Cymraeg 2050: The role of the economy in reaching the million

June 2024 | Arfor, Featured, Rural policy

This is a guest blog by Elen Bonner from Bangor University.

The role of both the economy and the workplace is prominent in the Welsh Government’s language strategy, Cymraeg 2050: A million Welsh speakers. In this blog, we will discuss the role that these elements have when aiming for the million, referring to the evidence that forms the basis of the strategy. As part of my doctoral work, I held a systematic review of that which is known about the influence of economic policies, activities, and trends on the Welsh language. A systematic review, as the name suggests, is a thorough and comprehensive method that aids the process of synthesising previous study results to present what is known about a subject. It is also an effective way of identifying gaps in knowledge. The review generated 15,414 references and of these 73 satisfied the review’s criteria. Summarizing the evidence of the influence of economic dimensions on linguistic dimensions in Wales in one place allows an assessment of how economic activities can support the effort to reach a million speakers by 2050.

One of the key themes of Cymraeg 2050 is increasing the use of Welsh, and the workplace is identified as a strategic location to achieve this aim. Evidence from the systematic review shows that there is a solid evidence base confirming the importance of the workplace as a domain for using Welsh as well as encouraging new language practices among workers. Further to this, the strategy advocates adopting language planning principles in the workplace across every sector, including the private sector. However, according to the evidence collected in the systematic review, the private sector is driven by market forces and therefore conflict between economic and linguistic aims are possible. Consequently, it is suggested that there is a need to develop interventions that are likely to encourage the use of Welsh in the private sector in particular.

Another key theme of the strategy is the creation of favourable conditions for the language to flourish and there is recognition of the economy’s role in providing the societal conditions to allow Welsh speakers to remain in Welsh speaking communities. Conversely, the economy can also contribute towards creating conditions that are detrimental to the language. Indeed, there is evidence within the systematic review of the indirect influence of economic effects on language, often in relation to processes such as migration. For example, there is a tendency among educated Welsh speakers to move to Cardiff. However, this evidence is now dated. Furthermore, the evidence regarding the types of interventions that are likely to stem outward migration is scant. As such, there is a need for further research on that what could support young people to stay or return to their communities.

The systematic review accesses information of the positive influence of the language-connected industries, that is those industries that are directly connected to minority languages. The evidence suggests that the traditional and digital media sectors offer domains to use Welsh, raise the status and prestige of the language, modernise and standardise the language and support language acquisition. In this sense, there is evidence that language connected industries support each of the key language planning measures, which are status, prestige, corpus, and language acquisition planning. The Welsh Government recognises the significance of these industries in achieving their aims and it is evident that there is solid evidence to support the strategy.

As well as the language-connected industries the strategy also identifies strategic sectors in terms of their contribution to the sustainability of the language, including the agricultural sector and the tourism sector. There is comparatively older evidence within the systematic review of the importance of the agricultural sector to the language due to the number of Welsh speakers who work within the sector. From the perspective of the contributions of the tourism sector, we see contradictory evidence. On the one hand it is suggested that the tourism sector provides jobs for those within Welsh speaking communities preventing them from moving away. However, there is also evidence of the negative effects of the sector on the Welsh language linked to second homes. The inconsistency in the evidence suggests that this is an area where more research is required.

To summarise, it is possible to argue that the evidence base suggests that the economy has a key role to play when striving towards the aim of a million Welsh speakers. The importance of the workplace to efforts to increase the use of Welsh is clear, and there is evidence of the importance of specific sectors to the sustainability of the Welsh language such as the agricultural sector and the language-connected industries such as the media. However, when it comes to creating the necessary economic conditions in order for Welsh speakers to stay or return to their Welsh speaking communities – much more is unknown than is known – especially regarding the types of jobs that are likely to mitigate out-migration. This highlights the urgent need for further research to direct the ways in which the Government’s language strategy is practically implemented.

You can access the full systematic review here.

Elen Bonner is a PhD student in the School of History, Law and Social Sciences at Bangor University and is a recipient of the Martin Rhisiart scholarship via the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. Elen’s supervisors are Dr Cynog Prys, Dr Rhian Hodges and Dr Siwan Mitchelmore. Elen would like to thank all those who have helped or contributed to her research.

Sign up to receive our free news bulletin

Register today if you would like to receive a regular email containing the latest Observatory articles.

Choose a language

You have successfully subscribed

Share This