Language spoken in Wales and Monmouthshire

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Scope of the Inquiry. —This information was required by the provisions of the Census (Great Britain) Act, 1910, in addition to the particulars as to sex, age, condition as to marriage, occupation, birthplace, etc., which were required to be furnished with respect to every person in England and Wales. The question as to language spoken related specifically to persons who abode; on the night of the Census (2nd April, 1911) in Wales and Monmouthshire; it excluded, therefore, persons of Welsh nationality who were enumerated in England (exclusive of Monmouthshire), while it included persons who were not of Welsh nationality, but were enumerated within the specified area. No return was required with respect to children under three years of age.

Returns at previous Censuses. —Similar inquiries have been made at two previous Censuses. In the Census Act of 1900 the terms are identical with those in the Act of 1910, but in 1890, children under three years of age were not excluded from this provision of the Act, and no direct reference was made to persons speaking English only. The Census of 1891 being the first occasion on which the inquiry was made, some want of precision in the replies was perhaps inevitable, although the instruction printed on the schedule was apparently clear. In the column headed "Language spoken" the wording was "If only English, write English,'; if only Welsh, write .Welsh'; if English and Welsh, write ' Both.." In tabulating the replies, however, it was found that many persons who could speak both languages were returned as "Welsh," presumably on the ground that Welsh was the language habitually spoken, and that a similar statement Had often been made in the case of infants who were only a few months, or even only a few days old. The published results of the tabulation in 1891, however, exclude all children under two years of age, and the statements with reference to infants below that age do not therefore affect the figures. It is unfortunate that the limit of age then adopted did not coincide with that which ten years later was prescribed by the Census Act, because it prevents exact comparisons with later Censuses. Moreover, the area of tabulation in the 1891 Census Report was the Registration District and County, and no detail as to age in combination with the language spoken was given in the table, while the results of both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses are shown by age-periods and for Administrative Areas, that is Administrative Counties, County Boroughs, Urban Districts, and Rural Districts.

Standard of proficiency in English or Welsh. —No definite rules, for the guidance either of the persons who have had to make returns of the language spoken by the members of their families or of the local officers whose duty it was to collect and to revise the returns, have been laid down as regards the degree of acquaintance with either language which would enable a person to claim, or to disclaim, ability to speak it. It may have been held by some that the habitual use of one or both of the languages was the subject of the inquiry; while others may have regarded the question from the literary or educational standpoint, and the replies, quite accurate according to the point of view, might mean entirely different things in the two cases. In. fact it has to be determined whether the replies generally indicate only the language which is the mother tongue or is acquired naturally by intercourse with neighbours; or whether they represent, in addition, a linguistic proficiency attained by study, either during the ordinary term of school-life or subsequently. The evidence of the tabulated results appears to favour the view that scholastic instruction in one or other language has as a rule been taken into account in the Census schedules, for the proportion of bilinguals in the population increases very rapidly in the age-period, 5-15, and then more slowly up to a maximum at 45-65 years of age; more than forty thousand children, however, between the ages of 5 and 15, are returned as able to speak "Welsh only." It is at least probable that some ability to speak both languages is in many cases not acknowledged in the Census return when only one language is in common use, but it is not obvious from the figures whether the consequent exaggeration of the monoglot population is greater among persons returned as able to speak "English only," or among those returned as able to speak "Welsh only."

Method of Tabulation. —At the two previous Censuses the tabulation has not been performed as on the present occasion directly from the entries made on the schedules, but from copies of these returns made by the local enumerators. At all three Censuses it has been the duty of the enumerators, when collecting the schedules, to examine them and to make any necessary corrections and additions. The results show, however, that particulars as to the language spoken nave been omitted more frequently at the present Census than would appear to have been the case either in 1891 or in 1901. A very large number of the schedules contained the required information only as regards the head of the family, and the total population for whom no statement was made amounted to no less than 58,517 in 1911, while in 1901 the number for whom no particulars were entered in the enumerators' returns was only 2,757. It may be inferred, therefore, either that- the schedules in 1911 were returned in a more defective condition than at the earlier Census, or that many of the defects in the 1901 schedules were concealed in the process of copying, the assumption probably being made by the enumerator that all persons entered on the schedule would have the same linguistic status as the head of the family. This assumption appears from reference to the returns to be generally, but not universally, true; and therefore children for whom no statement as to language spoken has been made but who were enumerated on schedules in which the head of the family was returned as speaking English only, Welsh only, or both English and Welsh, have been distinguished in the Tables. The first group (head of family speaking English only) amounted to 19,647, the second to 2,803 and the third to 11,798.

