Thursday, August 14, 2008

Welsh in St Harmon in 1901

The 1901 census shows that around 25% of the population of St Harmon's parish were recorded as being able to speak Welsh at the start of the twentieth century. A good number of these Welsh speakers were actually born in the neighbouring parishes of Llangurig and Cwmteuddwr; among those who were recorded as being born in St Harmon parish itself the number of Welsh speakers fell to 19%. While a majority of locally born people over the age of 60 spoke Welsh and nearly 40% of those aged between 40 and 59, in the 20 to 39 age group the figure falls to 12%, with only 8% of those under 20 being listed as Welsh speakers.

A useful term used in the Victorian period was the language of the hearth, the language spoken by the family around the fireside. It is a good indication of the real strength of the language in a given area. Although there were no Welsh monoglots in St Harmon parish, the fact that everyone in a household was able to speak Welsh suggests it was the hearth language. Of the 138 households in the parish just 19 could be classed as Welsh speaking, 67 were wholly English speaking and 52 had a mixture of bilinguals and English monoglots, indicating that the language of the hearth must have been English. Although a majority of households in St Harmon included at least one Welsh speaker, the fact that in just 14% of homes Welsh was the language of the hearth shows that the parish was approaching the final stages of language shift at the time of the 1901 Census.

It is interesting to look at the position of Welsh amongst children aged 10 and under. This was the era of large families and 20% of the total population of the parish fell into this category. Of the 123 children in this age group just 9 were bilingual, 8 being children of bilingual couples and just 1 having a bilingual father and an English speaking mother. 71 were children of English speaking monoglots, 16 were children of bilingual parents but being brought up as English speakers and a further 27 were English speaking children with one or other of their parents being able to speak Welsh.

Long distance migration was not a factor in the process of language shift in St Harmon, indeed there were only two English households in the parish, although one of these was inevitably the home of the school mistress. The parish did not have a gentry house which probably explains why Welsh language services in the parish church lingered after they had been abandoned in the more Welsh speaking parish of Cwmteuddwr. What we have here is bilingualism, allowing Welsh speaking parents to bring up their children as English monoglots, and the slow wave of language shift hastened by short distance movements of families and marriage partners from neighbouring parishes which had already sunk beneath the tide of Anglicisation.

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