Survival of Welsh Language in Doubt
By EIFION WILLIAMS
UNESCO, the United Nations cultural and educational arm, has warned that the Welsh language faces extinction by the end of the century unless it is given help to survive.
In its latest Atlas of World Languages in Danger, UNESCO classifies Welsh as "unsafe," second on a scale of six moving from "safe" to "extinct." At the same time, in an apparent contradiction, it cites the revival of Welsh in the Twentieth Century as "one of the big success stories."
According to the 2001 census there are 582,000 Welsh speakers in Wales, around 21 percent of the population. There are also an estimated 120,000 Welsh-speakers living elsewhere.
There has been a recent surge in the popularity of Welsh-medium schools in Wales, as well as an increase in government services in Welsh. The Assembly Government has recently made an official request to the UK Government for complete control over the language.
Welsh fares much better in the report than the other Celtic languages. UNESCO rates Manx and Cornish as officially "extinct", although there are still approximately 300 Cornish and 600 Manx speakers. Scottish Gaelic, with approximately 50,000 speakers, is in the same category as Welsh.
Small languages like Welsh are facing almost insurmountable difficulties in surviving in a world where established international languages like English, Spanish and French dominate world communications, media and the internet.
According to the Atlas's editor-in-chief, Christopher Moseley, "The biggest success stories are the ones that are operated with state support and infrastructure, such as the reclaiming of Welsh in Wales or Catalan in Catalonia - two regions of Europe that have seen success in our own lifetime."