General results compared with previous Censuses. —The proportions per 1,000 of the population tabulated under the several headings at the three Censuses are shown in the following table.


In comparing 1901 with 1891 the most noticeable feature is the large increase in the proportion of bilinguals and the large decrease of the monoglot Welsh population. It may be assumed, however that this remarkable change in the proportions resulted not so much from the diffusion of a knowledge of English among those who had formerly been ignorant of that language, as from the tendency, already mentioned, to an overstatement of the number of monoglot Welsh in 1891. This assumption appears to be confirmed by the relative stability of the proportion of the bilinguals in 1901 and 1911. The large increase at the latter date in the proportion of cases in which no statement was made as to the language spoken has been explained in a preceding paragraph as being due principally to the adoption of a different method of dealing with the returns, but after making all possible allowance for the disturbance thus caused in the proportions for each of the denned classes there appears to have been a very considerable diminution of the monoglot Welsh.

The total number of English-speaking persons (over 3 years of age) increased from 846 per 1,000 in 1901 to 887 per 1,000 in 1911, while the total Welsh-speaking decreased from 499 per 1,000 to 435 per 1,000; or comparing actual numbers instead of proportions there were 1,577,141 English-speaking persons at the former Census against 1,995,356 at the latter, while the numbers of Welsh-speaking were 929,824 and 977,366 respectively. Thus the ratio of English-speakers to Welsh-speakers which had been 170 to 100 in 1901, rose in 1911 to 204 to 100. Persons returned as speaking English only comprised 59 per cent, of the English-speaking in 1901, and 61 per cent, in 1911; while those returned as speaking Welsh only were 30 per cent, of the total Welsh-speaking in 1901, against only 19 per cent, in 1911.

Age-distribution of the several classes of the population. —The returns, which have been tabulated in seven groups of ages, show that in proportion to the total number living in any of the specified age-groups, English-speaking persons are most numerous at ages 15-25, bilinguals at 45-65, and Welsh-speaking persons at 65 and upwards. The proportion of monoglot English is highest in childhood, and diminishes steadily at each succeeding age-period; while the proportion of monoglot Welsh is high in infancy (3-5 years) and diminishes rapidly to a minimum at age 15-25, afterwards rising with advancing age until at 65 and upwards it is far higher than at any other period of life. These features are observable also in the returns of the 1901 Census as far as they are comparable with those of 1911, but at the earlier Census the numbers under 15 years were tabulated in one group only as against three on the present occasion ; and it will be seen that the numbers of defective returns at the latter date have affected the comparisons most seriously at the earliest ages.


The proportions of monoglots in the total English-speaking population at the several groups of ages showed but little variation at the two Censuses; there was a slight increase at the ages between 15 and 65 years, but in childhood and old age the percentage remained constant. The proportion of monoglots in the total Welsh-speaking population declined at each age-group, the decrease per cent, being greatest in childhood and least in old age.

Sex comparisons. —In proportion to the total numbers of the respective sexes, more females than males are returned as able to speak both English and Welsh; in the monoglot population there are more males in the English-speaking section, and more females in the Welsh-speaking section. The slight proportional excess of females in the bilingual population is not sufficient to counterbalance their deficiency among the monoglot English, and they are therefore proportionally less numerous than males in the total English-speaking population. The remainder of the population not classified by language spoken is divided evenly between the sexes, so that the above comparisons are probably not invalidated by the defective returns. Moreover if the assumption is made that the statement as to language spoken by the head of the family may be accepted as applying also to the sons and daughters for whom no statement was made the additions to the population speaking English only, Welsh only, and both English and Welsh are in equal proportions the two sexes. Of the small number returned as speaking "Other Languages" (3,762 persons in all), about two-thirds were males between 15 and 45 years of age, many of them being foreign seamen, and less than one-fifth (666) were females.


