19 January 2001
Welsh language ‘faces extinction’

By Johann Tasker

THE Welsh language faces extinction across large parts of rural Wales because the farmers who use it in everyday conversation are leaving the land.

Experts issued the warning as a cross-party group of MPs expressed concern that the farming crisis is having a major effect on the Welsh economy.

The exodus from agriculture could have big consequences for the Welsh language, said Shan Ashton, lecturer in rural development at Bangor University.

“The vast majority of farming families are Welsh-speaking,” she said.

“If those people leave farming and move to towns where Welsh is not so strong, it wont take long for the language to be lost.”

Ms Ashton said Welsh was becoming less widely used in rural areas, which are traditionally seen as strongholds of the language.

The whole of rural Wales was affected, but especially Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey. Farmers were being replaced by non-native speakers, she said.

Statistics released by the Welsh Assembly last week showed that almost 4000 farming jobs were lost last year.

This week, a report from the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee warned that good jobs were hard to find in rural areas.

The “disastrous decline” in farm incomes was effecting the entire Welsh rural economy, it said.

Professor Colin Baker, a linguist expert who sits on the council of the Welsh Language Board, agreed that everyday Welsh could eventually die out.

Many farmers who use Welsh as their first language were being displaced and forced to do jobs in urban areas, which were generally English-speaking, he said.

“The downturn in farming is having a massive effect. Welsh is declining in rural areas. That is a major reality for Wales.

Prof Baker added: “Im not necessarily talking about English people moving in, but often Welsh people who dont speak Welsh.”

Peter Rogers, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the Welsh Assembly, farms on Anglesey where more than 80% of people speak fluent Welsh.

Mr Rogers said: “I wouldnt go as far as saying that the Welsh language is going to disappear, but the devastation due to the farming crisis is causing disastrous depopulation.”

Hugh Richards, president of the NFU Cymru-Wales, voiced concern that Welsh could become an academic language rather than one used every day.

He said: “If rural Wales is under pressure and farmers move out, then the language will move out too. If that happens, its not good news.

Mr Richards added: “Rural Wales could become a museum.”