The influence of religion on the survival of the Welsh language 1801-2011 : a tale of two centuries.

Jones, David Brian (2013) The influence of religion on the survival of the Welsh language 1801-2011 : a tale of two centuries. thesis, University of Wales, Trinity St David.

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The Welsh language is derived from what has been termed “Common Celtic”, itself a derivative from an Indio-European root. In the outer regions of the Roman Empire, two branches of Celtic emerged – Brittonic (P Celtic), spoken throughout most of Britain including lowland Scotland, and Goidelic (Q Celtic) – the language of Ireland. 1 Brittonic remained the language of Britain through the Roman invasion but the eventual eastward pressure of the Anglo Saxon expansion in the sixth and seventh-centuries effectively separated the Cymry and their language from their Celtic cousins in Cornwall and Southern Scotland, thus isolating them west of Offa’s Dyke.2 The earliest example of written syntactical Welsh is found on a single page of an eighth-century gospel book - the Gospel Book of St Chad,3 now housed in Lichfield cathedral.4 For all its brevity it is an important fragment of written literature emphasizing that Welsh “was already a vehicle for legal, technical use in a secular record of solemn and lasting importance”. Tostate that the Welsh language would be subjected to sustained and repetitive negative pressure over and beyond the next millennium would be regarded as an 1 J. Aitchison and H. Carter, Language, Economy and Society. The Changing Fortunes of the Welsh Language in the Twentieth-Century (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), p. 23. 2 Ibid., p. 24. 3 L.B. Smith, ‘The Welsh Language before 1536’ in G.H. Jenkins, ed. The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997), p. 15. 4 D. Huws, Medieval Welsh Manuscripts (Aberystwyth: University of Wales Press, 2000), p. 5. 5 Smith, ‘The Welsh Language before 1536’, p. 15. Survival Pronunciation:/səˈvʌɪv(ə)l/ noun [mass noun] the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances [count noun] an object or practice that has continued to exist from an earlier time ©Oxford English Dictionary 2013 6 understatement. Offa’s Dyke would become a geographic and ethnic boundary up to the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Wales, c 1070, the catalyst to further westward retreat of the language.6 The Norman system of manorial cultivation based on open-field agriculture established itself across the lowlands of South Wales in particular, including southern Gwent, the Vale of Glamorgan, the Gower Peninsula and South Pembroke. Whilst these areas of Anglicizing influences were significant, at no time in the period between Anglo-Norman invasion in the eleventh-century, and the Act of Union in the sixteenth-century was there a feeling that Welsh was in peril.7 Nonetheless there was a gradual and insidious diminution in the dominance of Welsh, not only in geographic terms, but in the limitation of domain and status. Welsh law was essentially customary and within the Wales of the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries the formal language of administration on legal documents was previously Latin or French, but with time became replaced by English. This exclusion of the Welsh language in legal and administrative affairs would become formalized in the so called Act of Union. The Act of Union of 1536, enacted by the Tudor dynasty, is frequently cited as the first decisive milestone in the erosion of the Welsh language.8 In the Act, more accurately titled ‘An Act for Laws and Justice to be ministered in Wales in like form as it is in this Realm’ the Welsh language may not have been proscribed by the Act, but its demise was seen to be desired.9 Although the phrase ‘to extirpate all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing’ was meant to apply directly to law and administration, it unequivocally implied a process of cultural assimilation and language erosion.10 The eighteenth century was the Age of Enlightenment, the age of science and the Royal Society. The diffusion of new ideas was related to social standing and to settlement size, and was thus bound into social class and the English language. 6 J. Aitchison and H. Carter, Language, Economy and Society, pp. 23-33. 7 Ibid., p. 25. 8 R.O.Jones, ‘The Sociolinguistics of Welsh’ in M.J. Ball, ed. The Celtic Languages (New York and London, Routledge, reprinted 2000), p. 536. 9 Aitchison and Carter, Language, Economy and Society, p. 27. 10 Ibid., p. 27. 7 Science and free thinking was a domain in which Welsh took little part.11 There were however occasional periods of growth and optimism in the Welsh language in the eighteenth-century. A large number of books were printed in Welsh, not only in the field of religion but also encompassing vocabulary, grammar, linguistics, botany and archaeology. Welsh became established as a written medium and the printed word gave the language prestige and status. The imminent prospect of the extinction of Welsh as the language of culture seemed to concentrate the minds of writers and spur them into action.12 The proliferation of printing presses on Welsh soil from 1718 onwards led to an extraordinary expansion in book production and other printed material. Between 1660 and 1799 a staggering 2633 books were published in the Welsh language.13 Another catalyst for the growth of literacy and Welsh-medium education was Griffith Jones and his circulating schools.14 Jones was a rector at Llanddowror whose educational zeal was fired following a lethal typhus outbreak in south-west Wales. Although Jones’ original motivation was saving souls from eternal damnation, he felt salvation could be best achieved in the native tongue. The schools were held in the winter months to coincide with down time in agriculture. The medium in Jones’ circulating schools was mainly Welsh, but English was also used in more Anglicized parts of Wales.15 By the time of Jones’ death in 1761, at least 200,000 children and adults had been taught in 3,325 schools, which is the more staggering when one considers the mid eighteenth century population of Wales was only 480,000. At the beginning of the nineteenth-century it is likely that the bulk of the population of Wales habitually spoke Welsh. More than half a million, out of a population of some six hundred thousand, were probably monoglot Welsh, that is more than 80 11 Ibid., p.28. 