These figures show that while the proportion of males is higher than that of females among the monoglot English at all age-groups, and increases generally with advancing age, the sex-proportions among the monoglot Welsh vary very considerably at different periods of life. At each of the first four age-groups the males speaking Welsh only are proportionally more numerous than the females, but from 25 years upwards the latter become increasingly in excess. The proportion of bilinguals in 1,000 of each sex is greater for females than for males at each age-group except the last. The ratio of females to males in the whole population, however, differs very much at the age-group 65 and upwards from those at all the preceding age-groups; at the first three age-groups the numbers of each sex are approximately equal, but at the next three, males are largely in excess, there being respectively 937, 924, and 946 females to 1,000 males; at 65 and upwards, however, the ratio is 1,219 females to 1,000 males; and it may be noted that the proportional deficiency of females of advanced age among the bilingual and the monoglot English populations is compatible with a numerical excess, amounting in both cases to between two and three thousand while the proportional excess of bilingual females at ages 15-65 represents a numerical deficiency amounting to upwards of ten thousand. The general excess of males in the whole of the. registration division of Wales and Monmouthshire is due to the large net gain by excess of immigration over emigration; this has occurred entirely in Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Carmarthenshire, and, to a very slight extent, in Flintshire, and resulted during the last intercensal period, in a net addition of 137.847 persons to the population of these four counties. In the other nine counties there was a net loss of population amounting to 42,532 persons, so that on the whole there was net gain to the population of Wales and Monmouthshire of 95,315 persons, the majority of whom were males. The birthplace returns show that of the 1,231,739 males enumerated in Wales and Monmouthshire, 261,803 were born elsewhere, while of the 1,189,182 females, only 208,804 were born elsewhere. These figures may help to explain why in the monoglot English population males are more numerous than females, while the reverse is the case in the monoglot Welsh population.

Local distribution of the several classes of the population. —We have so far referred to the population of Wales and Monmouthshire as a whole, but it is evident that the distribution of the several classes of the population, in its linguistic aspect, will show considerable variations according to the circumstances of the different parts of the country, and we shall therefore now proceed to compare the statistics of the various local divisions.

Persons speaking English only. —This section of the population is, as has already been shown, more numerous than any other, comprising 53.7 per cent, of the whole. Among the several counties, however, the proportions show some very wide variations, being as low as 7.7 per cent, in Merionethshire, 8.5 per cent, in Anglesey, and 8.7 per cent, in Cardiganshire, and as high as 65.3 per cent, in Pembrokeshire, 86.3 per cent, in Monmouthshire, and 93.4 per cent, in Radnorshire.


With the three exceptions of Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire, and Radnorshire, all counties show an increase since 1901 in the proportions of monoglot English, and in the three exceptions the decreases are insignificant and may be due entirely to the increased numbers "not stated," As regards the age-distribution, it may be observed that those counties with high proportions follow the general rule for the whole of Wales, namely, highest proportions in childhood (up to 15 years) and decreasing proportions at subsequent successive age-groups ; Pembrokeshire, in which the maximum proportion is readied at age 15-25, is the only real exception. On the other hand, in counties with low proportions speaking English only the maxima occur generally at ages 15-45. The case of Anglesey appears somewhat anomalous, but examination of the returns shows that the peculiar rise in the proportion at age 10-15 is due to the inclusion in the county figures of a large number of English boys who were on board a training ship.

The above table shows that the counties fall into two well-defined groups, (1) Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshire, Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire, in which the persons Speaking English only form but a small minority; and (2) Flintshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Brecknockshire, Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, and Pembrokeshire, in Which the person speaking English only outnumber all the other classes of the population. Denbighshire occupies a position between the two groups, the monoglot English being Only 41.7 per cent. Of the total population. It will be seen that the predominantly Welsh-Speaking counties comprise a continuous area extending along the whole of the western Half of the Principality—Pembrokeshire being a detached member of the group of Predominantly English-speaking counties.

The administrative counties are convenient units for comparison, but Table3, in Volume XII., which shows the proportions at the Censuses of 1901 and 1911 of the various Classes of population (without distinction of sex or age) in the several urban and rural Llanrwst Rural Districts on the western side of Denbighshire had only 55 monoglot English Per 1,000, while Chirk Rural District, on the opposite side of the county, had 533; Machynlleth Rural Districts on the western side of Montgomeryshire, had only 28 monoglot English per 1,000, while Forden Rural District, on the eastern side, had 895 per 1,000. There Is on the whole, a distinct tendency to greater frequency of monoglot English in urban Than in rural districts, but there are many exceptions to the rule; geographical position And other conditions appear to be more important factors than more aggregation in urban Communities. In Monmouthshire, for example, Rhymney Urban District had only 387 Per 1,000 monoglot English; and a lower figure than that recorded for any rural district In the county (viz., 831 per 1,000 in St. Mellons Rural District) was shown by four other urban districts. In some cases, as in Aberystwyth, Barmouth, Colwyn Bay, and Llandudno the fact of their being holiday resorts accounts for an excess of monoglot English compared with that in the districts surrounding them; while in Pembrokeshire the two rural districts of Llanfyrnach and St. Dogmells are overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking in contrast to the rest of the county, and these two districts are more closely connected geographically with the Welsh-speaking county of Cardiganshire, in which, indeed, they are included for poor law purposes. The small county of Radnor is the only one in which the several districts do not show diversity, and in this case they are uniformly English-speaking.

