Assembling a Welsh Translation Row

The use and equality of the Welsh language have long inspired passions, and a long-running campaign seems to have reversed its decline. Today, in an apparent partial victory for bilingualism and the equal use of the Welsh language in Wales, the Assembly Commission has backed off plans to scrap the translation of debates from English into Welsh.

The plans had caused widespread outrage with the Welsh Language Board threatening to launch an investigation into whether the move would break the Assembly’s own Welsh language scheme. Pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) also intervened stating:

“It is also a matter of great sadness that Dafydd Ellis-Thomas the Presiding Officer has actively backed this decision since it shows a churlish, colonialist attitude utterly alien for a nation that is striving to create a bilingual future for itself. But we emphasise yet again that our aim at the moment is to seek legal advice concerning this decision since we believe it to be both unlawful and unjust.”

Those of us who have ever lived in or visited parts of north and west Wales can have no doubt that Welsh is a living language, used by many as their first choice for saying hello, ordering a pint or doing business. Almost 22% of the population of Wales are Welsh speakers of some kind, and although a smaller number would choose Welsh as their primary language, many switch between Welsh and English according to the subject at hand and the social context.

The director of CBI Wales has written an interesting opinion piece considering the arguments for and against Welsh bilingualism, in which he concedes there is a democratic case for people being able to access documents in the language of their choice. Perhaps not surprising he leans against regulation, but instead profers the idea that business may be missing a trick by not providing Welsh translation.

Welsh language mobile phone

One company not missing that particular boat is Orange who this month launched a Welsh language mobile phone, the Samsung S5600. Sian Doyle from Orange commented, “This initiative is part of a broader commitment by Orange to provide Welsh speakers with more choice. We already include the Welsh language in our stores via bilingual signage, Welsh speaking advisors and other initiatives. The Welsh market is a vibrant and exciting marketplace”.

The phone features not only Welsh menus but also predictive texting in Welsh. Of course there are many features that influence people on which phone to buy, and it remains to be seen how well the first fully Welsh mobile phone fares. But what is incredible is that this recent launch has taken so long to come about.

Another recent adopter of the Welsh language is Google Translate, which features it in their latest batch of additions. Although it must be said: any reservations about such machine translation would apply all the more in a language as sensitive to word context as Welsh, leaving no doubt that any serious application of the language still requires a professional Welsh translator.

One thing is for sure: with a continuing debate, not only regarding the Assembly but whether businesses in general should be obliged to offer a bilingual service, this issue looks unlikely to be far from the headlines for months to come.