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Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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5.1.4 The ‘Taffia’

The idea of English domination tends to be stressed by people of a nationalist persuasion. Those who are opposed to nationalism and devolution in Wales often think that the country is run by a tiny group of Welsh speakers, sometimes known as the Taffia: a loaded term suggesting there are Godfathers everywhere. Again there is little actual evidence of this, though there are frequent assertions:

The Welsh-language scene itself at that time [in the early 1990s] was a tightknit community with everyone knowing everyone else. If you went regularly to gigs at Cardiff’s Welsh club, Clwb Ifor Bach, then you would inevitably see the same faces, and it didn’t take long to get to know them.

... many ... were artists or ... worked in the arts or ... were employed at S4C or ... were involved at the local media. HTV and the BBC in Wales are notoriously populated by the Taffia – an exclusive clique of Welsh speakers whose backgrounds in Welsh-speaking schools and Welsh universities, coupled with their ability to speak the language, has led to the sort of nepotism notorious amongst Oxford and Cambridge graduates in London media circles.

(Owens, 2000, pp. 33–4)

More considered analysis finds some basis for this argument. Cardiff has developed a Welsh-speaking community since the Second World War, prompted by the growth of national institutions which are located in the city. The Welsh Office was created in 1964, there are other institutions like the National Museum of Wales and the former Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans (now the National History Museum), and media production is concentrated in the city, with the BBC, ITV and S4C all having facilities there. One study has found evidence of a renewal of the Welsh-speaking middle class of teachers, preachers and writers through broadcasting and argues that a tightly knit group has used language issues as an avenue of social advancement (Bevan, 1984). Meanwhile, devolution has meant that civil service jobs which were once in London have been moved to Cardiff, so Welsh people may need only to move within Wales and not out of Wales to advance themselves. The London Welsh community has suffered considerable decline because of devolved government. And many of these positions require a fluency in the Welsh language, which gives Welsh speakers certain advantages in some areas.

The Welsh-speaking population of Cardiff tends to cluster in particular areas:

the majority of Welsh speakers have settled either in the traditional middle to high status residential districts of the city (e.g., Llandaff) or in select suburban and rural fringe areas (e.g., St Fagans, Radyr). ... the Welsh-speaking population of the city is largely composed of young to early middle-aged families. Not surprisingly, having established themselves in Cardiff, such families have sought to ensure that ample facilities would be available for children to pursue their education through the medium of Welsh ... [there has been] ... a highly significant growth in the number of bilingual schools in the region.

(Aitchison and Carter, 1987, p. 490)

You have seen already that Welsh speakers are well represented in the upper reaches of Welsh society, though not at the very top level. Welsh speakers and the non-Welsh are both over-represented in the better-off groups; non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people have the least effective social and cultural capital. There are some interesting variations in this, according to region. In the areas which were once seen as the heartland of the Welsh language, Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, the non-Welsh are over-represented at the top. In the more economically dynamic areas of south-east Wales, Welsh speakers are over-represented in elite positions compared with the non-Welsh.

This shows the effectiveness of the formation of a Welsh-speaking middle class in urban south Wales and reveals something about the patterns of migration within Wales. This is linked to the quality of education in Welsh-medium schools, which have been a clear success story in post-war Wales. The commitment of parents, pupils and teachers to the cause of language renewal has ensured that they produce well-qualified pupils. The children benefit from effectively having two first languages and from a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Better cultural capital is especially important when, in general, schools in Wales have not performed particularly well; whether there are benefits from the social capital of the networks of the Taffia is less clear (Reynolds and Bellin, 1996).

Welsh-medium schools are open to the children of non-Welsh speakers and now educate some 20 per cent of children. This does not make them especially exclusive.