Languages in Wales and Monmouthshire

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The Census Act, under which the enumeration of 1891 was taken, enacted for the first time that inquiry should be made as to each person living in Wales or in Monmouthshire, whether "such person speaks Welsh only, or both Welsh and English"; and, in accordance with this enactment, a column was added to the householder's schedule, headed "Language spoken." with the instruction appended "If only English, write 'English'; if only Welsh, write 'Welsh'; if English and "Welsh, write Both."

This instruction seems clear enough. Nevertheless abundant evidence was received by us that it was either misunderstood or set at naught by a large number of those Welshmen who could speak both languages, and that the word "Welsh" was very often returned, when the proper entry would have been "Both"; on the ground, it may be presumed, that Welsh was the language spoken habitually or preferentially.

Untrustworthiness of the returns

Indeed, so desirous do many householders appear to have been to add to the number of monoglot Welshmen, that they not only returned themselves as speaking Welsh, that is, Welsh only, but made similar returns as to infants who were only a few months or even only a few days old.

Two parishes, one in Carnarvonshire and one in Merionethshire, were selected by us for detailed examination. In these parishes there were 138 babies under one year of age, and 59 of these were returned as speaking Welsh. There were also 147 infants between one and two years of age, and 87 of those were entered as monoglot Welsh. Thus of 285 infants not yet two years of age, 146, or more than a half, were represented as being able to speak Welsh and Welsh only.

Children tinder two years have been excluded by us from the language-tables; and consequently, those strange statements as to their power of speech are not of much importance, excepting that they furnish good grounds for regarding with much suspicion the trustworthiness of the statements as to persons of riper years. Thus, in these same two parishes there were 1,587 children of from 5 to 15 years of age, children, therefore, who must have had a more or less lengthy period of school attendance. In the schools of both of these parishes English had been taken as a class subject, not without success,; yet of these 1,587 children 1,490, or 94 per cent., were returned as unable to speak English. Whether a person can be fairly described as able to speak English will, of course, depend very greatly upon the standard of proficiency used to determine the question. We cannot but think that the standard applied must have been unduly high in these parishes.

Under these circumstances we do not think that much value can be attached to the figures which are given in our tables, as to the number of monoglot Welsh, people; and the only safe use that in our judgement can be made of those figures is to add together the numbers of those stated to be able to speak Welsh only, and of those stated; to be able to speak both Welsh and English, and thus obtain in the resulting total the number of those who are able to speak Welsh., with or without English.

Numbers and proportions of Welsh and English speakers

Confident, however, though we are that the number of monoglot Welsh persons is considerably overstated, and the number of persons who can speak both languages correspondingly understated, we have no choice but to deal with the figures as they stand in the returns (Vol. III., p. 561). According to these, the population of Wales and Monmouthshire,1 in regard to language, was composed as follows:—

Speaking only English 759,416
Speaking only Welsh 508,036
Speaking English and Welsh 402,253
Speaking foreign languages 3,076
No information (over two years) 12,833
Infants under two years 90,791
Total 1,776,405

It thus appears that the persons who could speak English only, 759,416 in all, considerably outnumbered those who were stated to speak only Welsh, who amounted to 508,036; while the number of those who spoke both languages was 402,253. Or the figures may be put in this other way: of the total population who spoke one or other or both of the two languages, 1,161,669 could speak English, while 910,289 could speak Welsh. Whichever way the figures are put, the English language clearly predominated not inconsiderably over the Welsh.

Local distribution of the languages

If we put aside the infants under two, and those persons who spoke neither language or who made no statement as to their speech, there remains a total of 1,669,705 persons; and of these, according to the returns, 455 per 1,000 spoke only English, 304 per 1,000 spoke only Welsh, while the remaining 241 per 1,000 spoke both languages. The proportions, however, differed very widely in different parts of the area. There are altogether 13 registration counties in Wales and Monmouthshire, and in eight of these the English language predominated, while the opposite was the case in the other five. These five most thoroughly Welsh-speaking counties are Merionethshire, Carnarvonshire, and Anglesey in North Wales, and Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire in South Wales.

The most completely English-speaking county was the little border county of Radnor, where 939 per 1,000 spoke nothing but English. The most completely Welsh-speaking counties were Merionethshire and Cardiganshire, in which 746 and 745 per 1,000 were returned as speaking nothing but Welsh.

Coming to smaller areas than countries, namely registration districts, of which there are 52 in Wales and. Monmouthshire, the table (Vol. Ill, p. 561) shows that in 25 of them the monoglot English predominated over the monoglot Welsh, while in the remaining 27 the opposite was the case. The area of these 27 districts is much larger than that of the 25 where English predominated, but, being mainly agricultural has a smaller population.

The distribution of the English-speaking element in the population is determined partly by geographical and partly by occupational conditions. Of the 25 districts in which English predominated over Welsh, 12 are in the coal-bearing counties of Monmouth and Glamorgan, being, indeed, all the districts in these two counties, with the exceptions of Merthyr Tydfil and Pontardawe. Ten more of the 25 are: districts situated along the eastern border of Wales, while the remaining three are the three registration districts into which Pembrokeshire is divided. The predominance of in thin county is to be explained by the presence of large dockyards, and by the historical fact that in the time of Henry I. a considerable colony of Flemings was established on the west of the River Cleddau, and their descendants, multiplying and becoming in time Auglicised, caused the district in which they had settled to be known as "Little England beyond Wales," The agricultural counties and districts of Wales, away from the raster n border, and the slate districts of Merionethshire and Carnarvon shire are the most completely Welsh-speaking parts of the whole area.

1 The area taken to represent Wales and Monmouthshire is made up of registration counties, not of the ancient counties; and the eastern boundary of this area does not coincide exactly with that of the ancient counties.

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