Persons speaking Welsh only. —In this section of the population were included 92,737 males and 97,555 females in 1911, against 137,333 males and 143,572 females in 1901. Thus in the ten years there has been a decline amounting to 90,613 in the number of persons who have been returned as speaking Welsh only, and the proportion to the total population has fallen from 151 to 85 per 1,000. This decline has been shared, though very unequally, by all the thirteen counties, those in which the proportions of monoglot Welsh at both. Censuses were lowest having on the whole shown the greatest relative decrease.


As regards the distribution at the several age-groups, the consistent diminution from the first period (3-5 years) to the fourth (15-25 years), and the subsequent increase at each successive period observed for Wales and Monmouthshire as a whole, is found, practically without exception, in each county. In four of the counties over one-third of the population above 3 years of age is returned as speaking Welsh only, and in each of these cases the maximum proportion is at the youngest age-group; in all the remaining counties, except Montgomeryshire, the maximum proportions are at the other extreme of life.

In view of the large decrease in the proportion of monoglot Welsh at all ages, it is interesting to note to what extent the populations at the several ages have contributed to the decline. The ratio per cent, of the proportions in 1911 to those in 1901 are shown in the following statement for the whole area, and for the four most predominantly Welsh-speaking counties:—

3 years and
3—15. 15—25. 25—45. 45—65. 65
Wales and Monmouthshire 56 56 44 49 63 76
Anglesey 75 76 63 74 80 86
Cardiganshire 68 70 52 57 74 83
Carnarvonshire 75 77 60 70 79 84
Merionethshire 73 79 58 60 78 85

The greatest proportional decrease, therefore, occurred in the age-group 15-26, and a rather smaller decrease in the group 25-45; no separate comparisons can be made for the children between 3 and 5 years, 5 to 10, or 10 to 15, but the whole group from 3 to 15 stowed less decrease than either of the two young adult groups in spite of the general instruction in the English language in the schools; among persons over 65 the decrease Is, as might be expected, considerably less than at any of the younger ages.

Persons speaking both English and Welsh. —No general increase such as is shown by the monoglot English, and no general decrease, as in the case of the monoglot Welsh, is observable among the bilingual section of the population. The proportions were almost identical at the two Censuses over the whole of Wales and Monmouthshire; hut eight counties, including those with the highest proportions in 1901, showed increases, while five—Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Brecknockshire, Flintshire and Radnorshire— showed decreases. The largest relative increases in the bilingual populations of the several counties occurred in Anglesey, Cardiganshire, Carnarvonshire and Merionethshire —the four counties referred to above as containing the highest proportions of monoglot Welsh ; and the largest relative decreases in the two counties, Monmouthshire and Radnorshire, containing the highest proportions of monoglot English,


As regards the age-distribution of persons speaking both English and Welsh, the Maximum proportions are found at age 15-25 in those counties with high proportions at All ages—Anglesey, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Carnarvonshire and Merionethshire; But in those counties with low proportions at all ages, the maximum is found either at 45-65 or at 65 and upwards. In the former group the proportions at age 10-15 also are higher than at the ages above 45, and this fact may be taken to indicate that the comparatively high proportion of bilinguals in these counties is to some extent due to the teaching in the schools. Taking the four counties which showed the greatest relative increases during the last intercensal period in the proportion of bilinguals, it will be found that among the several age-groups the maximum increase has occurred at age 65 and upwards; while in Monmouthshire, which showed the greatest decline, the numbers in this age-group decreased relatively less than in any other. The ratios per cent, of the proportions in 19.11 to those in 1901 are shown in the following statement:—

3 years and
3—15. 15—25. 25—45. 45—65. 65
Wales and Monmouthshire 101 101 96 99 104 109
Anglesey 120 120 123 120 118 123
Cardiganshire 130 135 122 130 133 139
Carnarvonshire 119 118 121 121 120 126
Merionethshire 124 122 120 130 127 132
75 74 66 73 79 90

The exceptionally low ratio at 15-25 in Monmouthshire is apparently, due to immigration—most active at these ages—of persons speaking English only; the next age-group (25-45) is probably affected also though to a smaller extent by the same cause; and the absence of such migration at ages over 65 would leave the ratio at that age-period comparatively high. It is possible that a converse process, namely, emigration of bilinguals from the other four counties (all of which suffered loss by migration) may have contributed to the high ratios at 65 and upwards in those counties.

