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Abstract

Considerable research has explored the relationship between majority and minority language speaking communities in bilingual contexts. Comparatively little research, however, has explored relations within as opposed to between a language group in these contexts. Antecedent to a new order of social and cultural life in Wales, this article explores how two groups of Welsh speakers, one relatively privileged and one relatively marginalized, positioned themselves as they talked about ‘being Welsh speaking’. For all respondents the ability to speak Welsh was understood to confer sameness beyond linguistic competence on Welsh speakers. Claims to a strong Welsh-speaking identity, however, were legitimized by drawing on different resources. Whilst the relatively privileged group identified themselves as ‘traditionally Welsh’ based on their linguistic and social practices, members of the more marginalized group were unable to define their own linguistic and social practices as ‘traditional’ for a Welsh speaker. In response they forged a distinctive social space for themselves by developing a class-based communal Welsh identity. With reference to Bourdieu's work on the process of boundary construction and maintenance, this article makes a contribution to understanding ethnolinguistic diversity and how discourses about being Welsh speaking might be reproduced and negotiated in contemporary post-diglossic Wales. It suggests that ethnolinguistic identity may become implicated in the process of classificatory struggle, with social groups emerging through a social space of hierarchical difference.