsh and are unable to speak our tongue.

In beginning this page I express my sincere thanks to the members of the Welsh Language Board for their efforts in protecting and promoting the Welsh language; also to those who, despite the fact that they broke the law in doing so, drew the attention of the authorities for the need to protect it.

Can anyone for certain say where our Language came from or how old it is, I fear not, for as the saying goes “It is as old as the hills”. There is one train of thought that suggest that the language came south from the Firth of Forth in Scotland with Cunedda Wledig "Cunedda the Burner”, who became the ancient ruler of Gwynedd. There is also another thought that it came west with the invading Celts. I seem to remember that I was told that the language developed from that which had been brought west by the Brython race, so this is this train of thought that I am inclined to favour. Welsh is most definitely a Celtic language, its nearest cousins being the languages of the Cornish and Breton people.

Thus it is today that Welsh is the oldest living celtic language in the United Kingdom and among the oldest surviving in Europe. The language was I am sure being spoken in the sixth century, for Gildas the Cleric spoke of the bards of the court of Maelgwn of Gwynedd composing their poems using it. Thus in those days it seems that it was the Bards or Poets of a prince's court who were both the defenders and promoters of it. So it was through their poems did the Bard's of the court of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, tell of his death and the disaster that occurred at Builth Wells on a December day in 1282.

Welsh Language Board, to whom I am extreemely gratefull for help.

I too remember well the prowess of Iolo Goch, prifardd or chief poet to the court of Owain Glyndwr, for his poems about Owain were legendary. Rhys ap Tudur, Owain's cousin and one of the leaders of those who captured Conway castle once said of Iolo's ability “ O if only Iolo could fight as well as he can tell poems he would be worth a hundred English men at arms". Alas pore Iolo, he did not even carry a dagger in the sash that was more oft than not undone around his ample girth. When the final throes of Owain Glyndwr's campaign came to the end and Henry the VIII had succeeded to the English throne, the so called Acts of Union of 1535 and 1542 sought to bring about the death of our language; for the acts sought to incorporate Wales into England thus attempting to make the inhabitants of Wales subjects of the English crown.

When those acts finally reached the statute book they confirmed that only English could be used in the courts in Wales, thus disallowing any person using Welsh from holding public office. It was this that caused the Welsh Gentry, the traditional guardians of our language and culture by then, to sever their links with it. Indeed were it not for William Morgan and his translation and publication of the Bible into Welsh in 1588, it is doubtful if the language would have survived for many more years even then.

The strength of the language further decreased following the outbreak of the first world war, after which inward migration by English speakers into rural areas of my country also caused a decline, as did the migration of Welsh people into urban areas in search of work. All in all it seemed that once again a national disaster was occurring to the language which no one was seemingly able to correct. It took the law breaking activities of those that were passionate about it, to arouse the awareness of the Welsh people to the fact that once more our language was at death's door before the authorities acted.

1986. Both Lord Prys-Davies and Dafydd Wigley MP presented separate private members bill's before parliament at Westminster, this greatly added to the efforts of those demonstrating in support of the language. In July 1988 the situation took a turn for the better for the Welsh Language Board was created, its aim was to advise the Secretary of State for Wales on matter concerning the language. During the next two years the board's members worked strenuously to prepare documents for which the Secretary of State would need to present a bill before parliament.

1991 Under the Chairmanship of John Elfed Jones, the Language Board presented to the Secretary of State for Wales a document which contained the much needed series of legislative proposals. The Secretary of State then set in motion the procedure for adopting the proposals as a bill in the House of Commons in London.

1992 The Welsh Language Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons and on December 17th was presented to the House of Lords for ratification by that House. 1993 Having completed its passage through the Lords, the bill was returned to the House of Commons on July 15th where it successfully completed its journey through that chamber once again. On the 12th of October the Bill was once again returned to the House of Lords to be debated upon. When no further amendments were proposed to it, the Bill on the 21st October was forwarded for Royal Assent. Having received it, the Welsh people got the Christmas present that so many had wanted for so long. The Bill had become law and was placed on the statute books and came into force on the 21st December 1993. All those that had been jailed for demonstrating illegally in support of the language, now felt that their actions had been justified.

With the law now in place to assist them, it was now up to the members of the Welsh Language Board to see that it would never knock on death's door again. Since 1993 through the workings of it, [ the Welsh Language Board ] intervention by government agencies has since seen a steady increase in the number of young adults being able to speak Welsh. Today in this the year 2001, one third of all primary school children in Wales receive their education in a Welsh medium or bilingual school. Why do the children receive it so, well after all it is our country and when in Rome one is expected to do what the Romans do.

Whilst there are some who may not agree that enough is being done, I think since that historic day in 1993 the efforts made by the members of the Welsh Language Board to drive our language forward have been tremendous. One can only say may much more power be added to the elbow of the Board members as they continue in their efforts.

Finally it was in the kingdoms of Gwynedd, northern Powys and Deheubarth that the language was always at its strongest, even today it is those very same regions where its strength lies. Indeed so strong did the people of the modern day region of Deheubarth, [ Carmarthenshire ] feel about the language that it was they who took up the call to arms and cast the final successful votes which secured the birth of the Welsh National Assembly, hoping that an Assembly would among other things, further strengthen the language's survival.

That night of the historical occasion, O what a night that was, maybe just maybe that night heralded the beginnings of an independent government for my nation once again. Should that day ever occur, then that will be the day that once again, as it was in those days when Owain Glyndwr fought to keep me free,
I shall fly free in the wind. O if it takes another thousand years, let it be so.

Graphics by Ole R.D. Copyright © 1999-2005
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