The Office of Language Commissioner in Wales, Ireland and Canada
This major research project is funded by the ESRC. It comprises a comparative investigation of the function of language commissioner with regard to the statutory and non-statutory instruments and powers exercised by this office in its various forms in the contrasting jurisdictions of Wales in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Canada.
This pioneering study of the implementation of official language policy in Wales, Ireland and Canada is conceived as an evidence-based contribution to applied public policy within an emerging regional polity. The role of the Language Commissioners as regulators and as advocates of official languages is a central element in language policy within Ireland and Canada, where this element of public policy has seen a mainstreaming of language promotion with an increasing emphasis on implementation and regulation.
The Welsh Government established an Office of Language Commissioner during 2012. Consequently this project seeks to analyse three elements of this strategic initiative in Wales. First, it will provide an authoritative interpretation of the initial discussions contained in documentary evidence which have influenced the remit and structure of the Office. Secondly it will undertake a critical analysis of the first years of operation of the Language Commissioner's Office. Thirdly by adopting a comparative perspective on language implementation procedures, developments in Ireland and Canada will be used as a benchmark by which developments in Wales may be calibrated, which in turn should prove of value to the Irish Commissioner Office and the well-established Canadian Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which having become institutionalised within the political system are seeking to re-engage with their target communities.
Hitherto minority language policy has concentrated on promotional aspects of language planning with some success. The EU is now subject to increasingly regulatory mechanisms related to human rights and a broad equality agenda. Language Commissioners, as Agents of Parliament, have been a significant development in Canada in transforming language equality into a statutory field. Consequently it is anticipated that the results of this research enquiry will be of direct policy relevance to the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland and by extension several EU contexts such as Finland, the Basque Country, Catalonia, and the Baltic States. These jurisdictions face the issue of deciding how best to regulate and evaluate the increased use of bilingual services and working practices within the public sector and of honouring language rights among an increasingly diverse and multilingual population.
Preparatory work relating to this project includes a wide range of activities. A British Academy Small Grant enabled the Professor Williams to undertake two visits to North America 2007-8, whilst a leave of absence from Cardiff University enabled him to locate himself from October 5th-December 10th 2009 in the office of the Canadian Commissioner of Official Languages, Ottawa, interacting with staff and conducting interviews with Federal Supreme Court judges and personnel, constitutional lawyers, community activists and academics on the operation of the Canadian model.
Previously, Williams’ membership of the Welsh Language Board, role in advising government and in outlining various models by which the Language Commissioner's functions could be determined gives an unparalleled preparation for this research.
The UK Parliament commissioned Mac Giolla Chríost as an expert advisor to the Welsh Affair’s Select Committee which determined upon the devolution of powers in this area [(Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009] to the National Assembly for Wales while Williams acted as an expert witness to the National Assembly for Wales Committee which examined the subsequent Language Measure in 2010.