History of the Welsh Language

The Welsh Language is one of the ancient languages of Europe. It originated from Brythonic which is the most common language used in Wales, Southern Scotland, and England at the times when Romans were in power in 43 AD. Welsh appeared in the world of linguistics between 400 and 700 AD.

Moreover, at that time frame, Welsh poetry was also witnessed. Despite of Anglo-Norman conquest, Welsh was used as an official language. This language evolved with time and it became the language of the law, culture, and day-to-day life later.

The Welsh Language

Do you know that Offa’s Dyke is the distinctive border that separates English speakers of the East and the Welsh speakers of the West? Wales was the only country that used its language to formulate laws. Cymry is the word that is used to describe its people in the seventh century.

Welsh is also known as Insular Celtic or P-Celtic. It arrived in Britain in the Iron and Bronze age and it is widely spoken in the south of the Firth of Forth. During the Medieval Ages, the British language separated itself because of differences in dialects.

The Welsh Writings

The initial Welsh got recorded and preserved in around 700 AD on a gravestone in St Cadfan’s church in Tywyn in the historic country of Merionethshire. 

The history of written Welsh dates back to 100 years. Therefore, these writings depict the rich history of Welsh. The ancient Welsh spoke by Celtic also represents the Medieval Welsh poets such as Taliesin and Aneirin.

These poets became very famous and their work represented enriched literature for the generation to take leverage from. Aneirin was a Brythonic poet, his manuscript was dated back to the thirteen century. It is accumulated in the book of Aneirin.

In this book, a combination of old and middle Welsh is used. However, no one is aware of the exact time of the emergence of this poetry.

As a tradition, this poetry is being passed through the generations. The famous work of Aneirin includes Y Gododdin. It was a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of compositions for all those that fought for the Brittonic kingdom of Gododdin.

These fighters are from the Northern Brittonic kingdom and they died fighting with the Angles of Deira and Bernicia in the battle of Catreath.

Primitive Welsh

The old Welsh represents the time frame of the Welsh language from 800 AD till the 12th century. It was the time when it was developed as a Middle Welsh. The period around 550 AD in which Welsh became distinct from Common Brittonic is called primitive and Archaic Welsh.

According to Kenneth H. Jackson, the changes in syllabic structure and South pattern were completed in the Primitive period.

The Primitive Welsh was spoken by Hen Ogledd, Wales, and the Brythonic-speaking areas of Southern Scotland and Northern England. Hence, they are the ancestors of Cumbric and Welsh.

Ancient Welsh

The documents in the Welsh language were found around 1150. The ancient Welsh poetry is accredited to Cynfeirdd or Early poets that represent the Primitive Welsh period.

Most of its poetry was written in Hen Ogledd. It raised the question of the language and material in which the literature was originally composed.

Middle Welsh  

Middle Welsh is the period from the 12th to 14th centuries. It shows the early period of the Welsh language. In this period, the early manuscripts of the Mabinogion survived despite being much older.

It is also the language of the existing Welsh law manuscripts. Middle Welsh contains intelligent vocabulary. With some work on Middle Welsh, it can be used by modern-day Welsh speakers.

Early Modern Welsh

The time related to early modern Welsh can be divided into two parts. The first part starts from the early 15th century till the end of the 16th century. In the early modern Welsh period, the use of the Welsh language was very restricted because of the Union.

According to this Act, Wales would be governed by English law. You will be surprised to know that only 150 words of this act were related to the use of the Welsh language.

According to section 20 of the Act, the Welsh language cannot be used in court proceedings. Moreover, the people that could speak Welsh and are unable to speak English were not eligible for government jobs. 

Wales is characterized by 26 members of parliament who can speak English. In some areas outside South Pembrokeshire, the majority of people do not speak English.

Therefore, you must take the assistance of interpreters to conduct hearings. Before the passing of this Act, only a bunch of people spoke English. After the ruling of the English language in the Act, the number of people that spoke English increased.

Its main purpose was to enhance power over Wales and United England. For this purpose, they gave importance to linguistic classes. The lower working class spoke Welsh.

