Wales politics

Census Welsh language stats 'crude' warns Lord Elis-Thomas

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Media captionLord Elis-Thomas said there were more valuable indicators to show the health of the Welsh language

A former chair of the Welsh Language Board has dismissed the Welsh language results from the 2011 census as "crude percentages".

The census figures published last week recorded an overall drop of 2% in the number of people who speak Welsh to 19% of the population in Wales.

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas told BBC Sunday Politics Wales there were more valuable indicators.

"They don't tell you anything about real attitudes," he told the programme.

The Plaid Cymru AM for Meirionnydd said he never paid much attention to the census figures when he was at the Welsh Language Board.

"There are far more valuable indicators of people's attitudes and actually increasing the number of speakers, particularly in the younger age group," said Lord Elis-Thomas.

"These census figures are entirely due to demography - these are crude percentages and they don't tell you anything about real attitudes."

There have been calls for Welsh ministers to take more action to halt the slide but Lord Elis-Thomas said he was concerned by the role that the Welsh government had already played.

"I am very concerned that the Welsh government is concentrating on regulation and the role of the language commissioner. The most important thing I realised at my time at the Welsh Language Board was that marketing - persuading people --was far more important than regulation.

"And who is doing that now? The government. I don't think the government has a very good track record of persuading any citizen to do anything."

He added: "What I'm arguing is that we need a promotion campaign to promote bilingualism and to increase job opportunities. I am very pleased that the business minister is now looking at the role of the Welsh language in commercial activities and in the private sector and I hope there will be some positive ideas out of that".

The Meirionnydd AM rejected concerns that in some areas, such as Anglesey or Carmarthenshire, that Welsh was no longer the dominant language.

"I don't buy any of this -- this is superficial socio-linguistics. There is this figure, this percentage, that if you didn't have 70% Welsh-speakers, then a community can not retain its bilingualism.

"That's been proved wrong on all the international studies I know on minority languages.

"Welsh is in a stronger position throughout Wales - and indeed in England, where we don't count all our friends who are living in England and still speaking Welsh. That's another example of the demography".

He said closer attention needed to be paid to the situation in south-east Wales.

"Look at a town like Barry where there's been a substantial increase in the numbers of young people going through the system - this is is what's important.

"The important thing then is to ensure that there are opportunities for these young people to work bilingually and that's all about marketing and development."

Also speaking on the same programme, Glyn Davies, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, said he was "fairly optimistic" about the future of the Welsh language.

"But I think that this is a bit of a wake call. I don't dismiss these census figures in the way that Dafydd Elis-Thomas does but we do need a proper understanding of what's behind it."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said she was disappointed by the drop identified by the census.

"It's not necessarily a true reflection but we can't ignore it," she said.

"We do need to look at what we can do in communities to promote the language, using the promotion methods that Dafydd Elis-Thomas was talking about. But I also feel that these is a need for regulation and statutory action as well."

In the wake of the census findings. the Welsh government has pointed to its five-year strategy, A living language: a language for living, launched in March, which included encouraging the use of Welsh in social media, as well as within families and in the community.

A spokesman added that this recognised the "fragile state of the language" and looked to promote its use across all walks of life.

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