A Living History: A History of the Welsh Language

CJ Photo 1

An example of English and Welsh. | Photo by CJO

CJO | ET Student

Croeso i Gymru! Or, as we English speakers like to say, welcome to Wales! Welsh, once a dying language, is now a living, lasting tradition. Why the change? Let’s take a look and find out!


According to BBC Cymru, the Welsh division of the BBC, Welsh is the oldest language in the United Kingdom, going back around 4,000 years. Derived from Celtic, the first version was known as Old Welsh, and though it has since evolved, poems written during that time allow us to study the language now. The early poets, or “Cynfeirdd” in Welsh, wrote some of the oldest poetry known, not only creating insight into the history of time, but also the history of words.

From there, the language transformed into Middle Welsh, spoken from the 12th to the 14th century. Not long after this, the Bible was translated to Welsh in 1588 by William Morgan, according to BBC’s WalesHistory. This was revolutionary. It meant Welsh was incorporated into the daily life of every person and soon became a widely spoken language. However, in the mid-19th century, children were discouraged from speaking Welsh in schools, and the Industrial Revolution brought an influx of English speakers, watering down the language. By the 20th century, Welsh was on its way to extinction.

Due to redoubled efforts, including  an initiative to teach Welsh in school until children are 16, Welsh once again became widely spoken. In 2011, it became an official language of Wales, establishing a lasting and living heritage.


When we arrived in Wales, I was blown away to see how prominent the language still is. All government signs are written in both Welsh and English, with Welsh often listed first. I’ve heard it spoken over PAs and seen it inscribed on walls, and most people are more than willing to talk about it (or even teach you some!) if you only ask. Today, the Welsh language isn’t just about saving dying words. Instead, it is a lasting tradition, a form of history very much alive today.


Categories: History & Politics

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