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Mind your language: the Welsh Language Measure vote

December 7, 2010
Bethan Jenkins

Bethan Jenkins AM

Language bods like myself may be excited about today’s vote on the Welsh Language Measure in Cardiff Bay.

This legislation, if passed, will increase the prominence of the Welsh language. Some large public providers will be forced to offer a full Welsh service. And a Welsh language commissioner, tasked with making sure Welsh speakers can access services in their native tongue, will be created.

This was always going to be a long, drawn-out affair. The law, with over 70 amendments, promised some arduous discussion and plenty of nit-picking for the AMs considering it.

There has already been some drama earlier today, with Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins (pictured) tabling an amendment she says will ensure Welsh would gain official status as the national language, something language campaigners argue the original document fails to ensure. As Adrian Masters argues this may ruffle some feathers in her own party.

And as can be seen from the passion witnessed over the fate of Welsh-language broadcaster S4C, one’s native tongue is a contentious issue.

Mind your language

So should Welsh be a priority? When it comes to assembly spending, it could be argued schools and hospitals should trump bilingualism in a country where many cope fine with English. And politicians may feel uncomfortable with revelations of spending on language services, such as yesterday’s in Northern Ireland.

But language is often key to national identity. As this article notes, countries such as Germany already grapple with the dominance of English as a lingua franca, and fears about the erosion of nationality are tangible.

And Welsh, which already acts as a secondary language in some ways, is much less rooted in the day to day goings on of the country.

Protecting the freedom of Welsh speakers to be just that is an aim few would want to attack.

This is the achievement of a long-held goal for Plaid Cymru, enshrined in the One Wales agreement. Whether Ms Jenkins’ actions have dampened their joy slightly is yet to be seen.

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