"Where are we headed? New directions in language planning" - Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture

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Wales must ensure that the promotion of the Welsh language is not sacrificed on the altar of regulation in order to safeguard its future. That is the view of language planning expert Professor Colin Williams, who will be delivering the Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture at Swansea University on Tuesday, May 12, at 6.30pm.

The title of the lecture is "Where are we headed? New directions in language planning" and it will assess and discuss the relationship between the promotion and regulation of the Welsh language, new research directions in the field of Language Planning and will evaluate the potential of the International Association of Language Commissioners.

Y ddraig goch/ Welsh dragon Professor Williams, who is Research Professor at the School of Welsh at Cardiff University and an internationally recognized expert in the field of language planning, says that Wales needs to be aware of the dangers involved when the regulation of language is overemphasised - with the law courts rather than communities and politicians shaping the future of the language. A member of the Welsh Language Board between 2000 and 2010, he believes that the flexibility of Board staff to take risks and pilot ideas has been lost somewhat following the establishment of the Office of the Welsh Language Commissioner.

"Despite its weaknesses," says Professor Williams, "the Welsh Language Board was acting as a sort of One Stop Shop for those who needed help and practical support. Now, that creativity has been lost from the system."

Professor Williams will also discuss the need for a change in attitude towards those who learn Welsh – by the use of the concept of a 'new speakers' -  in order to better assimilate learners and immigrants.

"The concept of new speakers is more neutral, avoiding the mentality that we have native speakers, second language speakers or learners. Wales needs to learn from other countries such as Catalonia, which has run assimilation programmes for its 1.4 million new speakers over the past 10 years. I will ask whether the concept is a feasible one for us here in Wales."

The lecture will also examine the role of the new body in the field of language planning, namely the International Association of Language Commissioners.  Professor Williams sees the Association as one which can authorize what is being done in the field in Wales,  offering opportunities while sharing good practice.

"It is an exciting and promising development which can be of great benefit to us in Wales,” says Professor Williams, “but there are problems too. It may be that some countries such as Sri Lanka and India, that have experienced violent ethnic linguistic tension, put pressure on the Association to intervene politically - something our Commissioner would not have the right to do of course. "

Professor Williams, who has been Visiting Professor at Penn State University, the University of Toronto, Ottawa and Western Ontario and a Fellow at Oxford University, is a former student at Swansea University and will be delivering the Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture in the lecture theatre where he began his academic career in 1969.

"I attended my very first lecture ever in the Wallace Lecture Theatre as an undergraduate and it's wonderful to be invited to give the Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture at the place where it all started!"

The lecture is in memory of Henry Lewis, the first Professor of Welsh at Swansea University in 1921. He was well known as a 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 of 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 12 May 2015.  Light refreshments from 6.00pm, lecture begins at 6.30pm at Wallace Lecture Theatre, Wallace Building, Swansea University.

Admission free and everyone is 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.