12 G.H. Jenkins., ‘The Cultural Uses of the Welsh Language 1660-1800’, in G.H. Jenkins, ed. The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997), p. 371. 13 Ibid., p. 371. 14 E.M. White, ‘Popular Schooling and the Welsh Language 1650-1800’, in G.H. Jenkins, ed. The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997), 324 – 341. 15 Ibid., p. 331. 8 per cent of the population. Their most powerful unifying bond was their language.16 Although Welsh was excluded from official life, at that time there were no fears it might perish as the principal medium of daily communication. Within one hundred years, by 1911 the population of Wales increased from 601,767 to 2,442,011, and the proportion of monoglot Welsh speakers fell to 8.7 per cent of the population.17 It is a profound fact that there are unlikely to be any surviving monoglot Welsh speakers today. In his essay on The Sociolinguistics of Welsh Robert Owen Jones wrote: “It is a minor miracle that Welsh has survived to this day. Throughout fourteen centuries of its existence the Welsh language has been under siege and during that period whenever bilingual and linguistically mixed communities have come into being, linguistic erosion has occurred with a resultant rejection of Welsh as the primary language”.18 In 1885 D. Isaac Davies looked forward to a Welsh speaking population of three million by 1985, some one hundred years later. In contrast Saunders Lewis in 1962 predicted the terminal decline of Welsh as a living language by 2000.19 Clearly neither prognosis was absolutely correct. Nonetheless there have been other Doomsday merchant. In a keynote address to the 2000 conference of the North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History, Geraint Jenkins painted a most dismal and bleak future for the Welsh language, predicting its extinction “…not as a sudden apocalyptic event – more a case of a tortuous death by a thousand cuts – but its demise is assured”.20 Other commentators have been more 16 G. Jenkins, The Welsh Language and its Social Domains, 1801-1911 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000) 1. 17 Jenkins, The Welsh Language and its Social Domains, 1801-1911, pp. 1-2. 18.Jones, ‘The Sociolinguistics of Welsh’, p. 536. 19 J. Aitchison and H. Carter, A Geography of the Welsh Language 1961-1991 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994), p. 111. 20 G.H. Jenkins, ‘Terminal Decline? The Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century’, North American Journal of Welsh Studies, vol 1,2 (2001), pp. 59-67. 9 circumspect. As stated by O’ Neill: “The present state of Welsh gives reason for both optimism and concern”.21 This thesis explores two broad aspects relating to the survival of the language during the nineteenth and twentieth-century. The first aspect will deal essentially with the geography of the Welsh language, drawing on data principally from the decennial censuses. Data will be presented in tables and maps showing changes and trends in language densities in different parts of Wales. The second aspect of this dissertation relates to the place of organized religion in day to day Welsh life, and its relationship to the Welsh language. In his Antiquae Linguae Britannicae in 1621, Dr John Davies of Mallwyd claimed that God had preordained the Welsh people to communicate with Him in the Welsh language, believing that were it not for divine providence the language would not have survived. The Welsh were encouraged to believe that their language was a pure and sacred tongue bequeathed to them by Gomer, the grandson of Noah. Such a claim would fuel an irrefutable argument for preserving and teaching the language. Eighteenth century authors also cautioned the possibility of divine retribution should anyone strive to abolish the Welsh language, effectively voicing anew an old theme of divine providence dating back to the twelfth-century, whereby Gerald of Wales recorded the famous alleged utterance of the “old Welshman of Pencader” to Henry II. In that exchange, it was claimed that the Welsh people could “never be totally subdued through the wrath of man, unless the wrath of God shall concur”. It was further claimed, “Nor do I think that any other nation than this of Wales, or any other language..…shall in the day of severe examination before the Supreme Judge, answer for this corner of the earth”. Furthermore, the translation of the scriptures into Welsh at the command of Elizabeth I in the late sixteenth-century had a profound impact on the language and 21 O’Neill, Diarmuid, ‘What is the Way Forward?’, in D.O’Neill, ed. Rebuilding the Celtic Languages (Y Lolfa Cyf., 2005), p. 429. 10 identity of the Welsh people and guaranteed a close relationship between Christianity in Wales and the language for the next three or four centuries. The fortunes of the Welsh language and organised Christian religion have ebbed and flowed, sometimes in striking parallel, although it is not always clear whether the robustness or frailty of each is consistently independent of, or dependent on, each other. This lack of clarity about the nature of the relationship is the raison d’être for this dissertation. In order to retain some focus, the period of examination for this thesis will span approximately two centuries, choosing a starting point of 1800-1, coinciding with the Classification of Ecclesiastical Returns and the first decennial census. The end point for this dissertation is the recent release of data pertaining to the state of the language in the 2011 decennial census. This dissertation will concentrate on the Established Church and the Nonconformist Chapel Movement and their relationship to the Welsh language and people during the period under examination.

Item Type: Thesis (UNSPECIFIED)
Additional Information: Series: Carmarthen / Lampeter Dissertations;10412/256.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Welsh language, Religion
Divisions: Theses and Dissertations > Masters Dissertations
Depositing User: John Dalling
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2014 14:46
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2015 10:14

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