Statisticaly, the number of Welsh speakers is on the rise. Although this is heartening, a rise in the number of speakers does not necessarily mean that the language is in a healthy state. Latin, although being spoken by many, is a 'dead' languauge. In no part of the world is Latin the community language or the language of the home and the same must be kept in mind when we look at the situation with Welsh.
Although spoken more within the classroom, it is becoming less and less a community language. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly young people who have learnt Welsh at school are bombarded by the capitalist anglo-american popular culture. The SRG (Sin Roc Gymraeg - Welsh language music scene) is scarcely known whilst Welsh language films and television aimed at 15-30 year olds, are few and far between and do not have the resources to compete. Young Welsh speakers therefore see English as a language that they can relate to better in their social lives.
The second reason is that Welsh speaking heartlands are deprived areas. There is an exodus from places like Gwynedd to other parts of Wales and the UK in the search for work. The austerity measures will be a catalyst to this process. Gwynedd has a workforce heavily dependent on the public sector (60%) and the huge cuts in this area will rip apart the few Welsh speaking communites left.
Another way the austerity measures will have a severe impact on the Welsh language, is by the abolishment of S4C as an independent Welsh language channel. The department for culture sport and media will cut their funding to the channel by 95%. Though the BBC will fund some of the difference, S4C will lose 40% of its original funding in real terms and will have to compete with other departments in the BBC for funding after 2015. What worries people most of all is that by becoming part of the BBC, it will compromise the independance of the channel. We must remember that the BBC is the ‘British Broadcasting Corperation’ in essence the state broadcaster, which is why so much disproportionate attention will be given to the royal wedding.
This is scarcely better than the situation of Welsh language broadcasting before S4C was established. The campaign for S4C during the 70s and 80s was long and costly. Thousands of people in Wales broke the law by refusing to pay the TV licence, hundreds were arrested, fined and spent time in prison. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) activists like Ffred Ffransis spent 3 years in prison as a result of taking non-violent direct action. Gwynfor Evans in all seriousness gave Thatcher an ultimatum that he would go on hunger strike to the death unless the Tories delivered on their promises regarding a channel. 'The lady’s not for turning'? After decades of campaigning we turned her.
These extreme and admirable actions reflect the importance of S4C to us as a nation. The future of the language is dependant on whether young people can identify with Welsh as a modern ‘young’ language. Welsh language on the television is an essential part of normalising the language and giving our culture a platform from where it can ‘compete’ with the anglo american mainstream that seeps into everyone's homes.
S4C is so precious to the Welsh language, that its funding is protected by law, meaning these proposed cuts are in fact illegal. The Tories answer to this is to change the law. Going through the House of Lords during this time is the public bodies bill that not only will give them the power to make these devastating cuts and changes but it will allow for S4C to be abolished completley after 2015.
Welsh speaker or not, it is essential that all unite in solidarity to fight all these austerity measures. In Ireland it has been the acceptance of the government's right wing policies that pushed them even deeper into economic turmoil. These cuts will mean misery for millions and will not boost the economy; if the consumers don't have jobs they can't spend! It makes no economic sense and is purely ideological. The Tories are taking advantage of the ‘economic crisis’ to push their right wing agenda. One that could mean suffering and hardship as well as the end of the Welsh language.
So far Cymdeithas have organised a rally against the cuts in Caernarfon, a rally in Cardiff against cuts facing S4C and in January occupied the BBC in Llandaff. The situation is urgent and we must act now. After the public bodies bill is past then it will be much more dificult to have an impact. Keep updated with Cymdeithas news in English and find us on facebook, or come to one of meetings arranged across Wales. These meetings will discuss how we will fight the cuts facing S4C and our communities. One way you can help save S4C now is to simply stop paying for your TV licence and let us know that you are joining the boycott.