Friday 16-10-2015 - 17:33
It’s been just over three months since I officially began my role as NUS Wales’ Welsh Language Officer, having been elected at NUS Wales’ Welsh Language Conference in March 2015.
And so far, the experience has been an absolute pleasure and an honour. In particular, I’m especially grateful to my hugely supportive and dedicated liberation committee; with each of the members bringing their own unique perspective and experiences to the table - I feel confident that over the next year, we will be able to work closely together in order to achieve the best result for the Welsh language campaign.
However, despite receiving great support from both my own campaign, the rest of NUS Wales, and having great optimism for the year ahead - I’ve also found the experience to be rather eye-opening. Particularly, as I did not realise that there are so many student activists across NUS, mainly those outside of NUS Wales, who aren’t aware that we have an additional liberation campaign, my campaign: the Welsh language campaign.
Although the lack of awareness is entirely understandable, it’s a personal goal of mine to make more members of the student movement from across the border in NUS UK, NUS Scotland and NUS-USI aware of the struggle for parity with English that our language has endured; from the fight for the Welsh Courts Act of 1942 which permitted use of the Welsh language in courts of law, to the Welsh Language Act of 1993 over 50 years later, which put Welsh on equal footing with English in Wales. And of course, most recently: the Welsh Language Measure of 2011 which finally gave our language official status in its own country. It’s safe to say that the Welsh language has not survived without a great deal of adversity.
Language activists have had to work tirelessly to resist the suppression of our culture and the effects of linguistic imperialism on our nation. It’s important to remember that Welsh Language was excluded from public administration for over 400 years. Welsh was systematically removed from public life and education alike, leaving Welsh speakers with a legacy that left them feeling inferior and reluctant to use the language. Is it any wonder Welsh no longer has the amount of speakers it did historically?
Currently, around 20% of people living in Wales speak Welsh as a first or second language; these numbers are also predicted to grow. The biggest growth in the Welsh speaking population is currently in the age group 15-24 - those making decisions about their future and possibly entering into further and higher education. For many Welsh-speaking students, this is their first language; it’s how they make sense of the world. It’s the language of their home and their family, possibly even their workplace, and it’s the language they’re most comfortable in speaking. Therefore, if Welsh students are to feel truly happy and reach their full potential, both academically and socially, shouldn’t they be able to live their lives through the language of their choice?
But what’s more disheartening than a simple lack of awareness amongst other members of NUS is the occasional students’ union officer who tells me that they don’t believe the Welsh language should have its own liberation campaign. Far too often, I hear comments like: “it’s only a language, it’s not as if it’s your gender, or your race, or your sexual orientation” – as though the language contributes nothing to your sense of identity. But that’s where they’re wrong. The Welsh language is far more than just a means of communication, it is an inherent part of our Welsh identity. A Welsh identity that has been oppressed. It is an identity that needs a campaign in order to overturn years of oppression. For many Welsh speakers, myself included, the fate of the Welsh language is inextricably tied to the survival of our heritage and culture as a whole and carries with it, a real sense of identity for the people of Wales.
Today, there are many Welsh organisations, alongside NUS Wales which are dedicated to this very purpose. Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol dedicates itself to providing and developing Welsh-medium courses and scholarships for students in Welsh universities, and Mentrau Iaith work tirelessly to promote the use of the Welsh language in local communities all across the country.
NUS Wales has a long and proud tradition of supporting the rights of Welsh-speaking students by providing an in-house translation service that not only provides simultaneous translation and bilingual literature at all their events, but has been at the forefront of the development of the language over the past 40 years, responding to the progressive language of the liberation campaigns and making sure that Welsh remains a current language.
NUS Wales Welsh Language Officer