Being aware and understanding Welsh language laws and culture is important when working with bilingual content in Wales. A wrong foot can not only bring you public scrutiny, but it can also bring legal complications your way. But what are language laws and why do they exist?
How many speak Welsh?
According to the ‘yes or no’ question of the 2011 census, around 20% in Wales said they ‘could’ speak Welsh. But, according to the latest population survey (2019) about 30% of people in Wales said they had ‘the ability to' speak Welsh, nearly 1 in every 3.
If we look at UK wide figures in 2019, it was estimated that there was a total of about 1.2 million Welsh speakers (including about 850,000 in Wales). Without forgetting the other Welsh speakers from across the world, and the 5,000 Welsh speakers in Patagonia, South America (who only speak Spanish and Welsh).
These figures belong to a rising trend since the turn of the century.
Why is there a need for Welsh language laws?
Language laws exist in Wales to give people the right to use the Welsh language and for it to be treated equally. They set in stone the principle that the Welsh language should never be treated less favourably than the English language.
But, this has not always been the case as many know. The Welsh language suffered from oppression and went from being spoken by over 90% of the population to being a minority language within about a century.
Examples of such:
1.) The Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 made speaking Welsh in court illegal (in a country at a time where most people only spoke Welsh). Welsh was not a valid form of pleading in court until the Welsh Courts Act in 1942.
2.) During the 18th century and the industrial revolution, it was reported that workers speaking Welsh down the mines could lose their jobs, the only family income in most cases. It was not passed down to new generations in fear that it would be detrimental to future careers and work opportunities.
3.) The Welsh Not was a practice (reportedly started around 1840-1940s) where school children would be punished for speaking Welsh in school. If caught, they would wear a wooden plaque with the letters “WN”, and whoever was wearing this at the end of the day would be caned by the headmaster. There are reports of this still happening up until the 1940s.
We could go on.
With falling numbers and lack of support against an ever-dominant English language, tensions started to boil over from the 1950s onwards. Protests erupted as Wales demanded basic linguistic rights. Fuelled by political events such as the drowning of a small village (Capel Celyn, referred to as Tryweryn) to create a water reservoir for Liverpool and lack of Welsh language representation on TV by the BBC, the protesting eventually led to change. The Welsh language campaign group (Cymdeithas yr Iaith) was established, a Welsh language TV channel (S4C) was established and the Welsh language was included on road signs – all a few of many changes during this period.
Eventually, the pressure led to official language laws being implemented in Wales, not only to support the Welsh language but to give people the basic right to use the Welsh language in Wales.
What are the language laws in Wales?
Over the last few decades, two main laws were passed that have laid the foundations of Welsh language rights:
- The Welsh Language Act (1993)
- The Welsh Language Measure (2011)
The Welsh Language Act (1993) was an act that officially put the Welsh language on an equal footing with the English language within Wales.
It did 3 things:
- Issued the setting up of a body with the duty of promoting the use of Welsh and ensuring compliance with the act (formally known as Bwrdd yr Iaith).
- Obliged all public sector organisations who provided a service to the public, to do so in both Welsh and English.
- Gave Welsh speakers the right to speak Welsh in court (it was only officially passed in 1967 as not illegal to speak Welsh in court).
In fact, up until 1993 the Laws in Wales Acts (1535–1542) had made English the only language of public administration in Wales, give or take a few laws along the way that meant you could not actually be prosecuted for speaking Welsh.
Being one of the first modern-day acts, it was felt that the Welsh Language Act (1993) did not go far enough. This brought about the Welsh Language Measure (2011) and was a strengthening of the Welsh Language Act (1993).
The Welsh Language Measure (2011) added a few other elements:
- Set out that the Welsh language should not be treated less favourably than English.
- Created the procedure of issuing Welsh Language Standards, that are bespoke Welsh language laws set on organisations and businesses.
- Set up the Welsh Language Commissioner to promote the use of the Welsh language.
- Gave provision regarding investigating and interference with the freedom to use the Welsh language. This includes, anyone ordering an individual to not communicate with another individual in Welsh, anyone making a Welsh scenario a disadvantage to an English scenario, and someone threatening Welsh to be a disadvantage when being used with another person.
The Welsh Language Standards
When creating content, you need to be aware of the Welsh Language Standards (part of the Welsh Language Measure) and if they apply in your circumstance. The Welsh Language Standards are a set of requirements that are issued to a sector in Wales after a consultation and drafting period by the Welsh Government. These laws are set on a sector by sector basis and it's an ongoing process lead by the Welsh Government. When Standards are set, they outline the expected requirements for operating bilingually in Wales. These extend to many elements, such as signage, website functionality, marketing, HR processes, correspondence with the public and many more.
The upholding and policing of the Welsh Language Standards are handled by the Welsh Language Commissioner, who has the power to issue warnings and fines for compliance failures.
How can we help?
At Golley Slater, we have a team of talented Welsh speakers working within the business that allow us to produce the highest quality bilingual work.
If needed, we have specialist Welsh language resources and services available to suit your needs:
- Welsh Standards compliance advice
- Translation coordination
- Process mapping
- Proofing and sense checking
- Creative production and directing
- Account handling
If you are in a situation where Welsh Language Standards apply, our team will be able to advise on the best course of action and how to avoid any legal issues. When working under the Welsh language Standards, our bilingual output is based on the Welsh Government’s Welsh Language Guidance document and past experience.
Especially if you are unfamiliar with Wales and bilingualism, navigating Welsh language laws, culture and processes can be tedious. We can help you navigate through everything with clear advice and guidance.
If you feel Golley Slater can help you in any way, please get in touch.
Gweirydd Davies, Head of Welsh Language (Golley Slater)
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