Member of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family, spoken chiefly in the rural north and west of Wales. Spoken by 18.7% of the Welsh population, it is the strongest of the surviving Celtic languages.
Welsh has been in decline in the face of English expansion since the accession of the Welsh Henry Tudor (as Henry VII) to the throne of England in 1485. Modern Welsh, like English, is not a highly inflected language, but British, the Celtic ancestor of Welsh, was, like Latin and Anglo-Saxon, highly inflected. The continuous literature of the Welsh, from the 6th century onwards, contains the whole range of change from British to present-day Welsh. Nowadays, few Welsh people speak only Welsh; they are either bilingual or speak only English.
During the 20th century the decline of Welsh has been slowed: from about 900,000 speakers at the turn of the century, the number had shrunk to half a million in 1995. However, due to vigorous campaigning and efforts to promote the language, made by the S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru) television network, and the Welsh Language Society, and to some extent elsewhere in literature and the media, the numbers speaking Welsh has stabilized. According to a survey, in 1995 21% of the Welsh population spoke the national tongue; of that number, it was the mother tongue of 55%. Use of the language among young people increased as a result of its inclusion in the National Curriculum; in 1993–94, 78.4% of Welsh pupils learnt it as either first or second language.