Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language
Today it gives me great pleasure to launch a consultation on Welsh linguistic infrastructure, which is an area I take a strong interest in.
‘Linguistic infrastructure’ includes things that help us use Welsh from day to day – the bricks and mortar like corpora, dictionaries and terminology resources, and all the research and standardisation that goes into enabling these resources to grow and develop. These days, many of us use them online.
For years there’s been discussion about the need to better coordinate this infrastructure, and some time ago I held a seminar during the National Eisteddfod (in the days when we could all still walk around the Maes) to talk about how to move things forward. During that session I listened to people’s opinions, who represented both providers and the individuals who use the resources on a day to day basis. And a number of people told me, if you use Welsh and want to know what a word means or how to translate it, that finding an answer can be a little complicated.
Their message was that we need to better coordinate all the different parts that make up linguistic infrastructure, in order to improve the provision for users – be they members of the public, translators, people who use Welsh at work, teachers, school children or their parents, or anyone who wants to use Welsh in any way. I heard that we need to avoid duplication, ensure that we make best use of resources and expertise, and that a strategic response is needed for different infrastructure needs. I also heard that it’s extremely important to put this area on a long-term footing, and to safeguard key infrastructure projects for the future.
When we speak about increasing the number of Welsh speakers, and increasing use of the language, we speak about making sure that everyone can use Welsh without having to overcome any extra barriers. That means being able to find information through Welsh, and about Welsh, without having to search for it, and without having to take extra steps compared to people who are trying to do the same thing in English. We must therefore put the user first, and make it as easy as possible for everyone to know where to find information and advice.
That’s not to say we don’t have many projects of the highest standard here in Wales, which can help all of us use Welsh. For instance, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the standard historical Welsh dictionary) – which celebrates its centenary this year – has become the foundation for all other work on words and terms in Wales. Terminology resources such as Bangor University’s Porth Termau, and the Welsh Government Translation Service’s BydTermCymru, respond to gaps in provision and the demand for contemporary terms. But the field remains reactive, with terms commissioned if there’s a great demand for them, and no one keeping a high level, strategic overview of future needs.
That’s why, over the last few months, we’ve been working with these main providers, and others, to develop the proposals in the consultation document. Its aim is to set out a long term strategic direction of travel for this important area, and improve how the different elements work together for the benefit of Welsh speakers everywhere, whatever their ability. Now we want to hear from as many people as possible, whatever their experience of using Welsh, and look forward to hearing feedback and ideas that will help us develop the best policy possible.
Our main proposals are to create one website to ensure that users can easily search across different resources, whatever device you use, and set up a new unit to coordinate Welsh language infrastructure. If we can get these things right, we believe there’s potential to improve provision for everyone who wants to use Welsh.
It’s important to emphasise that our aim is to build on foundations that are already in place, not to start from the beginning. Most of the components already exist – in this document we propose how to coordinate and give access to them in a more coherent and effective way, whilst adding the proactive element of scanning the horizon for developments and planning strategically.
A number of our proposals also tie in with the Welsh Government’s Welsh Language Technology Action Plan, which has the aim of supporting the language, so that it’s used in as many situations as possible. Our proposals in this new infrastructure policy will help enrich the experience of those using technology in Welsh, and our aim is to provide, free of charge, digital versions of authoritative resources for everyone who uses Welsh in any way.
We’ve already set up a Welsh Language Standardisation Panel to begin standardising how some words are spelled. That’s a positive start to work that really needs to be done. What comes next will be guided by your responses to this consultation.
I’m extremely grateful to the organisations and individuals who’ve advised us along the way thus far – including the Welsh Language Commissioner, the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, Welsh Government and Senedd Cymru translators, Bangor University's Terminology and Language Technology Unit, and Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru. We will continue to discuss with them as we develop the final policy, based on the responses to this consultation.