When our train pulled into the Cardiff station, and we walked from the station to our hotel, we were greeted by a pink billboard written in two languages. It read: “Helo Ewrop/Hello Europe”. The day before, while sitting in our flat in London, I had pondered whether or not Wales had its own language, and if so, how prominent it might be in the country. It turns out that Wales has a complicated relationship with the Welsh language.
The first language in Wales, as it is across the British Isles, is English. The original language, however, is Welsh, which is spoken enough that an entire Welsh TV station broadcasts in the language, according to Tony O’Shaughnessy, the leader of the Master’s in journalism program at Cardiff University, who we spoke to in class today. Welsh also enjoys official recognition by the UK government, so it appears on signs and advertisements across Cardiff and the rest of Wales.
All over Cardiff (or “Caerdydd” in Welsh), I found appearances of Welsh, always alongside the English counterpart. It appeared on signs inside a Boots pharmacy, on the front of restaurants, on road signs, and nearly anywhere there were signs. However, on many billboards, storefronts, and menus, English appeared alone, with no Welsh translation. I never saw Welsh appear without an English translation. And, crucially, I have so far heard no one speaking Welsh.
In doing my own research, and listening to Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s lecture, I found some answers about why this is. I learned that about 20% of Welsh citizens say that they are able to speak Welsh, and that in 2011, Welsh became the only non-English language to be formally recognized by the UK government. I learned online that most people who speak Welsh live in rural areas. I learned that the same is true of Ireland, where Irish Gaelic is the officially recognized language, but most locals speak English in everyday situations. Scotland actually has two languages of its own, Scottish Gaelic and Scots, but neither is officially recognized.
Since knowledge of Welsh is not required to participate in Welsh life, traveling to Cardiff has provided me with an interesting in-between experience between immersion in a foreign language and a familiar language. I have never been to a country that does not have English as its primary language, but from what I understand, English still has some role in those countries. It often serves as a “lingua franca”, allowing people who are fluent in all sorts of languages to communicate with those who do not understand their native languages through English. However, in Cardiff, English is not just a lingua franca, it is the main language of the country. This allowed me to easily navigate Cardiff, while also noticing the features of Welsh, which O’Shaughnessy said is one of the oldest languages in Europe.