I’m giving a presentation in my linguistics class tomorrow on the Welsh language! It’s just a mini presentation, so I’m going to share the Cymraeg lanyard I picked up from the Welsh Language Commissioner’s tent at the Royal Welsh Show to springboard a short talk about language planning and conservation strategies. Should be fun! :)
As Scots Weigh Independence, Wales Takes Note- The New York Times
New York Times, again! (you rock!)! Thank you for reporting on this issue so well. Personally, this is so surreal to read— the article includes photos of Caernarfon Castle, which I toured; Leanne Wood of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, who I watched debate at the National Assembly’s plenary; and Jerry Hunter of Bangor University’s School of Welsh, who I met and had a conversation with about language extinction. The Fulbright Summer Institute really succeeded in giving me a broad knowledge of Welsh identity and key issues for the nation …I can’t wait to see what happens in September!
The Final Presentation
The Fulbright Summer Institute Closing Ceremony
To officially close our time in Wales, each Fulbrighter gave a brief presentation on the development of our ideas as regards to our specific academic focus over this time. It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect and be challenged to package six weeks’ worth of thought into five minutes. Our audience consisted of our fellow students, our academic coordinators and mentors from throughout the journey, and various staff and leaders from Aberystwyth University. The lovely reception was held in the university’s Visualisation Centre with tea, coffee, cheese, bara brith, and our favorite Welsh snacks: Welsh cakes (be excited, Mom, Dad, and Evan, I got the recipe and have had a Welsh cake baking lesson!).
Here is the presentation I gave, reformatted for Tumblr. I have done my best to transcribe what I said.
Hello everybody, as Marian said my name really is Jackie Welsh. And I am originally from Seattle but I study Linguistics at Arizona State University. I have been interested in the revival of minority languages now for a few years, ever since I read an article in National Geographic—
— about the disappearance of hundreds of endangered languages worldwide. These pictures are from that article and it mobilized me to be passionate about the fate of languages. The article revealed how the languages of these cultures contains and expresses the culture’s richness, and that when language is lost the culture to some extent dies with it. I also learned that linguists are the ones taking action to save these languages, and they would help preserve the language by collecting audio samples of their dialects and working with them to create alphabets and dictionaries. But you’ll notice that in these pictures, no one looks particularly Welsh, or ethnically European at all for that matter. So I wondered what linguists could possibly be doing to revive Welsh—-
—if Welsh already has an established alphabet, dictionaries, and thousands of speakers with dialects known to the Western world. Welsh is a living language, even though it is endangered. Instead of needing to lift the Welsh language from obscurity, the work done by language planners needs to facilitate the ease of using Welsh in more areas of daily life and encourage more education in the language. So when I got the opportunity to come to Wales I wanted to learn firstly, 1) what practical steps language planners are actually taking to help facilitate a social process of using language, and also what challenges those language planners encounter in their work and the general public’s opinion of the value of the Welsh language and the action being taken to promote it.
So one of the greatest things about actually being in Wales was the opportunities to talk with real Welsh people about what they thought about the Welsh language, an opportunity I could not have gotten anywhere else. I found that everyone had something interesting to tell me because everybody had an opinion about the Welsh language. And all of these people that I have pictured here in particular, told me their complaints about the Welsh language. And I actually really valued this, because ultimately a language is going to be spoken by the community and as a language planner it’s really important to know where your people stand so you don’t excited about making plans while ignoring these very real issues that people have with what you’re doing. And I’ve referred back to the concerns these people have raised to me time and time again when I’m learning about and evaluating language policies throughout Wales. I think back to Sally from North Wales (top), who told me that she was afraid of not being able to get a job because though she was born and raised in Wales, she can’t speak Welsh at a time when more and more jobs are hiring bilingual employees. I think about Nick from Cardiff (right), who told me that his daughter attends Welsh medium school because it’s a better education, but she is a poor Welsh speaker due to a disability and he can’t understand her because he’s English. And I also think of Colin (center), who explained to me how the punishment his mother received for speaking Welsh in school influenced how she raised him not to speak it, which complicates his views on the Welsh language even today. All of these people offer valid problems that as a language planner, I would want to address.
