[lg policy] Wales: Making language policy relevant to the twenty-first century

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 19 10:57:16 EDT 2017


Making language policy relevant to the twenty-first century

Huw Lewis and Elin Royles argue that language policy should reflect and
take account of the way people live their lives
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
14
<http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/#>
May 17, 2017
[image: Welsh-Cymraeg]

Currently, the Welsh Government is in the process of finalising the content
of its new national Welsh language strategy. This new strategy, a successor
to *A living language: A language for living, *published back in 2012, will
outline the government’s vision for Welsh for the next 20 years. Given the
Welsh Labour 2016 manifesto commitment of creating a million Welsh speakers
by 2050, the strategy is likely to be an important document setting a
series of key long-term goals. Indeed, when launching the government’s
public consultation process last summer, the Minister for Lifelong Learning
and Welsh Language, Alun Davies, emphasised his desire to set ‘deliberately
ambitious targets.’

As we await the publication of the final strategy, it is important to
appreciate that there is nothing unique about this effort on the part of
the Welsh Government to use public policy in order to promote the prospects
of Welsh. Rather, efforts by either state or regional governments to
revitalise the prospects of regional or minority languages are now
increasingly common across Western Europe. If we looked north, for example,
we would see that in Scotland *Bòrd na Gàidhlig*, the official body tasked
by the Scottish Government to promote the Gaelic language, is in the
process of consulting on the contents of its National Gaelic Language Plan
(the third to be published since 2005). If we looked a little further
afield, we would see that over the past decade similar strategy documents
outlining policy initiatives in favour of regional or minority languages
have also appeared in a range of other European locations, including
Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia and Ireland.

Significantly, these language revitalisation strategies have each been
developed against a backdrop of radical social change. The turn from the
twentieth to the twenty-first century is widely regarded as a period of
fundamental social transformation, one perhaps unmatched since the onset of
industrialization. Societies are now increasingly individualistic, diverse
and mobile; their economies increasingly interconnected; and their
governance structures are increasingly complex. Furthermore, many of the
factors traditionally emphasised as key determinants of a language group’s
level of vitality – the family, the local community, the economy and the
level of state support – relate to areas of life that have been deeply
impacted by these patterns of social change.

Given this, contemporary language revitalisation strategies could clearly
benefit from paying increasing attention to the implications of current
changes in how people live their lives, how they interact with each other,
and, consequently, how they use their language(s). Yet, recent research
conducted by members of the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society at
Aberystwyth University
<http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/pap/pre-prints/content-pppolicypol161600054r2>
suggests
that this has not been the case. To date, bar some limited examples, there
has been little sustained reflection within language revitalisation policy
documents on whether our fast-changing social context should prompt a
rethink with regard to how the task of language revitalization should be
approached.

Consider, for instance, some of the following examples. First, despite the
emphasis traditionally placed on role of the family in promoting consistent
language acquisition, there has been little reflection on the implications
of recent changes in the way that families organize their day-to-day lives
and care for their children. Second, despite the emphasis traditionally
placed on the role of territorial communities in promoting stable patterns
of language use, there has been little reflection on the implications of
recent changes in the nature of community life and the tendency for
patterns of social interaction to be centred increasingly around specific
‘communities of interest’, or even to take place online. Third, despite the
emphasis traditionally placed on the need to ensure that minority languages
possess a measure of economic value, there has been little serious
reflection on the implications of economic globalisation and in particular
the advent of skills-based employment.

Examples such as these highlight the type of challenge currently facing the
Welsh Government, alongside many other European regional governments, if
they wish to implement language revitalisation strategies that respond to
life in the early twenty-first century. They also pose key questions to
minority language movements more broadly, by raising the possibility that
long-standing assumptions may need to be re-examined.

As a contribution to this process, a recently established research network,
coordinated by researchers from Aberystwyth University and the University
of Edinburgh, will bring together an international group of language policy
researchers, along with prominent policy practitioners, in order to examine
the implications of current patterns of social change for our understanding
of how language revitalisation efforts can be designed and implemented.
Over the next two years, the *Revitalise *network will seek to study this
question with reference to a variety of European examples and will seek to
identify lessons to inform the future work of relevant public officials and
civil society actors working in the field of minority language promotion.

Seeking to maintain and revitalise the prospects of a regional or minority
language is widely acknowledged as an extremely challenging undertaking.
Success, be it in terms of an increase in the number of language speakers,
or in terms of wider social use of the language, can often be elusive. The
contention that underlies the work of the *Revitalise* network is that such
successes are likely to be even more elusive without those engaged in
language revitalisation increasingly basing their efforts on a sound
understanding of how people live their lives today.

http://www.iwa.wales/click/2017/05/making-language-policy-relevant-twenty-first-century/

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