Language Ideologies and Urban Welsh

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Education and Professional Studies


I aim to undertake a PhD project that uses an ethnographic approach to explore the use of Welsh and stylisation in urban and professional contexts. In doing so, it will examine the conflict between the generally monolithic, normative concepts promoted in official language policy and the diverse language ideologies and practices developing in the urban contexts that are becoming increasingly important for the language's survival.

Having grown up on the outskirts of Cardiff and attended a Welsh medium school and university, my experiences of the language have been defined in an urban context. But I have become increasingly aware that this is not seen as the natural habitat of the language, and that urban Welsh is often considered inauthentic. My commitment to contributing to a better sociolinguistic understanding of the contemporary realities of Welsh is driven by this contrast between my own experience and the widespread promotion of Welsh as an idealised rural language.

Welsh language planners want to incorporate Welsh as an official, economically relevant language used in the public sphere in day-to-day life (Welsh Government 2016:9-11,13-15,17), but the language is widely idealised as a rural phenomenon. Encapsulated by the Victorian concept of the Gwerin, this idealisation derives from Romantic efforts to counter historic stereotypes about Welsh speakers being rural, poor and backward, but it homogenises the language and denigrates newer urban varieties, at a time when urban areas are increasingly vital if language planners are to achieve their goal of creating new speakers. Both the Welsh Assembly Government plan of 2003, Iaith Pawb and its recent consultation document (WAG 2003; WG 2016:7) identify education as a central tool in increasing the number of Welsh speakers, and statistical evidence shows that the transmission of Welsh through education is growing, especially in the urban south-east. At the same time in rural areas, the intergenerational transmission of the Welsh deemed 'authentic' is in decline (Jones 2008:549-50). But the tension between policy goals for Welsh and its idealisation as a rural language is not properly addressed in government documents, which are filled with terms such as 'inheritance' and 'national identity' and speak as if the population was socio-economically and ethnically homogenous, overlooking the increasing diversity of urban environments.

In reality, the prestige of an 'authentic' rural ideal can undermine the actual use of Welsh in everyday professional settings. So although a recently coined, modern terminology is available, Welsh speakers often feel that the language is inappropriate for technical terms, and often intentionally code-switch into English, marking this with keys such as 'fel mae'r Sais yn dweud', 'as the Englishman says'. In fact a number of different styles, varieties and local ideologies of Welsh are developing (e.g. school Welsh, media Welsh), and a study of how speakers navigate this new and complex sociolinguistic environment will yield fascinating results that will also challenge the ideological simplifications promoted in government language policy.

The study I anticipate will draw on linguistic ethnography, working with a "layered and multi-scalar conceptualisation of context" (Blommaert et al 2011: 11), and it will investigate how the new urban social domain affects conventionalised language usage and disrupts 'semiotic regularity' (Agha 2007: 205). It will examine micro-level phonological and lexical variables and focus on reflexive stylisation to understand language ideologies and the indexical associations conveyed by speakers.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1917793 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 31/12/2021 Catrin Bethan Williams