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My family claim to only speak English?

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Tawny Report 14 Jan 2022 15:20

On the 1921 census my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth is a widow living in the valleys of south Wales with one of her brothers and all of her children. The family claim they can only speak English however my great grandmother Olive was fluent in Welsh as well as English. Olive spent very little of her adult life in Wales so I suspect she must have learned it in childhood.

Can anyone think of a reason the family would deny speaking Welsh?


ArgyllGran Report 14 Jan 2022 16:24

Historically, speaking Welsh was considered an inferior thing to do, and also not permissible in official circumstances, until people were given the right to speak Welsh in the 1960s, so many wouldn't admit it.

"In the 1960s a tide of legal cases, protests and civil disobedience brought pressure on the British Government to introduce an act giving greater language rights to Welsh speakers including protests by Cymdeithas yr Iath Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) demanding the use of Welsh in post office services, local court hearings and local Government business. Welsh speakers were issued with fines for completing legal forms in Welsh and for refusing to communicate with British Government officials in English. Many of the protesters refused to pay the fines and were imprisoned."

Re 1921 census returns:

"As was the case in 1911, no definite rules for the guidance—either of the persons responsible for making the returns or of the local officers whose duty it was to collect and revise the schedules— were laid down as regards the degree of acquaintance with either language which would justify a person to claim or disclaim ability to speak it. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to define within the limits of a question on the census schedule; a standard of proficiency capable of definite and general interpretation, and there will no doubt have been some lack of uniformity in this respect in the returns of different individuals. The replies may have varied, for example, according to the attitude taken with regard to the object of the enquiry, e.g., as to whether it was intended to elucidate the extent of the habitual use of either or both languages, or whether it was designed from a literary or an educational standpoint."


Tawny Report 14 Jan 2022 16:41

Thank you for finding and explaining it. Olive went into service cleaning houses in England and by age 20 she had met and married an English man and was expecting her first child. Sadly her family almost entirely disowned her for that.

Gwyn in Kent

Gwyn in Kent Report 16 Jan 2022 16:34

That's interesting ArgyllGran regarding the 1911 census.
I've often wondered about one couple on my tree, where the wife claims to be Welsh speaking, whereas her husband only speaks English.