The people that are of higher rank spoke English. Moreover, they were given government jobs for speaking English over Welsh.  This linguistic part was not canceled until 1993 under the Welsh languages Act. The English remained in a higher hierarchy and played an important role in the 20th century.

Late Modern Welsh

The late Modern Welsh period started with the publication of William Morgan’s translation of the Bible in 1588. Like other English translations, the King James version proved to have a great impact on the language. Even today, language has the same influence as it used to be at the time of  William Morgan’s translation. However little alteration is still there.

Welsh Language in the 19th Century

The 19th century plays an important role in the history of the Welsh language and the one that came across many incongruities. In 1800, Welsh was the widely spoken language of Wales except for a few areas that are closed to borders and other places like South Pembrokeshire.

According to the 1901 census, the number of people that speak the Welsh language also declined.  This is because of people that were migrating due to industrialization.

It shows that the small number of Welsh speakers increased in the 19th century. However, the number of Welsh speakers still falls below 50%.

When you compare the Welsh language to other languages of Europe, then you will find that this language is active in poetry, biography, translations, and religious transcripts.

In addition to it, many novels are also written in the language along with a large number of newspapers, periodicals, and journals. The pre-history of this language shows the broadcasting of prose and poetry such as Mabinogion.

The other advancement in this language is the publication of Welsh dictionaries. The early work in the compilation of the dictionary is done by Danial Silvan Evans.

He tried to compile the dictionary precisely and accurately. Modern dictionaries such as Geiriadur Prifysgol resulted as a result of this dictionary.

Apart from the health sector, in the nineteenth century, English replaced Welsh as it was the most widely spoken language in the entire country. Some areas of the country like South Wales Coalfield papulation increased because of immigration from Ireland and England.

This has changed the linguistic diversity of a few areas. However, Welsh-speaking communities remained the same except for a few changes.

Official Status of Welsh language

Welsh was not given any official recognition under British rule. Therefore, it has a limited status in Britain. It was not officially recognized before the implementation of the Welsh Language Measure 2011.

The English language was given great importance. Therefore, the medium of instruction in school is not Welsh and the Welsh language is openly discouraged. In addition to it, many religious chapels also confront the use of Welsh that they use to teach in Sunday schools.

People like Matthew Arnold practiced Welsh literature. He also advocates the replacement of Welsh as the language of the everyday language of the country along with English. Many speakers like John Ceiriog Hughes and David Davies supported bilingualism

At the end of the nineteenth century, English prevailed in large cities like South East Wales and mid-Wales. Rural Wales was also a hub of the Welsh language.

People living in industrial states like Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire also spoke the Welsh language. The protestant churches in Wales widely used the Welsh language.

Welsh Language in the 20th Century

Welsh speakers started vanishing by the 20th century. Therefore, it was expected that this language would be on the verge of extinct in the next generations. According to the 1911 census, in the population of 2.5 million, 43.5% of the people with age above three years in Wales and Monmouthshire spoke Welsh.

According to the census of 1891, census, around 49.9% spoke Welsh out of the population of 1.5 million. The distribution of the people speaking the Welsh language in five countries are

  1. Merionethshire: 90.3% of people spoke Welsh
  2. Carmarthenshire: 84.9% spoke Welsh
  3. Caernarfonshire: 85.6% spoke Welsh
  4. Cardiganshire: 89.6% spoke Welsh
  5. Anglesey: 88.7% spoke Welsh

Apart from these five countries, two more countries where Welsh is widely spoken are Denbighshire and Merthyr Tydfil. 56.7% of people speak Welsh in Denbighshire whereas 50.2% speak Welsh in Merthyr Tydfil.

Wrapping Up

Language evolves during various colonization. The Welsh language is on the verge of extinction. Therefore, Wales has taken great initiatives to revive this wonderful language. For this reason, the Welsh government has set the target of one million people which will be increased by 2050. Welish is one of theoldest European languages. With the help of this language, you can easily explore the enriched culture and religion of Wales and Great Britain.

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