Promising Our Language a Future; Assembly Government's Commitment Is Matter for National Rejoicing

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Byline: RHODRI WILLIAMS

EARLIER this week First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, and Culture Minister, Jenny Randerson, issued a ground-breaking statement ahead of the Welsh Assembly Government's formal response to the report, Our Language - its Future, in the autumn.

Their announcement, Dyfodol Dwyieithog -- a Bilingual Future indicates the most radical, dynamic support for Welsh in modern times.

Accordingly, the Government is preparing the first National Action Plan for the Welsh Language to ensure that the language becomes a mainstream issue for every Assembly Minister and department.

The significance of this commitment for Wales and our Welsh-speaking heartlands cannot be overestimated. In terms of language planning and policy-making, it is also a world first, making Wales the envy of minority language cultures in Europe.

The year-long review of the Welsh language was conducted by the Assembly's Culture Committee and the Government's preliminary action places Welsh firmly at the heart of a modern, bilingual Wales.

Since devolution, there has been steady and growing political consensus about the importance of the Welsh language and its role in our society.

Instead of being seen as a political problem, it is increasingly addressed as an opportunity, as Wales takes its place on the world stage as a distinct country.

Consequently, the role of the language is being reassessed in terms of expressing a Welsh identity in all walks of life - be that in terms of education, culture, tourism to sales of food and drink.

Significantly, it is an inclusive approach, embracing all sectors, including private businesses who have identified the commercial advantages in the use of Welsh as a unique selling point.

Much of the sea change in support for the language comes from non-Welsh speakers. Arguably the future of the language depends on the 80pc of people who do not speak Welsh as their first language (and their elected representatives) as much as on the 20pc who enjoy the language as a birthright.

Ownership of the language by the majority, therefore, irrespective of linguistic fluency, is key to the survival of Welsh.

Nevertheless, against this backdrop, the past two years have seen aggressive campaigns by language extremists more redolent of the 1960s and 1970s, a time when there were genuine language rights' issues at stake.

Today's issues are different and more complex and demand a mature understanding of what is realistic and achievable.

Above all, to survive, the Welsh language needs a clear, unwavering focus to ensure that precious resources are deployed to maximum effect.

As The Western Mail's Assembly Editor, Clive Betts wrote perceptively, ``What is needed now is not protest but detailed follow-up; the winning of friends rather than alienating the opposition; the taking advantage of advances.''

The document Dyfodol Dwyieithog - a Bilingual Future proposes practical ways to address the fundamentals that underpin Welsh-speaking communities.

It underlines the Welsh Assembly Government's holistic approach, which includes creating a dedicated unit to ensure mainstreaming and best practice in language issues in all departments and agencies to create economically and socially sustainable communities. …