Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg, pronounced Welsh pronunciation: ( listen)) is a member of the Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages. It is spoken natively in Wales, by few in England, and in Y Wladfa (the Welsh colony in Chubut Province, Argentina). Historically, it has also been known in English as "Cambrian", "Cambric" and "Cymric".
The United Kingdom Census 2011 recorded that 19% of people aged three and over who live in Wales can speak Welsh, a decrease from the 20.8% recorded in 2001. An overall increase in the size of the Welsh population, most of whom are not Welsh speakers, appears to correspond with a fall in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales - from 582,000 in 2001 to 562,000 in 2011. This figure is still a greater number, however, than the 508,000 (18.7%) of people who said that they could speak Welsh in 1991. According to the Welsh Language Use Survey 2013–15, 24% of people aged three and over living in Wales were able to speak Welsh, demonstrating a possible increase in the prevalence of the Welsh language.
The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 gave the Welsh language official status in Wales, making it the only language that is de jure official in any part of the United Kingdom, with English being de facto official. Thus, official documents and procedures require Welsh and English to be given equality in the conduct of the proceedings of the National Assembly for Wales.
The Welsh language arguably originated from the Britons at the end of the 6th century. Prior to this, three distinct languages were spoken by the Britons during the 5th and 6th centuries: Latin, Irish, and British. According to T. M. Charles-Edwards, the emergence of Welsh as a distinct language occurred towards the end of this period. The emergence of Welsh was not instantaneous and clearly identifiable. Instead, the shift occurred over a long period of time, with some historians claiming that it happened as late as the 9th century. Kenneth H. Jackson proposed a more general time period for the emergence, specifically after the Battle of Dyrham, a military battle between the West Saxons and the Britons in 577 AD.
Four periods are identified in the history of Welsh, with rather indistinct boundaries: Primitive Welsh, Old Welsh, Middle Welsh, and Modern Welsh. The period immediately following the language's emergence is sometimes referred to as Primitive Welsh, followed by the Old Welsh period – which is generally considered to stretch from the beginning of the 9th century to sometime during the 12th century. The Middle Welsh period is considered to have lasted from then until the 14th century, when the Modern Welsh period began, which in turn is divided into Early and Late Modern Welsh.