Languages of Wales

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Languages of Wales
OfficialEnglish (99%)[1] Welsh (29.3%),[2]
ImmigrantUrdu, Somali, Cantonese, Polish, Irish
SignedBritish Sign Language
Keyboard layout

The two official languages of Wales are English and Welsh.[3] English is the primary official language, able to be used in all situations whereas Welsh only has official status in limited but significant situations as defined by legislation. Both languages, for example, have equal status within the Senedd (Welsh Parliament).[4][5] Almost the entire population of Wales is able to speak English, and around a quarter can speak Welsh, to varying levels of fluency.[2]

Geographical distribution[edit]

English is widely used throughout the country and is the first language of most people in the South and the North East of the country; in parts of the West and North, Welsh is the dominant first language. Nevertheless, there are a number of communities throughout the country to which these generalisations do not apply.[citation needed]

According to the 2011 census, Welsh is spoken by 19% of the population and English is spoken by 99% of the population.[6][1]

The proportion of respondents in the 2011 census who said they could speak Welsh.

Welsh English[edit]

Welsh English or Anglo-Welsh is the distinct form of English used in Wales.

Aside from lexical borrowings from Welsh like bach (little, wee), eisteddfod, nain and taid (grandmother and grandfather respectively), there exist distinctive grammatical conventions in vernacular Welsh English. Examples of this include the use by some speakers of the tag question isn't it? regardless of the form of the preceding statement and the placement of the subject and the verb after the predicate for emphasis, e.g. Fed up, I am or Running on Friday, he is[7]

In South Wales, the word "where" may often be expanded to "where to", as in the question, "Where to is your Mam?". The word "butty" is used to mean "friend" or "mate".[8] Although often cited as being peculiar Welsh characteristics, these are instances of West Country English and probably came into Wales with English immigrants to the Welsh industrial valleys in the 1800s.

There is no standard variety of English that is specific to Wales, but such features are readily recognised by Anglophones from the rest of the UK as being from Wales, including the (actually rarely used) phrase look you which is a translation of a Welsh language tag[7]

Welsh Romani[edit]

Welsh Romani (or Welsh Romany; sometimes also known as Kååle[9]) is a variety of the Romani language which was spoken fluently in Wales until at least 1950.[10] It was spoken by the Kale group of the Romani people who arrived in Britain during the 15th century. The first record of Roma in Wales comes from the 16th century. Welsh-Romani is one of the many Northern Romani dialects.[11]

Sign languages[edit]

Wales' deaf community tends to use British Sign Language. There are a few signs used in Wales which are unique to that country, but these tend to be regionalised rather than national.

Other sign languages in use in Wales include Makaton, and Signed English, a sign language based on the English language.

Norman French and Latin[edit]

Isca Augusta, the ancient Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon

Latin is also used to a limited degree in certain official mottos, legal terminology (habeas corpus), and various ceremonial contexts. Latin abbreviations can also be seen on British coins. The use of Latin has declined greatly in recent years. At one time, Latin and Greek were commonly taught in British schools [12]), and A-Levels are still available in both subjects.

In rare cases, Norman French and Latin have contributed to Welsh toponymy e.g. Beaumaris (Biwmares), Grace Dieu, Strata Florida and Valle Crucis. Latin has had a significant influence on Welsh in words such as ffenestr and pont, meaning window and bridge respectively. Some words of Latin origin no longer present in modern Welsh may be seen in certain place names - for example the second element in Caerllion (Englished as Caerleon) from Latin legio, legion- (= body of soldiers, legion), which in turn is from the verb legere (= to gather; to read). A common misconception is that caer is also a word of Latin origin, as it corresponds in place name nomenclature to English chester / caster from Latin castrum (= castle, fort). Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru / The University of Wales Welsh Dictionary, however, clearly indicates it is in fact of Brythonic origin (*kagro) from Celtic and related to cae (= enclosure; field), from which comes the modern Welsh verb cau (= to close, to shut).

Notable Welsh writers in Latin include Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote Historia Regum Britanniae, and Adam of Usk, author of Chronicon Adæ de Usk; and notable texts include Annales Cambriae.

Immigrant languages[edit]

The former Cardiff Synagogue, with Welsh, English and Hebrew all within view. There was once a fairly substantial Jewish population in South Wales, most of which has disappeared due to various factors. This synagogue is now an office block, and is on Cathedral Road.

People migrating to Wales decades have brought many more languages to the country.

British Asians speak dozens of different languages, and it is difficult to determine how many people speak each language alongside English. The largest subgroup of British Asians are those of Punjabi origin (representing approximately two thirds of direct migrants from South Asia to the UK), from both India and Pakistan.

There is a long established Somali community in Cardiff, and Irish speakers have been coming and going from Wales for many centuries.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b QS205EW - Proficiency in English, ONS 2011 census. Out of the 2,955,841 residents of Wales over the age of three, 2,936,536 (99%) can speak English "well" or "very well". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b "'Encouraging' increase in Welsh speakers". BBC News. 22 September 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  3. ^ Official Languages Scheme, July 2013, Assembly Commission. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  4. ^ National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act 2012
  5. ^ Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011
  6. ^ QS206WA - Welsh language skills, ONS 2011 census. Out of the 2,955,841 residents of Wales over the age of three, 562,016 (19%) can speak Welsh. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  7. ^ a b Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, pp. 335
  8. ^ "Why butty rarely leaves Wales". Wales Online. 1 October 2006.
  9. ^ "ROMLEX: Romani Dialects".
  10. ^ Price, Glanville (2000) Languages in Britain and Ireland, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
  11. ^ Norbert Boretzky: Kommentierter Dialektatlas des Romani. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004 p. 18
  12. ^ Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.6.16. Retrieved on 2011-03-17.