• December 18, 2012

News from Celtic League

The results of the 2012 census, released last week, have shown that the number of speakers in Wales has dropped for the first time since 1991, leading campaigners to argue that the language is in crisis.

The number of children over 3 years of age that speak Welsh is 19.01% (or 562,000 people), which compares to 20.76 % (or 582,368 people) in 2001. However, the figures show that only 15% of people in 2011 have the full range of skills – speaking, reading and writing – compared to 16% in 2001.

These figures present a huge disappointment for language campaigners, who saw the number of speakers increase slightly in 2001 from a previous 100 year trend where the Welsh language seemed to be in permament decline. Throughout the last century the percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales has dropped steadily from 50% in 1901, to 29% in 1951, to 26% in 1961 to 18.5% in 1991. However, these latest figures show that any optimism that was felt in 2001, due to the apparent reversal of the earlier trend, was premature and now campaigners in Wales are repeating claims that the Welsh language is in ‘crisis’. Robin Farrar, newly-elected Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, commented:

“The Welsh language faces a crisis. This news reflects very badly on the Welsh Government who set a target of increasing the number of Welsh speakers by 5% over the decade. Over the last 10 years, they have failed to support the Welsh language in the way they should. The fall in all the counties in the West is a matter of great concern. The people of Wales are very supportive of our unique language, but the Government isn’t matching their ambition.”

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg have called for a radical change in the way Welsh and are demanding a quadrupaling of investment in language provision and a change in the way planning rules, education and Welsh language use in the public sector is delivered. To outline their vision the organisation has launched a manifesto (titled ‘Maniffesto Byw’ or ‘Living Manifesto’) in an attempt to combat the reversal. The Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, in her response to the census figures, echoed some of the concerns of Cymdeithas. Ms Huws, in her official capacity as the regulator on Welsh language issues for the government and other public bodies, described the census results as an alarm clock ringing “very loudly” on the language issue, adding that:

“The housing market, migration and employment are the factors that have led to the Welsh language losing ground in the western counties…”

The highest proportion of Welsh speakers were in Gwynedd with 65.4% of the population stating that they could speak Welsh, but this figure was down from 69% in 2001. Carmarthenshire saw the largest percentage point drop – from 50.3 per cent in 2001 to 43.9 per cent in 2011. One of the positive aspects that have been drawn out of the results is that there have been considerable increases in numbers of Welsh language speakers for younger children (aged 3-4) throughout Wales.

The early results also reveal that there are 409,582 people in England who described themselves as ‘Welsh’, with 291,746 describing themselves as ‘Welsh Only’ (i.e. not ‘Welsh and British’). Plaid’s Dafydd Wigley said that there could be as many as 150, 000 Welsh speakers within this group. Simon Thomas AM has argued that these high numbers of Welsh people living in England suggest the role of economic factors in contributing to the drop of Welsh speakers in rural Wales, with many people seeking employment in England away from traditional Welsh speaking heartlands, like in Gwynedd and Ceredigion.

However other releases of Welsh language data from the 2011 census will be released by the Officer of National Statistics (ONS) over the next 18 months and it is only then that a fuller picture of the true state of the Welsh language can be determined, but the first figures released do not make for positive reading.

Related Links:
Census Identity Tick Box Option for Welsh –

Maniffesto Byw –

Welsh Language Strategy 2012-17 (Welsh Government) –

For comment or clarification on this news item in the first instance contact:

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot,
General Secretary,
Celtic League
Tel: 0044 (0)1209 319912
M: 0044 (0)7787318666

The General Secretary will determine the appropriate branch or General Council Officer to respond to your query.



The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

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