The “anglicisation” of Welsh speaking villages and towns caused by newcomers snapping up homes after Covid, together with the economic stress of Brexit and the cost of living crisis, is pushing the Welsh language to a “tipping point”, the head of a new commission established to address the situation has warned.
Simon Brooks, chair of the Commission for Welsh-speaking Communities, said that unless action were taken there was a danger that Welsh as a community language could soon be lost in some of its traditional heartlands.
“What we face is an important moment in history,” he said. “Lots of things have been going on in a short period of time. You’ve had Brexit, which is a huge economic jolt, then the pandemic, which led to a race for space. To my mind, anglicisation has gathered pace. There can be a tipping point in terms of language use. The fear is that a lot of these communities are at that tipping point.”
Brooks said the “snowball effect” helped community languages – which he defined as a language spoken by many or most people in the local community and used in everyday interaction – thrive. “When everybody speaks the language, you use it. When another language is introduced you can get to a point where the majority language becomes much more dominant and that can happen very quickly.”
He said he had noticed a change in his own coastal village in Gwynedd, north Wales. “The language in the street has become more English. That has been accelerated by the Covid crisis.”
Brooks said Welsh would still be spoken by a lot of people across Wales, but without intervention it could be at risk as a community language. He added: “The decline of Welsh as a community language is important to all of Britain. It’s the last Celtic language spoken at the community level. It’s important in terms of broader cultural diversity.”
The commission is launching a call for evidence from citizens and organisations on issues that affect Welsh-speaking communities, from housing and education to community development and regeneration.
Brooks said the survival of the language in second-home hotspots, such as coastal villages in Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, was already critical. “You can have 40 or 50% of housing stock tied up in second homes. At that point a community is not viable. It can’t survive.”
He said Welsh language heartlands were often economically deprived. “They are on the periphery of the UK, a long way from the marketplaces of Britain and Europe. Historically, many areas face the same post-industrial problems as places like the north of England.” Brooks said the stresses of Brexit and the cost of living crisis were pushing Welsh speakers out.
The Labour-led Welsh government has been bringing in a raft of measures designed to stop the Welsh language heartlands being hollowed out by the rise in second homeownership, including allowing local authorities to raise discretionary council tax premiums for second homes to 300% and forcing homeowners to get planning permission to change a property’s classification from a primary residence to a second home.
Brooks, associate professor at the school of management at Swansea University, said that as well as examining the second-homes issue, the commission would look at subjects ranging from tackling long-term structural disadvantage, to how tourism should be managed and how the language could be kept alive in the farming community.
Strengthening Welsh-speaking communities is central to the Welsh government’s strategy of doubling daily use of Welsh by 2050. For the year ending 30 June 2022, the annual population survey reported that 29.7% of people aged three or older were able to speak Welsh – about 899,500 people. Just under 15% reported that they spoke Welsh daily.
Jeremy Miles, the minister for education and Welsh language, said: “It’s crucial that our communities are strong and protected so Cymraeg can thrive. Challenges facing Welsh-speaking communities have increased in recent years and I’m sure lots of people will have views and suggestions to change this.”
The call for evidence opens on 9 November 2022 and responses should be submitted by 13 January 2023.