A Democratic Digital Infrastructure for Welsh Place-Names
Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park recently announced that they would no longer be using the English names for Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) or Eryri (Snowdonia) as part of a wider policy of adopting and safeguarding Welsh place names across the park.
This move has been broadly welcomed, especially here in Wales, and campaigners will be hoping that this bold move will empower others to follow suit. There is already talk of the Welsh football team adopting the use of ‘Cymru’ in both languages after the impending World Cup.
Such moves not only help to safeguard the Welsh language but to celebrate it, and to encourage visitors to engage with it.
The decision by Eryri National Park also raises some interesting questions. Will the rest of the tourism sector follow their lead? Or will they continue to use the English name? And what about education, the media and the government? We shall see.
As custodians of knowledge, the National Library of Wales is naturally invested in archiving official records, but when it comes to Welsh place names, these official records don’t always reflect popular culture and practice and are certainly slow to react to changing public expectations.
In terms of mapping, many official maps only use the English versions of Welsh place names. For example, despite a concerted effort in recent years, Ordnance Survey still lacks a lot of Welsh language data. In an effort to support the growing demand for Welsh language mapping and data the National Library is working on developing free and open data and mapping solutions for Welsh placenames. With funding from Welsh Government and in partnership with Mapio Cymru and Menter Iaith Môn we are engaging with crowd-sourced, community-governed data sets, Wikidata and Open Street Map, to help develop a Welsh language mapping solution. We’ve used our technical expertise to help align these two sources of Welsh place name data, and worked with Welsh Government open data and the Welsh Language Commission to increase the richness and diversity of the data.
And these data sets allow the community to decide on the form of placenames. On Wikipedia and Wikidata names are changed or adopted by an open democratic process – already there is a lively discussion on English Wikipedia about changing the title of the article on Yr Wyddfa. But the data sets also offer flexibility, a name can have many variants, including multiple ‘official’ names, and different names can be noted for different time periods. Consumers of the data then have a choice of what data they want to present on their map. Recently both the BBC and Welsh Government have used this open data to serve Welsh language maps to the public
We have also used this rich open data to ensure that Welsh Wicipedia has basic articles about (almost) all towns and villages in Wales. We recently created over 800 of these and are working with volunteers to enrich Welsh language content about our places. One of our volunteers has created dozens of articles about historic streets and buildings in Wrexham and we are planning an editing event in partnership with the Welsh Place-Name Society to further improve Wikipedia content about Welsh placenames, their history and their meaning. If you are interested in taking part, you can find out more here.
We will also be working with Menter Iaith Môn to teach school children how to add information about their community to Wikipedia in Welsh, and to collect sound bytes of children pronouncing their local placenames. These too will be made freely available on Wiki.
This project allows us to do more than simply archive and give access to records. This is about engaging with the public and supporting the development of digital infrastructure for Welsh placenames. This will also enable us to think about how we present our collections in the context of place and time. Another output of our work this year will be a prototype map for viewing our collections in both English and Welsh, which we hope will be a positive step towards the development of a truly bilingual search and discovery solution, with the flexibility to adapt quickly to positive change, like the recent renaming of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).
Open Data Manager
This post is also available in: Welsh