Welsh is a minority language and the number of native speakers is diminishing. How will Welsh survive in the digital age? We use a language to communicate with one another. But language is not only a means of communication. It is also a basis of one’s culture and identity. But globalization and faster communication brought one thing to the fore – English is again becoming the bridge language. The private and working lives of the majority of the world’s population are technology-reliant and the infrastructures are predominantly in English. If this is so, what happens then to the minority languages? The sad fact is they are more highly threatened now than before.
What can be done?
The very same technology that makes English the most common language to use across communication channels can also be used to bring minority languages to a larger audience. There should be an initiative to allow for linguistic diversity instead of putting the minor languages in the back drawer. There are several scholarly papers being written on the subject and one of the latest ones is on the Welsh language.
The Welsh Language Measure 2011 gave it an official status. This requires that entities providing services to the people in Wales, even if the company or service provider is not Wales-based, must have their services written or provided in Welsh, online and onsite. Welsh, also called Gymraeg or Cymraeg, is related to the Celtic language and is the native language in Wales and along the border with England. It is also spoken in the Welsh colony in the Chubut Province located in Argentina, called Y Wladfa.
There are about 3 million people residing in Wales according to the 2011 census. Out of this total, about 2.2 million or 73% no longer have skills in speaking Welsh. About 562,000, representing 19% of people aged three and over are able to speak the language. Only about 15% of the total population are able to write, read and speak Welsh. Comparing the latest census figures against the 2006 data, there is a significant decline in the number of residents still fluent in the language.
As more companies serving the public are going online, they are opting to localize their sites to enhance the user experience and make it easier and faster to serve the target customers better. With the advances in language technology it is easier for people to communicate and do business even if they do not use a common language.
Using language technology
Speech processing tools and language technology are supposed to be used as the bridge between the different languages. This is actually an ambitious goal even for major languages, more so for a minor language as Welsh. However, at present this is not yet attainable, since the ones that are available are not enough to meet the specific needs. What is available right now are groups of language enthusiasts that create small communities in social networking sites for language exchanges.