Enregistering Welshes
: Urban styles and ideologies of a minority language

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Like many minoritised languages that have experienced revitalisation, Welsh in Wales is a site for discursive tensions and conflicting ideologies. Constructed in the context of marginalisation, the value of the language was historically founded on solidarity and authenticity, both of which are still relevant today. But rapid changes in legal standing and rights, in public perceptions, and in demographics mean that Welsh now has economic value and is fostering new associations such as cosmopolitanism. These new values can conflict with traditional values.

These changes to the situation of the language and the ideologies around it are felt particularly in Cardiff and its surroundings, where numbers of speakers and contexts for speaking Welsh have expanded. These developments are most often monitored using quantitative methods, but there is an important space for examining the lived experiences of speakers (and non-speakers)
with qualitative methods.

This project is an ethnographic study of Welsh in Cardiff and it analyses interactional and interview data through the lenses of enregisterment and linguistic ethnography (Agha 2007; Rampton 2017). It views ‘doing Welsh’ as sets of practices with degrees of stability and order that can be grouped into ‘registers’, and it analyses these in situated interactions. The practices that constitute registers index certain traits, ideologies, imaginaries, and figures, as well as stances and positionalities. Some practices are deemed ‘appropriate’ for certain settings, genres, and activities, and speakers differ in the legitimacy of their claims to perform a register. In this way, participants continuously engage in normative and evaluative activities both in making sense of Welsh and in
their own talk and performances.

The analysis covers four loosely defined registers and the interrelationships between them, as well as their relationships with English. These are discussed using the shorthands ‘Traditional Welsh’, ‘State Welsh’, ‘Urban Youth Welsh’, and ‘Dysgwr Welsh’ (‘Learner Welsh’). They are identified through explicit commentaries and interactional data, and the analysis examines their contingencies in situated interactions, regarding these as part of ongoing enregisterment processes. They are considered in relation to each other, and also in relation to non-Welsh speakers and to those who lost or stopped using their Welsh after attending Welsh-medium education (a significant
group of people).

The data were generated in and around Cardiff, which is an urban, multilingual and multicultural location that has historically been heavily Anglicised. Because of this, it is a good site for flexing theories of enregisterment and linguistic ethnography. Some of the families and groups participating in the research use a mix of different Welshes and some are made up of a mix of Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers, as well as ‘once-spoke-Welshers’. The analysis investigates how they navigate this complexity and shift between stances, ratifying or undermining one another’s performances, marking or stylising their utterances. Through examining these practices, the study has found that some participants are excluded from the advantages that Welsh brings to others, and that ideologies, as they occur in everyday talk, have important implications for lived experience.

The project seeks to make a contribution to knowledge by taking an inclusive approach to people in and around Cardiff who experience Welsh. It considers non-Welsh speakers and rejectors of Welsh alongside different kinds of Welsh speaker (rather than only focusing on school pupils, ‘new speakers’, or ‘traditional’ speakers). Examining a minoritised language using enregisterment sheds new light on everyday lived experiences following revitalisation showing the complexity of language ideologies and potentials for exclusion. It also illuminates the vitality of Welsh in and around Cardiff today by demonstrating a variety of ways of ‘doing’ Welsh.
Date of Award1 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBen Rampton (Supervisor) & Eva Ogiermann (Supervisor)

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