Do they speak Welsh in Patagonia?
One of the most interesting linguistic topics for language enthusiasts, storytellers and artists is how the Welsh emigrated over to Argentina, eventually settling in Patagonia.
It is an inspiring story of hope, loss and culture, and one that the Welsh love to hear and will tell for generations to come.
But this isn’t an old wives tale or a lost part of Welsh culture, it’s very real and they are still there and speaking Welsh to this day.
Which is why we here at Global Language Services wanted to know “Do they still speak Welsh in Patagonia?” and if so, how many people do?
Why are there people who speak Welsh in Patagonia?
First of all, we wanted to dig into a little bit of history and uncover why there are Welsh natives/descendants in Patagonia in the first place.
Nearly 160 years ago in 1865, 150 Welsh natives paid £12 each to set sail on an 8,000 mile voyage to South America. This was off the back of recent parliamentary decisions being made that began to dilute the Welsh language.
Under King Henry VIII’s rule, it was decided that only English would be spoken within parliamentary settings, something which began to bleed out into places of worship, work and education.
So in a bid to avoid the dilution of their beloved Welsh language and its culture, a handful of Welsh citizens left for a better life in Argentina where they were promised “a little Wales beyond Wales”.
Did the Welsh get what they were promised?
Setting sail in the hope of a rich, Welsh future, and a fresh start free from the reign of the British empire, 150 Welsh adults and children headed off on an 8 week voyage.
Of course back in the late 19th century travel was not what it is now. The voyage took 8 weeks by boat, with lives sadly being lost due to poor conditions.
Unfortunately, upon their arrival all was not as it seemed either. What was promised to be an opportunity for “tilling the soil and improving industries” was dry, barren and in the middle of winter. Perhaps coming close to the opposite of Wales, a land rich with farming opportunities.
The harsh, humid conditions of the South American environment was polar opposite to what the settlers were accustomed to in Wales, particularly during the winter months. The land was experiencing a drought post-summer, with flash flooding immediately following.
However, the Welsh settlers persevered through these hardships, eventually settling in a region in Patagonia, Argentina called “Y Wladfa”.
As the years went by, multiple towns had been established and were full of Welsh speaking locals; something which was once a legal challenge back in their home country.
A community rich in Welsh and Spanish culture began to grow and flourish with schools, businesses and social enterprises opening.
Do they speak Welsh in Patagonia?
Now that we’ve established how Welsh came to be spoken down in Patagonia, Argentina, we can ask ourselves “Do they still speak Welsh in Patagonia?”
Well much like Welsh in Wales, Welsh in Patagonia became a threatened language. Spanish natives from Argentina and Chile began to broaden their horizons in the early 1900’s, and as a result the Welsh language began to be diluted by Spanish speakers
Plus with the first World War, immigration came to a stop and fewer Welsh natives left for a “better life” in Patagonia.
However, in the modern day there is said to be roughly 50,000 people with a heritage relating to Welsh Patagonia, of which 5,000 are still fluent speakers.
In addition to this, in 1997 the Welsh Language Project was launched in a bid to revive the language, with Patagonian locals learning the language in schools. This project encouraged a surge in Welsh language enthusiasts, with many Youth groups and undergraduates travelling from Wales to Patagonia to learn both languages.
Interested in language revival? Read about How Manx Returned from the Dead, How Latin died or The Difference Between a Dead and an Extinct Language.
Contact us at Global Language Services to discover our interpretation and translation services.