In the 1990s, William Owen Roberts, a Welsh author and playwright, remarked that writing in Welsh is akin to “writing on the edge of catastrophe” (Peripheral Visions, 1995). If that is the case, a Welsh language blogger might be half way off the edge already.
Blogging, like the Welsh language, is considered by some to be in decline. Just as the Welsh language is squeezed from without by English and other global languages, blogs are constantly under threat from the new social media kids on the block – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and whatever new smart phone and tablet apps might have been invented by the time you read this.
Why blog in Welsh?
Like blogging, the Welsh language used to enjoy the run of the place. The precursor to modern Welsh was once spoken all over the British Isles. Today it is spoken by roughly 20% of the population of Wales, or about 600,000 people, and we wait with bated breath for the results of the next census to see whether that number has gone up or down. All adult Welsh speakers in Wales can also speak English.
Why then blog in Welsh, when you could be Twittering and Facebooking in English, and reaching a far wider audience? One answer is because Welsh language bloggers are writing about Welsh things. My own blog usually either discusses the Welsh language itself, Welsh literature, the Welsh language on the Internet, Welsh music, or Welsh politics.
All of these could be discussed through the medium of English, but it makes sense to discuss Welsh language content in Welsh. Also, by writing in Welsh, I presume that my readers are to a certain degree familiar with what I’m babbling about, and that there is no need to explain everything from the start, as it were, let alone translate.
I’m also aware of my own responsibility, as one of the 600,000 speakers, to promote the use of the language on the internet. It’s also the language in which I feel most comfortable expressing myself. Others, I’m sure, have their own reasons. For instance, there are many Welsh language blogs by learners, who see it as a way of practising their use of the language.
Welsh language blogs, to a certain degree, mirror Welsh language communities. All blogs are in truth little communities, within a wider network. The author of the blog might like to think he or she has total control, but the shape and colour of their blog is influenced to a large degree by its followers.
People visit them and leave comments, suggest links, link to them themselves, use them as the basis for their own blogs, vote for them in competitions. An author who attracts many readers may be emboldened to blog more regularly – if no one’s reading, they might well pack it in.
The same thing is true about Welsh language communities in real life – using the language motivates others to use it, organising a music gig or an Eisteddfod (Welsh festival of literature, music and performance) will lead to others being organised, and so on. Like Welsh language communities, the members of the Welsh blogosphere feed off each other’s activity. The more there are, the stronger the community, the more web users will use the Welsh language.
These online Welsh language communities do not, however, exist in a bubble. As well as being part of a community in and of itself, Welsh blogs are a part of countless other clusters. They are part of a wider blogging scene within Wales.
Blogmenai, which is written by a member of the nationalist party Plaid Cymru, is part of a wider political blogosphere. Dylan Llyr’s blog Anffyddiaeth (Atheism) also exists in a community of religious (or irreligious) blogs. His blog often interacts with another English language blog, written by a Welsh speaking atheist who sometimes translates Dylan’s musings for his own followers. Technologies such as Google Translate complicate things further – many Welsh language blogs now feature a button to automatically translate their content into English.
This is reflected in the decision of the Wales Blog Awards this year not to consider Welsh language blogs as their own unique category, as was the case in previous years. Welsh language political blogs will be in the politics section, Welsh language lifestyle blogs will be in the lifestyle section, and so on. That is recognition, I think, not only that Welsh language blogs are good enough to compete against English language blogs on the same platform, but that the Welsh language blogosphere’s influence extends far beyond the boundaries of the language itself.
Is the ‘Golden Age’ of Welsh blogs over?
The ‘golden age’ of the Welsh language blog, as with blogs generally, might well now be over. Partly because we’ve passed the point when new authors were discovering the web and its possibilities for the first time, and partly thanks to the encroachment of Facebook, Twitter and others, where the use of the Welsh language is proving very popular.
However, the number of Welsh blogs are still growing, (there were about 400 on the last count), and they still have their part to play. The format allows for a more in-depth discussion of the topics at hand with like-minded people than the 140 character limit of Twitter and the friendly banter seen on Facebook. Also, there is no pressure on the author of a Welsh language blog to turn to English as there is on the users of Facebook and Twitter, who usually have hundreds of non-Welsh speaking friends and followers to please.
A dying language in a dying medium? I don’t think so. The likes of Facebook and Twitter might well come and go, but the adaptability of blogs mean they will survive. The Welsh language itself has proven to be remarkably resilient, surviving for thousands of years, despite living next door to one of the most powerful and widely-spoken languages on earth. My conclusion is that the Welsh language blogosphere isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.