The Welsh Language and the Workplace

Elisabeth Barakos

On 23 May 2016, Elisabeth Barakos (Lecturer, School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston) spoke on the topic of “Welsh language policy in the workplace” as part of the WISERD (Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods) event hosted in Bangor, Wales. This one-day conference brought together a range of scholars, policy makers and practitioners interested in the role and place of the Welsh language within diverse workplaces throughout Wales. Prof. John Edwards (St Francis Xavier University, Canada) acted as keynote speaker. He has published extensively on the relationship between language and identity, with issues of multiculturalism, multilingualism, ethnicity, and nationalism featuring prominently in his work.

Welsh language use in the sphere of work and the economy is gaining ever more importance with the aim to further normalise bilingualism and enhance the prestige and status of Welsh vis-à-vis English. The language is progressively marketed and valued as a material economic resource with instrumental value for commercial purposes and employment advantages. There has also been a clear movement towards pushing parts of the private sector, which has so far pursued a voluntary approach towards bilingualism, into the realm of legal obligation, as the new language law, the Welsh Language Measure, illustrates. In addition, the latest Welsh Government language strategy endeavours to represent “a clear strategy in relation to how benefit could be gained from the Welsh language as an economic asset” (Welsh Government 2012: 34). These new initiatives reflect the current ‘coercive’ and ‘economic’ turns in Welsh language policy from hitherto laissez-faire approaches in the private sector to greater standardisation, imposition and conformity.

Taking cognizance of these novel discursive turns, Elisabeth presented key findings from her PhD research into the needs and wants, choices, capacities and resources of companies to apply Welsh-English bilingual practices. Through questionnaire, interview and policy data, she combined a top-down and bottom-up approach by analysing a range of policy documents and by eliciting prevalent attitudes and reported practices among Welsh business representatives towards the role Welsh and bilingualism subsume, and in particular how the new language law, the Welsh Language Measure, is actually received at company level. The study adds to a growing body of literature about corporate bilingualism in Wales. While it offers much needed insights to scholars as well as political and corporate bodies keen on promoting and sustaining Welsh as a viable medium of professional communication, it also critically discusses the gap between business and government aspirations.

You can access the slides from all the conference presentations (including Elisabeth’s paper) from the WISERD website:

If you would like to know more about minority languages and the workplace, Elisabeth can be contacted on See also her Aston staff profile  for Elisabeth’s other research interests, talks and publications.