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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 18:33 GMT
Mixed fortunes for language
Cardiff Castle
There has been a rise in Welsh-speakers in Cardiff
Welsh is increasingly becoming an urban language, while displaying signs of decline in its traditional heartland according to the 2001 census figures.

Overall, the proportion of those who say they can speak Welsh is at its highest level since 1961.

The people of Wales must make a clear choice - if the language is to survive then everything must change

Huw Lewis, Cymdeithas

Full census figures published on Thursday revealed that 20.5% of people in Wales said they could speak the language - compared with 18.5% in the 1991 census - and 28% ticking the box to say they were able to understand Welsh.

The figures show an increase in Welsh-speakers for the first time in a century.

But while the use of Welsh is on the rise in urban areas and in anglicised south east Wales, the data shows that the proportion of speakers is declining in some areas of the north and west.

  • In Rhondda Cynon Taf, 12.3% speak Welsh, compared to 9% in 1991.
  • In Cardiff, 10.9% said they could speak Welsh compared to 6.6% in 1991.
  • In Gwynedd, the proportion of Welsh-speakers was down from 72.1% to 68.7%.
  • In Ceredigion, 51.8% said they could speak Welsh, compared to 59.1% in 1991.

    Welsh historian, Dr John Davies, told BBC Wales: "Welsh is becoming not a rural language, but an urban language and it's gaining strength in places like Cardiff.

    "In the 1950s only about 5% of Welsh speakers lived within 10 or 20 miles of Cardiff, now it's 10%."

    And Huw Lewis, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (The Welsh Language Society) said: "The reality that faces the language in communities across Wales is very different.

    "The people of Wales must make a clear choice - if the language is to survive then everything must change.

    Rhondda Valley
    The numbers speaking Welsh have increased in the Rhondda

    "We must accept that we can only safeguard and develop the Welsh language by implementing far-reaching holistic policies, in fields such as housing, planning, status, education and transport.

    "Half-hearted, bit-part solutions will never be enough - you can't half save a language."

    Rhodri Williams, chairman of the Welsh Language Board, added: "The decline in the western counties is something which the Board has been aware of for years.

    "Even though it is important to welcome the increase in the south-east, it is also imperative that we all work together to halt any further decline in the western counties.

    "In the face of substantial decline in the fortunes of minority languages in every part of the world, it is immensely gratifying to be able to announce that the Welsh language is on the up."

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
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    See also:

    06 Jan 03 | Wales
    30 Sep 02 | Wales
    30 Sep 02 | Wales
    14 Feb 03 | Wales
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