Mapping out the future of the Welsh language

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Geography mapping techniques can throw new light on the factors that influence changes in use of the Welsh language, and careful planning can change the habits of Welsh speakers.

This is the view of geographer, Professor Rhys Jones, who will discuss ‘The Geographies of the Welsh language’ when he delivers the Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture at Academi Hywel Teifi, Swansea University, tomorrow  (Tuesday, October 8, 6pm).

He argues that techniques used in geography can contribute to a better understanding of the current position of the Welsh language, providing a detailed picture of the negative and positive impact of developments such as housing, roads and the location of schools, on the Welsh language.

“Since the 1950 much of the research into the state of the Welsh language has concentrated on using census figures to show the shift in the language in the heartlands and to create maps of the changes in the numbers of Welsh speakers and use of the language,” says Professor Rhys Jones, who is from Llanelli.

“Although there is a role for this, I would argue that we also need to consider how to use geography in its widest sense, and how for example we can use detailed statistical mapping, including the location of housing, road infrastructure, industry and schools to understand and analyse the impact of these factors on the use and prevalence of the Welsh language.”

Rhys Jones is Director of Learning and Teaching at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University, and is a former pupil of Ysgol Gyfun Y Strade, Llanelli.

Discussing the subject of his lecture, he says he agrees with the recent comments of Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones about the importance of focusing on the use of the language.  He wants to see more research to understand what influences Welsh speakers to choose not to use the language, and how these circumstances could be altered to break these habits.

“We have the potential to use different techniques to change people’s behaviour, for example as we have done in Wales recently with organ donation. Policies can be framed in order to change or ‘nudge’ behaviour. I feel that we can also do this with the Welsh language – change the circumstances to alter people’s behaviour.

“On a very simple level, using badges to show staff who can speak Welsh in shops or hospitals can encourage more people to use Welsh. We need more subtle ideas like this to lead people to use the Welsh language.”

“Studying the geography of the language is important, but we also need to consider how geography can contribute to changes in the way the language is used by people in Wales.”

The lecture is in memory of Henry Lewis, the first Professor of Welsh at Swansea University in 1921. He was a well know linguist and for his contribution to study of the Welsh language including his important publication Datblygiad yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Development of the Welsh language). The lecture is organised by Academi Hywel Teifi and the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, Swansea University.

Professor Iwan Davies, Pro-vice Chancellor, Swansea University said: “The Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture reflects Swansea University’s long tradition as a centre for excellence for Welsh language research, which continues today at Academi Hywel Teifi, and the great names who have been part of the academic life of the University. We are very pleased to give a platform to this topical debate about the Welsh language today, and to bring different disciplines together to throw new light on the subject.”

Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture / Darlith Goffa Henry Lewis, Tuesday 8 October , 6pm Wallace Lecture Theatre, Wallace Building, Swansea University.

Admission free. Everyone welcome. The lecture is delivered in Welsh, with translation facilities available. Organised by Academi Hywel Teifi and the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, Swansea University.