Plaid Cymru have called for an ‘overlying strategy’ to tackle the Welsh “digital language divide” after it emerged that the Labour Welsh Government has only spent £185,000 over the course of five years to develop Welsh medium digital technology.
Responding to a written question tabled by Sian Gwenllian AM, the minister for the Welsh language Eluned Morgan confirmed that the Welsh Government had spent only £185,000, through various grants awarded to the Language Technologies Unit at Bangor University, to invest and develop Welsh medium digital technology.
Sian Gwenllian AM and shadow cabinet spokesperson for the Welsh language said,
“The Language Technologies Unit at Bangor University do incredible work with the grants awarded to them. However, the work of developing speech to text technology through the medium of Welsh is still in very early stages.
The Labour Welsh Government have been handing out small grants here and there but there is a lack of any overlying strategy. A lack of strategic investment will mean that the Welsh language is at risk of being left behind in the digital era.
The Labour Welsh Government must demonstrate that they are a modern, national government by showing leadership and initiative and investing strategically in Welsh medium digital technology.
A Plaid Cymru government would double the budget on the Welsh language – including within the field of speech to text technology.”
Siân Gwenllian AM will chair a panel discussion hosted by Jill Evans MEP on European Languages in the Digital Age at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff on Monday.
Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, who published a report earlier this year, 'Language Equality in the Digital Age', noted that whilst so much of everyday activity now takes place online, a linguistic digital divide has emerged which means speakers of minority languages, including sign language, face significant challenges compared to users of larger languages.
Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans said,
"My report calls for much greater investment in research and development in language technology to help the creation of a truly multilingual online space.
“There is no company in Europe to compare with the likes of Google. We are fallng behind and not taking advantage of this opportunity.
“There are over eighty languages spoken in Europe. About forty million people speak languages other than the 24 official EU languages. However, online just a few languages dominate. The creative use of digital technologies can help us bridge that digital divide. This could lead to Siri speaking Welsh, for example.
“It also has importnt practical applications in the health service and provides real opportunities for private companies.
“In Wales, as in many countries, people have had to campaign for language equality, to be able to use their own language in every aspect of their lives.
"The technology already exists and there are some groundbreaking examples of what can be done in Wales. We now need the political will to achieve real change."