A less bilingual Welsh Assembly

I see from a story on the BBC that English language speeches in the Welsh Assembly will no longer be translated into Welsh in the official record of proceedings. While this has raised eyebrows/objections/hackles in various quarters for a variety of different reasons, it is interesting that part of the argument in favour of this refers to “…proposals to make the records of our debates and proceedings more user-friendly by imaginative use of modern technology.” Given the importance of parallel bilingual texts for technology such as Google Translate, I can’t help wondering whether this will in fact inhibit the use (imaginative or otherwise) of Welsh in future modern technology and whether the strategic goal to “increase participation in the democratic process here in Wales”, will ultimately result in cementing English as the language of Welsh politics.

While this may be an easy way to save £250,000 in austere times, we should perhaps be mindful of unintended consequences, both directly for the language and indirectly in terms of the erosion of the Assembly’s claim to be “an exemplar organisation in its delivery of bilingual services.” Exemplar organisations are needed to develop and demonstrate innovative, effective, affordable, responsive bilingual organisational practices – if the Welsh Assembly can’t fulfil this role, who else will?

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5 Responses to A less bilingual Welsh Assembly

  1. Paul says:

    I think that the saving of £250,000 is probably a good thing , though I can understand your dismay.
    I don’t think that this policy change will damage the Welsh language in the slightest as it’s survived several occupations etc…
    I notice in the article that ‘Another recommendation (of the board) is that all members of staff at the assembly should have or acquire some skills in the Welsh language.’
    I think Welsh will be around for a little while yet, and that’s a good thing.

  2. Carl Morris says:

    I’m against the recommendation of the report too.

    I wrote a response here, focusing on the technological context.

  3. Carl Morris says:

    original English report

    adroddiad Cymraeg gwreiddiol

    Daniel, you’re right to mention the text corpus which is used by Google Translate.

    In general it’s an online principle that possible future re-uses of your data sources (text or other content) can take on a value much greater than your original intent.

    This is especially true in aggregate or when combined with other sources.

    So, the most “imaginative use of modern technology” could be to allow journalists, researchers, citizens and companies to re-use your data in ways that they find useful or interesting. Put it online and see what happens.

    By that principle I’d much prefer to see the full data in open, documented formats to allow citizens and journalists to build their own tools (a la mySociety).

    Third parties can do the “imaginative” stuff, as the USA and UK governments have shown with the release of public data collections (with data.gov and data.gov.uk).

    Technologically, we’re leaving significant potential value behind if we don’t maintain the Welsh translation. It’s impossible to audit the technological value of having both data sets (English and Welsh) into the future – but it is there.

    So I am very concerned that this report places too much emphasis on spending this budget on vaguely-defined “imaginative” technologies at the expense of provision for Cymraeg which is supposedly one of the main languages of Wales.

    Let’s not forget: language itself is a technology.

  4. Mark Turner says:

    I’m afraid it’s a matter of priority. The Welsh budget is being cut by £187 million, so cuts have to be made everywhere. All cuts are undesirable, but unfortunately necessary. If you were to keep funding the Welsh language to the same level, you’d have to justify prioritising it higher than education, health, etc (by all means give it a go, I’d be interested to see what you think).

  5. Rhodri ap Dyfrig says:


    Any chance of cutting funding for the English translation of Welsh contributions in the chamber then? No? I thought not.

    The Welsh Language Act 1993 “obliges all organisations in the public sector providing services to the public in Wales to treat Welsh and English on an equal basis.”


    The record of proceedings is the arguably the most important text in a democracy. If Welsh is to be treated on the basis of equality then this above all should be the text that we provide translation for. It should be the beacon example of this line in the law.

    And as noted above, the value of the text goes beyond its purely informative use. Hansard can be used for all manner of ways for improving the democratic process. The format of the previous record of proceedings in the Assembly has been a barrier to this, although good enough to be used by Google.

    Having a record which has an imbalance of English material over Welsh will also make a joke of any search function. Search will end up taking place in English only.

    I expect that legal proceedings will take place soon to challenge the decision, which seems to go against the Welsh Language Act 1993. I hope the challenge is successful.

    It is not ‘a matter of priority’, it is a matter of UK law and fundamental equality.

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