Total English-speaking and total Welsh-speaking. —In order to compare the prevalence of English or Welsh in the several parts of the country, it is necessary to take into account the varying proportions speaking both languages. For example, the monoglot English in Brecknockshire amount to only 570 per 1,000, while in Pembrokeshire they are 653 per 1,000; but the total proportion speaking English in the former county is 929 per 1,000 against 900 per 1,000 in the latter. The following table shows the proportions of all English and of all Welsh speakers in 1901 and 1911, and the percentage ratio of increase or decrease; the proportions of bilinguals are also shown separately in order to complete the comparison.


The counties of Monmouthshire and Radnorshire, which are both almost entirely English speaking, are the only ones in which the total proportion of English speakers has declined. Other counties having 90 per cent, or more, English speakers in their populations are Flintshire (94.2), Glamorganshire (93.9), Brecknockshire (92.9), and Pembrokeshire (90.0); none of these counties shows more than 3 per cent, increase in the proportions of their total English-speaking populations. The counties which have shown the greatest increases, ranging from 18 to 30 per cent., in their total English speakers are the five-Anglesey, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Carnarvonshire and Merionethshire—in which "Welsh is the predominant language, and in which that language has shown but little decline during the intercensal period.

Language spoken in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. —We have shown that in the whole of Wales and Monmouthshire the proportion of the population over 3 years of age returned as speaking Welsh was 43.5 per cent., 35.0 per cent, speaking that language in addition to English, and 8.5 per cent, being returned as speaking Welsh only. From the Census returns for Scotland and Ireland, collected and tabulated by the Registrars-General for those parts of the United Kingdom, it appears that in Scotland, Gaelic is spoken by only 4.6 per cent, of the population over 3 years of age, and in Ireland, Irish by only 14.0 per cent., the proportions speaking the ancient language alone being as low as 0.4 per cent, in each case. Persons speaking Gaelic only are found almost exclusively in the counties of Argyll, Inverness, Boss and Cromarty, and Sutherland; and those speaking Irish only in the counties of Donegal, Clare, Cork, Gal way, Kerry, Mayo, and Waterford. The figures for the counties in which the greatest prevalence of the ancient language is recorded are as follows:—

Proportion per 1,000 of the
population over 3 years of age
speaking Welsh.
Proportion per 1,000 of the
population over 3 years of age
speaking Gaelic.
Proportion per 1,000 of the
population over 3 years of age
speaking Irish.
Merionethshire 903 Ross and Cromarty 677 Galway 570
Cardiganshire 896 Sutherland 618 Mayo 489
Anglesey 887 Inverness 591 Kerry 404
Carnarvonshire 856 Argyll 484 Clare 371
Carmarthenshire 849     Donegal 370

It appears, therefore, that not only is the Welsh language more generally used in Wales, as a whole, than is the Irish language in Ireland or the Gaelic in Scotland, but that in. no part of the latter countries does the ancient language prevail to so great an extent as in the Welsh counties named above.

Conclusion. —The principal facts indicated by the returns appear to be:—

  1. A general increase since 1901 in the proportion of monoglot English, a corresponding decrease of monoglot Welsh, and a practically unchanged proportion of persons speaking both languages.
  2. A comparative excess of English-speaking persons at the young adult ages, and of Welsh-speaking persons at advanced ages; of monoglot Welsh both in infancy and in old age ; and of bilinguals at ages 45-65.
  3. That comparing the two sexes, there is:—
    1. A greater proportion of the male population speaking English only.
    2. A greater proportion of the female population speaking Welsh only.
    3. A greater proportion of the female population speaking both languages.
  4. A proportional diminution of monoglot Welsh greater among persons aged 15-25 and less among those aged 65 and upwards than at any other aged periods.
  5. An increase in the proportion of bilinguals in the predominantly Welsh-speaking counties and a decrease in the predominantly English-speaking counties.
  6. A well-marked geographical distribution of the Welsh-speaking population.

In conclusion, we would again refer briefly to the difficulty of defining the terms of the question as to the language spoken, and would express the hope that, if it is found desirable to continue this subject of inquiry, the returns may be made with fewer omissions than on the present occasion.

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