This panel discussion reviewED the Welsh Government’s drive for increased bilingualism, and offer a balanced look at the potential for both positive and negative outcomes to emerge from these language policy interventions, based on recent research.
The wider context for this discussion WAS a prevailingly optimistic cross-party political consensus about the need for increased bilingualism, a mix of optimism and agnosticism in academic fields, and a vibrant (sometimes heated) hubbub of civic debate in the Welsh public sphere. We wanted to inform all angles of this debate with insights from research into Welsh language policymaking, Welsh-English bilingual schooling, and Welsh-language broadcasting.
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1.00pm Welcome and Introduction by WISERD
1.25pm Chair’s Introduction – Professor Gwynedd Parry, Professor of Law and Legal History, Director of the Hywel Dda Research Institute, Swansea University
1.45pm Potential positives and negatives in Welsh language policy documents, Dr. Dave Sayers, Sheffield Hallam University & Swansea University
This talk discussed the different priorities stated in the Welsh Government’s flagship policy documents published over the last decade.
Overall these texts tended to prioritise the Welsh language as an end in itself, separately prioritised over and above the pursuit of human wellbeing. At least, that is the balance reflected in the explicit wording of these texts.
Understandably this is not the whole story; there are clearly layers of implicit meaning within plans to increase bilingualism, to do with community empowerment and cultural survival. Nevertheless there is a shortfall in how those additional meanings are articulated. Meanwhile policy texts contain some justifications for excluding individuals from the workforce as a result of low Welsh proficiency, which could be a palpable detriment to those employees’ wellbeing. There are clear potential positive and negatives in Welsh language policy texts, which emerge under this sort of close reading.
2.15pm Potential positives and negatives in bilingual education, Dr. Charlotte Selleck, University of Copenhagen
This talk discussed the findings of an ethnographic study among young people in a south-west Wales town, including two contrasting schools: one predominantly Welsh-medium and one predominantly English-medium.
The findings suggest that students’ experiences of ‘choice’ (a watchword of Welsh language policy) are inconsistent. Positive aspects include encouraging young people to foster pride and enthusiasm in the Welsh language amongst each other, encouraging both increased bilingualism and a sense of shared identity. Meanwhile negative outcomes are felt through top-down directives from teaching staff, urging Welsh use and sanctioning English – spurring tensions and, paradoxically, rebellions towards English.
There are deeply fundamental questions at play here. By inadvertently fostering such rebellion, are current tendencies towards ‘separate’ bilingualism hastening the very language shift they aim to prevent? Can the Welsh language be strengthened by a more open and flexible approach, or would this be ineffective in the long run? And if the future of the Welsh language is ultimately down to younger generations, then how can power and control be delivered to them?
2.45pm Potential positives and negatives in Welsh language broadcasting, Dr. Elen Robert, Cardiff University
With a remit to broadcast principally in the Welsh language, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) has a number of internal language policies specifying how Welsh should be used. There are written downstream of Welsh Government policy, sharing many of its principles. Particular attention is paid to avoiding borrowings from English. Professional broadcasters carefully control their use of Welsh terminology, while non-professional participants (members of the public invited on to discuss an issue) are not under such official constraints.
There are potential positive and negative outcomes here, discussed in this talk with findings from a detailed analysis of S4C broadcasts. These include heartening cases of productive accommodation between broadcasters and guests where English borrowings are used, and contrasting tensions relating to the ‘correct’ form of a given word.
There is also an issue of potential employment barriers in S4C itself, for those who are proficient in Welsh but who may use English borrowings for various reasons. This feeds into a wider debate over language purism, defending Welsh from perceived infiltration, and whether this is the most effective way to promote the language.