However, on a more positive note there is a lot of action being taken by Welsh language planners that really excites me—
—and has given me a lot of ideas for techniques and policies to for other language revitalization projects. Such as (reaches for lanyard) this Siarad Cymraeg lanyard (puts it on), or this Cymraeg pin (indicates pin, pinned on dress) which are already being worn to indicate to strangers that you are a Welsh speaker and they don’t have to be afraid of initiating a conversation in Welsh with you—because language planners have identified that one of the key barriers to people using the Welsh language is people’s insecurity about speaking it with people they don’t know. And these visual affirmations that a person does indeed speak Welsh have been brainstormed and created to overcome that social barrier. I’m a bit of a fraud for wearing this [lanyard and pin] right now because I know very little Welsh, but I was given these by the Welsh Language Commissioner’s tent at the Royal Welsh show and I know I am going to treasure these.
You’ll see I have this quote here from Aled Roberts of the National Assembly for Wales praising the effectiveness that the lanyards have had so far. He is quoted here in the Assembly’s Official Languages Scheme: Annual Compliance Report. Just the fact that the Welsh government has an Annual Compliance Report detailing their dedication to the language, assessing their shortcomings, and articulating plans for the future is very interesting to me. The Welsh government has adopted the Welsh language as a key issue to promote and fund, whereas the fate of non-English languages is not nearly as big of a priority for the United States government, if one at all. I have been exploring why that is and what factors lead up to the Welsh governments’ adoption of the Welsh language in my journals to see how I can make language revival relevant to the interests of politicians.
Also, while visiting the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and the National Assembly tent at the Royal Welsh Show, I got to experience the language technology that the Welsh government has been investing in. This is a picture of me wearing the simultaneous interpretation headphones that enable the Welsh government to conduct their work in the debating chamber bilingually (which I experienced firsthand when we attended the National Assembly’s Plenary). The Official Languages Scheme Annual Compliance Report is in my hands. I also got to experience the machine translation technology that the Welsh government partnered with Microsoft to develop, as well as speak with and learn from one of the key individuals in its development process, Welsh language planner Dr. Jeremy Evas of Cardiff University. I think language change can be much easier, as well as more rapid and exciting, if linguists can harness technology to fill in the gaps.
I also can’t forget to mention all the books that have influenced my thinking while I’ve been here. This book pictured here was lent to me by Bill Jones and it’s one that I would not have been able to access had I not come to Wales— because it is very thick, and printed by the University of Wales Press so probably is very expensive to ship. I have been reading it all throughout the trip and it has truly been one of the best resources for me. I promise I will return it to you, Bill.
I also wanted to share two books that I will be bringing back home with me (picks up two thin picture books)
The Usborne Internet-Linked Welsh for Beginners
My First Welsh Sticker Book
—because they are such innovative ways of teaching language. They interest young kids in playing with words (or big kids like me who just like to play with stickers). Because these books are illustrated and have stories and characters you can immerse yourself in a social experience that immediately makes clear that language learning enables you to connect with people and therefore merits a space of relevance in the brain and in the heart. You can even go online and participate in more fun interactive activities, which shows kids that the Welsh language is relevant in yet another sector of modern life. It’s a versatile feature that I predict will be of help to parents raising bilingual children while striving to make it fun for kids. Kids can interact with these scenes (flips through sticker book), not as a passive memorizer, but an agent in control of their learning. Each of the stickers has a word on it that corresponds with an element of the scene so then, rather than simply memorizing words off a list which we all know is very boring, the reader is the user and manipulator of their language, labeling their world, practicing for the same mental process that I have been doing as I walk through Wales and challenge myself to remember the Welsh word for the things I see.
But more than just books, I will also be bringing a new interest in the fate of the Native American languages back to the States with me. Arizona State University has a Center for American Indian Education and I’m interested in working with them to see how the lessons I’ve learned about Welsh language revitalization could be applied to the languages that are dying out on the reservations, particularly with regards to education and policy. I hope that the example of the Welsh will be heralded throughout the world as a leader in minority language revival and will inspire language revitalization work in other cultures. I am so so thankful to have been gifted with this experience. I can now be an ambassador for the lessons I’ve learned in Wales, and I could never be as far along in my development in thoughts about language had I not come to Wales and learnt from all the work being pioneered here. I want to thank the Fulbright Commission and all the individuals I’ve met here, so so much.
(P.S. And it went well! It was such a joy to give a talk about the subject I love most in the world to such a wonderful audience, and cap off such a remarkable learning experience.)