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Language

English is spoken throughout the country, but Wales also has its own language, Welsh (Welsh: Cymraeg). Government policy is to encourage billingualism, and many official signs are in both English and Welsh.

English is the main language in Wales, it has been spoken in Wales, longer than in most other English speaking countries. There is a Welsh-English dialect, in the same sense that there are regional dialects within England, or Americian-English etc. However tourists who can speak English need not worry too much, Welsh English is nowhere near as distant from standard English as "Singlish", "Scots" or certain North of England dialects.

Depending on your own nationality, you may find it very difficult to understand the English language being spoken in a heavy Welsh accent (sometimes Coloquially referred to as 'Wenglish') - but don't be worried to ask for someone to repeat something. Many distinct colloquialisms are used in Welsh-English which have the potential to cause confusion to a foreigner; a few examples of these are 'Aye', which is very commonly used to indicate 'yes' and 'Ta-Ra' can be said instead of 'Goodbye' (especially in an informal conversation).

Welsh is spoken by some 26% of the population (though this varies geographically, from under 7% in the southeast to over 60% in the northwest). Whilst in Wales as whole Welsh is a minority language, visitors should be aware that in many of those parts of Wales of paricular interest to tourists, it is in fact the majority language, with English a minority language.

A vistor should expect to come into at least basic contact with the Welsh language in all parts of Wales, if only in the form of official signage.

All road signs in Wales are bilingual. Unlike parts of Scotland, there is no colour coding to distinguish the languages, nor is there a standard protocol as to which language appears on top. Where the English and Welsh names for a town are the same, only one name will appear. Visitors unfamiliar with the bilingual policy may believe that a road sign is indicating two separate destinations when in fact it is only referring to one. The mileage at the right should clarify the situation.

Welsh speakers are fluent to near fluent in English, but react well when interest is shown in their language and culture. Additionally, according to Census 2001, some 39% of all 10-15 year olds can speak, read and write some Welsh, due to the fact the language is compulsory in schools in Wales. There are also several Welsh-language television and radio channels.

Many older people, who do not speak Welsh, still have a strong emotional bond with the language, due to the fact they may have had a Welsh speaking parent or grand-parent. There was a time when the language was discouraged in schools and many parents refrained from speaking their native tongue with their children.


 

THE WELSH IN PATAGONIA

In the 19th. century many Welsh people, unhappy with conditions at home, left for new pastures overseas. Most of these headed for America but just a few sailed for the even more exotic destination of Patagonia in South America.

Why Patagonia? Michael D. Jones was a nonconformist minister whose mother had been evicted by a great Welsh landowner, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. In those days landlords had no compunction in evicting farming tenants who did not support their political views or ambitions and were notorious for their rigid interpretation of the game laws. Catching a rabbit for the pot on one of the great estates could be a very risky activity. Like many other religious leaders of his day Jones looked to emigration as a solution for the problems of his flock. He had come to realise that in the second generation Welsh emigrants to America tended to lose their language and some of their national characteristics, so decided to locate his flock in Patagonia which was thought to be fertile and known to be sparsely populated. He sent out two people to report and based on their findings made an arrangement with the Argentine government to reserve land in a place called Chubut Valley.

On the 24th May 1865 the ship Mimosa, of 450 tons, left Liverpool for South America carrying 163 (or according to some accounts 153) men women and children. The cost for a ticket was 48 British pounds and this price included food, although passengers had to bring their own mess utensils and bedding. The ship arrived at Golfo Nuevo on 28th July 1865 and the party landed to begin their lives as agriculturalists in a new land. Strangely enough, there was only one farmer in the group and this might explain some of the problems they were to face. Drought and occasional flooding made their work difficult and there were times when the enterprise seemed doomed. Despite this a second ship brought more emigrants from Wales and both the Argentine and the British governments aided the colony. It survives to the present day.

Michael Jones seems to have been right in his assessment of the language issue since a Patagonian correspondent tells me that her father and grandparents still keep the language although this is interspersed with some Spanish - and English names for fruit and vegetables. Patagonia also has some bilingual schools.

EISTEDDFOD

An eisteddfod (Welsh]; plural eisteddfodau is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176 but, with the decline of the bardic tradition, it fell into abeyance. The present-day format owes much to an eighteenth-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. The word eisteddfod is derived from the Welsh word eistedd, meaning "to sit", and bod meaning "to be" and therefore means "to be sitting" or "to be sitting together" ("bod" is softly mutated into "fod").

The most important eisteddfod is the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Its eight days of competitions and performances, entirely in the Welsh language, are staged annually in the first week of August usually alternating between North and South Wales (see the main National Eisteddfod of Wales article for a full list of past and future venues). Over 6000 people competed at the 2006 National Eisteddfod with 150,000 visitors attending.

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