Pam fi, duw? Yet another article warning of the Welsh language's imminent extinction. But a report from the Welsh assembly on the decline of Welsh speakers in historic strongholds seems to carry more weight than the usual hysterical missives warning of the "Welsh mafia", or Taffia, if you will.
After the census claimed Welsh speakers had dropped from 21% to 19% in the last 10 years, now areas where high proportions of people speak Welsh have declined too. Given that Welsh has been compulsory in schools since 2000, you'd expect numbers to be growing, but researchers blame internet use and a dearth of opportunities to use Welsh socially for the decline.
The internet can help get your Welsh up to scratch though. It's a welcome sight to see the occasional tweet yn Gymraeg pop up in your timeline – Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood makes a point of tweeting bilingually. But for the most part, the people I see updating social media in Welsh aren't the fluent speakers, they're the new learners. Testing the waters online lets you quash the fear that someone will raise an eyebrow if you can't roll your Rs or pronounce the tricky "ll" sound. But it's natural to revert to English online when "siopau coffi caerdydd" gives 127,000 Google results, whereas "coffee shop Cardiff" yields a much more helpful 1,550,000.
It's also fear of embarassment that's putting off younger speakers. Shop staff may speak Welsh, but they'll definitely speak English – if you're not hugely confident, it makes sense to avoid a red face and plump for "Saesneg" instead. It seems safer to ask for fish and chips, than say "Rydw'i Yn hoffi Pysgodyn a Sglodion" if you're on St Mary's Street in Cardiff. Many young people only learn Welsh in school, and don't speak it at home if their parents don't speak it. So if you're in a pub and a friend's Welsh isn't as "bendigedig" as yours, it's polite to revert to English to make sure they feel included.
Much of this is exacerbated by the state of the Welsh economy: unemployment's particularly high among young Welsh people, so it's no surprise that many leave Wales, for England and beyond. Youth unemployment is at a 15-year high, and the fallout from coalmines closing is still felt in south Wales, with places like Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent desperately poor and with little prospect of regeneration. My hometown, Newport, suffered particularly in the recession – the high street is increasingly desolate, with one in four shops lying vacant. And every time a shop closes, more jobs evaporate.
If you move, you rarely get to use the language in England, aside from referring to your loved ones as "cariad" or offering someone a "cwtch" when they're mopey (Wales's favourite word, wonderfully). I hadn't spotted a Welsh word in the wild in London until the "Heddlu" police vans turned up in my neighbourhood during the riots.
So my Welsh feels rusty, and I'm not alone. We're a long way from the days of the Welsh Not, when schoolchildren who spoke Welsh had a wooden plaque hung around their neck, and were beaten daily from straying from English. But it would be awful if Welsh levels continued shrinking, given the historic battles to keep the language in use. Our parents knew no Welsh aside from the national anthem, and couldn't even begin to think about how to spell the words they were singing.
But there are green shoots – a news service, PoblCaerdydd, aims to provide an online hub for Welsh language news in the capital. And some Ammanford residents staged a novel protest with 150 pairs of pants when their local Marks & Spencer initially refused to provide more Welsh signage instore. With bilingual signs across the country, and every child in Wales being taught the language to GCSE level they might buck the trend. But only if people take the plunge, and "siarad yn Gymraeg" in shops, pubs and online.
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