The 1901 census showed there were 929,824 Welsh speakers -50% of the population of Wales Many people lived their lives "almost entirely through the medium of Welsh" and in "y fro Gymraeg" (the Welsh heartland) the concentration of Welsh speakers was up to 80%.
The 1911 census showed a further increase, up to 977,366. But Jenkins (2007) reflects that this was a "zenith" point. The decline started soon after.
There are various factors that possibly contributed to the retreat. Amongst them were:
*The impact of two world wars;
*The interwar depression and the migration of young, active Welsh speakers;
*The influx of workers, professionals and retired people from England;
*The influence of the mass media "permeating all parts of Wales";
*The extension of English medium schooling and the assumption that knowing English was necessary to "get on."
By 1951 the % of Welsh speakers had declined to 29%. Jenkins notes that the odds against the survival of the Welsh language seemed to be stacking up.
Then in February 1962 Saunders Lewis, a prominent Welsh literary figure, spoke out on radio about "Tyned yr lath" (Fate of the Language). Welsh could perish as a living language, he said. Political action was needed to stem the linguistic decline -even if that action was unorthodox.
The Welsh Language society ("Cymdeithas yr Laith Gymraeg") was founded and the fightback began!