Blindspots in policy and attrition in practice? Possible unintended consequences of Welsh language policy

SAYERS, Dave and SELLECK, Charlotte (2015). Blindspots in policy and attrition in practice? Possible unintended consequences of Welsh language policy. In: Wales Institute of Social & Economic Resarch, Data & Methods (WISERD) Annual Conference, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 30th June - 2nd July 2015. (Unpublished)

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This paper has two broad elements. First is a textual analysis of the explicit priorities set forth in Welsh language policy, covering four flagship policy texts published by the Welsh Government over a ten year period. Second is an ethnographic analysis demonstrating tensions between, and among, self-identifying ‘Welsh’ and ‘English’ students at two contrasting schools in a small South Wales town (one predominantly Welsh-medium and one predominantly English-medium). We draw preliminary links between these two previously separate research projects, hoping for constructive feedback.

A principal disjuncture identified in the textual analysis is a policy-level oversight towards issues of human well-being. Welsh language policy tends to foreground the language itself as a beneficiary, a kind of abstract entity in need of protection. There is a corresponding focus on increasing the sheer number of Welsh speakers, which tends to overshadow explicit discussion of how this might materially benefit people in Wales.

Meanwhile a relatable finding in the ethnographic analysis is the creation of social tensions in the context of the above-mentioned schools. The Welsh-medium school is trying to pull its weight in the government’s goal to ‘create a bilingual Wales’, by educating the next generation of Welsh speakers. But in practice, everyday teaching practice at the Welsh-medium school involves robustly urging Welsh while firmly sanctioning English. This spurs various tensions on the ground and, paradoxically, triggers rebellions towards English beyond the school gate. A policy to encourage more Welsh may in reality achieve the opposite. All this is especially salutary in light of the most recent Census data, showing at best a mixed picture in the growth of Welsh use.

It seems that these two broad research findings could have important connections. If Welsh language policy tends to focus on the sheer number of speakers, and elides questions of human well-being, then could this help explain the unintended social tensions and diverging incentives to use Welsh on the ground? Instead, could a policy that began from the opposite end of the telescope, and focused on young people’s ownership of the language without such concern for overall numbers, have more success? Without straying into any normative policy proposals, we offer some final speculations here, based on our analyses.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Humanities Research Centre
Depositing User: Jill Hazard
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2015 13:49
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2015 13:49

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