Language focus | 13.01.2010

Welsh language landmarks in the new millennium

It has been an important decade in the history of the Welsh language. A series of firsts in the political, technological and literary sectors has meant that one of the oldest languages in Europe is now enjoying an increased presence on a global scale and improved accessibility to both native speakers and learners alike.

On the political front, Welsh was used for the first time in an EU context at a meeting of the Council of Culture Ministers in Brussels in 2008 where Alun Ffred Jones, Heritage Minister, had the honour of being the first person to speak the Welsh language in an official capacity within the corridors of power of the European Union. Language provision has also been put in place to enable written correspondence to take place in Welsh.

But it is not only government institutions which are providing linguistic services in a bid to promote access to the Welsh language. In 2007 Microsoft announced the launch of Language Interface Packs (LIPs) in Welsh for Windows Vista and Office 2007 – products which were developed through a joint collaboration with The Welsh Language Board. The project involved the translation of more than 600,000 words and aimed to ‘mainstream the Welsh language further into everyday life, in the home, business and in education’. It was a move which The Welsh Language Board described as a ‘pivotal moment in promoting and developing the Welsh language.’

Other Welsh language initiatives were also unveiled in 2009: the first iBook in Welsh; the first ever mobile phone handset with Welsh interface and predictive text facility in Welsh – launched by Orange and Samsung at the National Eisteddfod in Bala; and the first computer game to be translated into Welsh.

Another important milestone which made Welsh language headlines was the publication of Gwyddoniadur Cymru, yr Academi Gymreig (The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales). This took the Welsh-speaking world by storm as it was the first ‘single volume encyclopaedia in the history of Wales.’ Ten years in the making, it encompasses everything which has made Wales the country that it is today. It became an immediate success and received acclaim not only for its content, but also for its readability, style and subtle humour which is prevalent throughout the work. As reported in The Guardian, ‘The English’ are described as ‘Wales’s largest ethnic minority’ and a photograph of ‘the famously gloomy R. S. Thomas has him “experimenting with a smile”’. It has certainly succeeded in its premise of being accessible to the general reader and both English and Welsh versions quickly established themselves as must-haves for those interested in Welsh language and culture.

Nevertheless, despite The Welsh Language Act of 1993 which states that the English and Welsh languages are to be treated on ‘a basis of equality’, and despite the many highly qualified Welsh language translators available, there appear to be businesses that disregard the Act and eschew the latter – which unfortunately means that mistranslations are still commonplace. Signage seems to be a breeding ground for mistakes and these subsequently make regular appearances on lists of top-ten translation howlers. Two ‘popular’ entries have been: ‘Pedestrians look left’ which was translated into ‘Pedestrians look right’ (Cerddwyr edrychwch i’r dde); and ‘No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only’ which was sent out as ‘I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated’ (Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu). To the constant frustration of Welsh speakers, it’s not unusual for Welsh language versions to be treated as ‘token’ gestures and in many cases it is evident that the resulting ‘translations’ have never seen the inside of a professional translator’s office, nor graced the desk of a proofreader before going to press.

However, a more positive reflection of the Welsh language is encapsulated in Gwyddoniadur Cymru yr Academi Gymreig. In its foreward, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas refers to ‘Wales’s increasing confidence as a nation’, its place in the world as a modern nation, and describes the Encyclopaedia as being an important work which reminds people not only of a rich past but which also celebrates a vibrant present and points the way forward to a future direction. With the pivotal linguistic landmarks of the past decade it cannot be denied that an intrinsic part of this cultural explosion is the Welsh language itself, which is going from strength to strength and whose only direction is forward. From the European Parliament to the world of PC, Welsh is firmly taking its place on the international stage.

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