Beech, Emily-Louise

Start date:
October 2023
Research Topic:
The role of Welsh in community action groups
Research pathway:
Research Supervisor:
Professor Thora Tenbrink
Supervising school:
School of Linguistics & English Language,
Primary funding source:
External Sponsor:
Research keywords:

What are the effects of treating a native language as secondary in a bilingual country like Wales?

Language skills and attitudes affect people’s ability to function in society, for instance affecting Welsh first-language speakers’ engagement in English-medium discussion contexts (Parfett et al.,2019). While decisions about Welsh-medium education frequently relate to employment or heritage rationales (Hanlon, 2015),
diglossia in Wales can also induce conflicts, including strongly experienced ingroup-outgroup oppositions and Welsh speakers contesting typical English domains (Williams, 2009).

In public communication settings like DEG’s community assemblies, diverse attitudes, language backgrounds and skills meet, with participants ranging from ‘native’ via ‘new’ Welsh speakers to monolingual English speakers. To cope with this diversity, translation services are offered, and participants are free to use English or Welsh. However, the significance of this choice and the diversity of reasons behind choosing Welsh over English (frequently by speakers who are entirely capable of speaking English) are not well understood in academic literature. Linguistic and cultural identity clearly plays a key role (Carter et al.,2011); however, many biographical as well as societal and linguistic factors affect one’s conceptualised identity, dynamic communication processes can enhance its importance (Noels et al., 2012), and different degrees of ‘Welshness’ interact with language use and skills (Evans, 2018).

One experienced effect of these dynamics in DEG’s community assemblies is that the use of Welsh is essential for the decision-making process towards positive joined-up activities. Many locals would refuse to participate in an action that was proposed and discussed primarily through the medium of English, despite having a clear understanding of it. They may neither feel included nor encouraged to engage. If this effect was substantiated through systematic research, it would shed significant new light on the Welsh
Government’s language policies and their implementation, as well as raising concerns about current translation practices – which are not consistently available and often associated with disruptive effects.

This project’s specific research question “What are the effects of treating Welsh as secondary during decision-making processes in bilingual community groups located in primarily Welsh-speaking regions?” will be addressed through standard (socio-)linguistic methodologies (surveys, interviews, observation, discourse analysis). Cognitive Discourse Analysis (Tenbrink, 2020) will be used to address speakers’ concepts and thought patterns beyond those explicitly formulated in the content of what people say, reflected by the way it is said. Resulting insights will be collaboratively translated into guidelines and recommendations for community actions in bilingual contexts.