Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire - Introduction

The 1891 Census shows two young sisters living at the remote farm of Claerwen in Cwmteuddwr parish. Margaret Lewis was 25 and her sister was 23, they were both born in Radnorshire and neither could speak English. They would surely have agreed with the shepherd girls of Pumlumon who so charmed George Borrow with their guileless hospitality: "What should we do with English here?" In 1891 there were still hundreds of thousands of Welsh people who spoke no English; a third of the population of Merthyr, two thirds of those in the Swansea Valley, a fifth of those in Swansea itself. Even in the Irfon valley parishes to the west of Builth there were hundreds who knew only Welsh.

Radnorshire appeared to be quite different from the rest of Wales. There were less than eighty Welsh monoglots like the Lewis girls in the whole of the county. While the great majority of Radnorshire folk spoke only English, Welsh was still spoken by many in the parishes of Rhaeadr, Cwmteuddwr, and St Harmon, but this was not apparent from the published figures. These were local people and they must have spoken what are now the lost Welsh dialects of Radnorshire. Although many lived on well into the twentieth century, no academics ever bothered to record their speech. Perhaps these professors agreed with the influential scholar Iorweth Peate when he declared that Radnorshire folk were "a deracine society, a people fallen between two stools, a community of half-things." In any case the fact of Radnorshire people speaking Welsh was ignored and the story of the decline of the language in the county, on the rare occasions when it was even addressed, littered with inaccuracies and prejudices.

It is my intention, over the next few months, to address these inaccuracies and prejudices in a series of posts dealing with the decline of the Welsh language in Radnorshire.

1 comment:

christopher said...

After two years or so I find than I am the first to make any comment. Alas! I have little to say except that in Ireland (where I live) scholars of modern Irish have long since surveyed the remaining and vanished pockets of Irish speakers even in such places as the Antrim mountains and north County Waterford. I have always been puzzled about the complete disappearance of Welsh from Radnorshire and Breconshirem counties that have received very few English-speaking immigrants.

C. J. Woods