Selected Subjects: Language spoken in Wales and Monmouthshire

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4.10 Language spoken in Wales and Monmouthshire

4.10.1 1891 - 1931


The Act under which the census of 1891 was taken required, for the first time, that a Return should be made for each person living in Wales or in Monmouthshire whether 'such person speaks Welsh only, or both Welsh and English'. To meet this requirement a column headed 'Language Spoken' was added to the householder's schedule with the instruction 'if only English, write "English"; if only Welsh, write "Welsh"; if English and Welsh write "Both" '. The results were described in the General Report (pp 81-83) as unsatisfactory owing to obvious inaccuracies found in the Returns. Although no mention of age was made in the question, children under two years of age were excluded from the tables published in Volume III of the Reports (Divisional Tables XI, number 24 ) which, in addition to giving information obtained from the Returns, showed also the population, the number of children under two years and the number in respect of whom no statement of language spoken was obtained.


In the census of 1901 a statement was only required in the language column in respect of those aged three years or above. The results were deemed to be more successful on this occasion and the scope of the table, published in the County Parts for Wales and Monmouthshire, was extended to provide an analysis by 5 age-groups for each administrative county, county borough and urban and rural district. The adjustment of the lower age limit to three years did, of course, impair comparability with the 1891 tables.


The question as to language spoken remained the same in 1911 as at the previous census. On this occasion, however, the tables were compiled by the Census Office direct from entries made on the schedules and not from returns made by local enumerators as had been done for purposes of tabulation in 1891 and 1901. The results appeared to show that the statements about language spoken had been omitted more frequently on this occasion than had been the case at the two earlier censuses.

A very large number of schedules only contained a return on the line relating to the head of the household and, from an analysis of the results, it had to be inferred either that the schedules in 1911 were returned in a more defective condition or that many of the defects in the 1901 schedules were concealed in the process of copying, the enumerator having assumed in all probability that the statement made in respect of the head of the house¿hold applied to other members entered on the schedule. The implications of this discovery were discussed in the General Report (p 245) and also in the commentary at the beginning of Volume XII entitled Languages Spoken -in Wales and Monmouthshire. The effect of the discrepancy was shown in Table I of Volume XII and in Table 90 of the Summary Tables where the figures given in the no statement column of previous census tables was further analysed to show the language spoken by the head of the household. Both the General Report (245-253) and Volume XII contain a comparison of the 1911 figures with those of previous censuses in Wales and with data obtained from Scotland and Ireland in 1911 about the extent to which the people of both countries were able to speak in their native tongues. A set of three tables in Volume XII gave for each administrative county, and urban and rural district (1) numbers of males and females aged three years and upward returned as speaking English only, Welsh only, both English and Welsh, and other languages; (2) the number of persons so returned in 1901 and 1911; and (3) the proportion of such persons to a thousand of the population aged three years and upwards returned in 1901 and 1911. Summaries of the first and third of these were given in tables Table 90 and Table 91 in the Summary Tables volume.


Commentary on the results obtained at the census of 1921 will be found on pages 183-189 of the General Report. The same information was sought on the schedules and, in general, the pattern of tabulation remained unchanged except that figures were given for civil parishes in County Part tables numbered 25 and 25A and in General Tables 54 to 56 inclusive; the latter showed comparative figures for 1911.


The Order in Council for the census of 1931 omitted any reference to those able to speak English only and, in consequence of this, the enquiry was restricted to the question whether the person enumerated was able to speak Welsh only or both English and Welsh. The omission was deliberate, the category English only having been included at previous censuses primarily with a view to making the questions exhaustive and obtaining some reply in the case of every individual. In 1931 the insertion of a dash in respect of children under three years of age and all other persons unable to speak Welsh was regarded as sufficient.

Commentary on the results of the enquiry will be found on pages 182-186 of the General Report as well as in each of the appropriate County Parts. Table 17 in the County Parts gave, by sex and seven age-groups, the total population and the number of persons able to speak Welsh only or both English and Welsh in the administrative counties, in each of the areas with a population exceeding 20,000 and in the combined areas making up the remainder of each county. Table 18 gave similar figures, without distinction of age, in respect of administrative counties, municipal boroughs, urban and rural districts and civil parishes. The age-group statistics were summarised for the whole of Wales and Monmouthshire in Table 39 of the General Tables, while Table 40 of the same volume gave for Wales and Monmouthshire as a whole the proportions per thousand of persons in grouped ages returned as able to speak Welsh only or both English and Welsh at the censuses of 1901, 1911, 1921 and 1931. Table 41 of the General Tables gave for each county, county borough and urban area with more than 50,000 population, the total population aged 3 years and over and the number of males and females in that age category able to speak Welsh only or both English and Welsh; Table 42 gave for the same areas the proportion per thousand population aged 3 years and over of persons returned as able to speak those languages at each census from 1901.

4.10.2 1951 - 61


The question asked in 1951 was in precisely the same form as was asked in 1931. For publication there was a reversion to the 1911 practice in that all tabulations and commentary were published in a single volume, Report on Welsh Speaking Population, instead of being spread between county reports. Early figures were however given, in Table XI.1 of the One per cent Sample Tables, and showed by county the numbers of persons aged 3 and over speaking speaking Welsh only or English and Welsh; and, for Wales (including Monmouthshire) as a whole, the distribution by age.

The final results showed a decline of 21 per cent since 1931 in the numbers of persons reported as speaking Welsh. Discussion of the reasons for the decline, how it is reflected in various age-groups and local area variations, is given in the commentary with text tables.

In the main tables of the report, Table 1 gives the distribution of persons speaking Welsh only or English and Welsh, for all local authority areas and civil parishes; Table 2 gives the age distribution for counties, county boroughs, urban areas with populations of 20,000 or more, and county remainders; Table 3 gives the percentage population at successive censuses but only for counties, county boroughs and urban areas with population of 50,000 or more; and finally, Table 4 which is for Wales (including Mon¿mouthshire) as a whole, shows the percentage in each age-group at successive censuses from 1901.


For 1961 there was again no change in the question and the results, with commentary, were published in the Report on Welsh Speaking Population .

Comparability with 1951

There was however a change in the checking procedure. As in previous censuses schedules printed in Welsh were provided for use in households where English was not understood or could not be read. In 1951, a rule had been introduced in the checking, the effect of which was to regard a person who claimed to speak Welsh only but who personally completed and signed a schedule in English, as able to speak both languages. No such rule applied in 1961 and to some extent, more particularly in areas where numbers of Welsh speaking persons are relatively small, this affects comparability between 1951 and 1961 and produces a fictitious rise in the incidence of Welsh speaking, but the effect of the change is not significant in the main areas of Welsh speaking.

The tabulations show a further decline of eight per cent since 1951 in the proportion speaking Welsh. For full details see the commentary and text tables. The main tables are comparable with those for 1951 with the addition, in Table 1 , of figures for wards in urban areas and, in Tables 1 and 2 , of figures for Cwmbran New Town.

The Welsh language question was not included in the 1966 Sample census.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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