UN Warning over Welsh; UNESCO Fears Language Could Die by End of Century

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Byline: Tomos Livingstone

THE Welsh language faces extinction by the end of the century unless it is given help to survive, the United Nations warned yesterday.

Unesco, the UN's cultural and educational arm, classified Welsh as "unsafe" in its Atlas of World Languages in Danger.

But the rating is second on a scale of six, moving from "safe" through to "extinct", and Unesco cited the revival in Welsh usage in the 20th century as "one of the big success stories".

The organisation rated Manx and Cornish as "extinct", and put Scots Gaelic in the same category as Welsh.

According to the 2001 census, 582,000 Welsh residents say they can speak the language, around 20.8% of the population. There are an estimated 100,000 Welsh speakers living in the rest of the UK, and about 20-25,000 in Patagonia, Argentina.

The Assembly Government has recently made a formal request to the UK Government for powers over the language to be formally devolved.

The Labour-Plaid administration wants to update the 1993 Welsh Language Act to oblige a greater number of bodies to provide services in Welsh.

By contrast there are around 50,000 Scots Gaelic speakers and just 300 fluent Cornish speakers left. Manx is spoken by an estimated 600 people.

Christopher Moseley, editorin-chief of the atlas, said: "It would be naive and oversimplifying to say the big ex-colonial languages, English, or French or Spanish, are the killers and all smaller languages are the victims.

"It is not like that; there is a subtle interplay of forces, and this atlas will help ordinary people understand those forces better."

He added: "In New Zealand, the Maori language has been rescued from near oblivion through the scheme of 'language nests' - nurseries where the language is passed on to young children.

"But the biggest success stories are the ones that are operated with state support and infrastructure, such as the reclaiming of Welsh in Wales or Catalan in Catalonia - two regions of Europe that have seen success in our own lifetimes - or the revival of Hebrew as a national language in Israel. …