Bad Language & Dodo Journalism

In 2006, the £4 million Glasgow Gaelic School (the cost equivalent to one mile of a two-lane road) threw open its doors in the city’s west end to a mere 320 pupils. This was to meet enormous pent up demand (to which it is now having to expand to meet). This, and simple initiatives to recognise our cultural heritage after decades of abuse and neglect is too much for the commentariat. The tired predictable argument is that the latest onslaught of Westminister cuts should be made to our culture and our language evoking the response: Cuimhnichibh air na daoine bho ‘n d’thainig sibh (Remember the people whom you come from).

 

Most Gaels are wearily tholed to the almost vituperative outpourings of the Daily Mail against state support for Gaelic: they couldn’t sell their tabloids any other way. However when a substantial broadsheet such as the Sunday Herald starts guddling in the same foetid water one needs to raise questions about what our opinion formers are up to (see Roxanne Sorooshian, ‘Leave Endangered Languages to Die‘ Sunday Herald).

Under the guise of covering a significant meeting of The Foundation of Endangered Languages (FEL) and in Carmarthen, Wales, to discuss the world’s linguistic future we are informed that “ Language is such a basic human quality that we blether away without even thinking about what an amazing talent it really is. Sadly it would appear from her exegesis that Rozanne has put pen to paper without thinking much further apon the role of language in society. Admittedly we are told that we might watch our Ps and Qs when in certain company; we might adopt a certain style for formal telephone exchanges. We might speak really s-l-o-w-l-y, and perhaps unnecessarily LOUDLY when communicating with someone who does not share the same native language. All of this is the commonplace of language discourse where it is well understood all of us use a range of linguistic translation to move between cultures.

The article moves swiftly to the advice of the FEL that if half of the languages currently spoken die out, they fear that with them, cultural diversity and tradition will perish and so it wishes to raise awareness of endangered languages . Now Roxanne our self-confessed language anorak, applauds some element of the sentiment since her study of Latin and Greek did much for my grasp of English. Anorak she may be but it is given to few of us to have a command of Latin and Greek, a part, with Gaelic, of the great Italo-Celtic group of languages. But thus we learn of the value of dead or dying languages- their contribution to a better grasp of English.

With a bittersweet valedictory to defunct !Kung – a lingo that uses an exclamation mark to indicate a click has to be up there in the language salvation stakes- we learn a second of her criteria for language maintenance is that of quaint cuteness. No such mercy for Gaelic: we are urged to look no further than Scotland to appreciate the lengths to which people, though who these people are, we never learn, will go when they are passionate about saving a language. But we are told that Gaelic is being rammed down Roxanna’s throat; it penetrates to the very depths of her suburbia, so that even her local railway station now bears its presumably original Gaelic name. The likelihood that this name might be understandable as part of a cultural landscape is no defence against this desperate act of ramming. Not only that, but these forces make Pope Benedict, feel obliged to speak some Gaelic in Glasgow so that Roxanne suspects that the pilgrims already perplexed with much of the Latin had yet more confusion heaped upon them.

Roxanne now reveals the fact that a body called Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which she manages but only by an educated guess to translate as the Gaelic Board, has been created to plan Gaelic’s revival, partly through education. But in her view the challenge to be faced by local authorities in educating children goes far beyond language. The teaching of children in their native language is apparently not considered a cost-effective strategy by Roxanne. But worse still, the rights of children in Scotland that speak Urdu on a daily basis to specialist schools are not being considered. All this begs the question that if Roxanne is to deny Gaelic children the hard won right to be educated in one’s own tongue what chance for the rights of Urdu speaking children?
Next are paraded the shibboleths of manipulators the cultural landscape, pumps gushing with public money, minority intrests , selfish, middle-class parents seeking a school with smaller class sizes, Highland great-granny providing some form of ethnicity test for eligibility for Cameron/Mairi’s entrance to such hallowed halls of academe, the nation’s future cultural heritage forced along an unnatural path, culminating in the human vanity of our belief in the right to intervene and so prevent nature taking its course, whether it’s a dying breed of rare beetle or a minority language.
Roxanne’s resigned conclusion that its really all too difficult and that perhaps it’s healthier to leave well alone. We are all to be left consoled with the re-assuring fact that no-one ever forgot the dodo. A apt Victorian icon to sum up an article that seems to speak with the language of that age.

But might there be room for a differing perspective?

Samuel Johnson observed in 1773 “there is no tracing the connection of ancient nations but by language; and therefore I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations”. Scotland has a fortunate “pedigree” since its three tongues can still be heard daily — Scottish Gaelic among them. It has always been the case that there was a Babel of languages in Scotland; Gaelic as well as Norse and Norman French would have been spoken along with Inglis (Scots) in the Scottish camp before Bannochburn. But by then although Bruce almost certainly used the language to communicate with his Western allies, Gaelic was no longer the language of power and prestige throughout Scottish territory as it had been in the three centuries up until 1130. Such a loss of prestige is one of the factors of language loss that David Crystal, the renowned linguist, cites in his excellent manual for language survival — “Language Death”. Among the others, population loss through starvation and disease, war and immigration, cultural change, natural resource exploitation, assimilation by the dominant culture, official disdain and neglect, most particularly through the education act of 1872 that imposed a blanket monoglot English education system (refining an earlier similar Act against the native language of New Zealand), feelings of shame about using the old language and now globalisation, have all contributed to Gaelic’s retreat to the north and western fringes of Scotland.

Some commentators claim that it is precisely at times of economic stress that countries are forced to take a sober look at what is of value to them. While much ink and spleen has been vented by the tabloid press on the nationally insignificance sums of budget expenditure on Gaelic support, our tourism sector of greater value to us than whisky, sinks in gentle decline. Perhaps rather than rounding on vulnerable poorly-funded services run on shoe-string, our opinion formers should be challenging these supposed shadowy manipulators of cultural landscapes to deliver a vision that would enable us to crawl our way back into the world’s fastest growing industries and secure a future livelihoods of many thousands of us. The Scottish Government has already articulated the fact that this has to be about delivering a culturally distinctive destination that celebrates its traditional heritages.

Scotland has its several distinctive cultural heritages and a large part of that is its Gaelic heritage. Perhaps it’s time for the chattering classes to put down their pens, stop blethering, heed what a crusty old Englishman (‘though hardly friend to the Scot) had to say about cultural heritage some 200 years ago and actually consider why it is the fact that the bulk of the Scottish people, when asked, are sympathetic towards these modest efforts to retain Gaelic as part of Scotland’s distinctive cultural landscape. Perhaps it is because they alone recognise and appreciate that shared heritage and shared destiny?

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  1. Tam McGarvey says:

    Ochone ochone, gone are the days when you could skite a nyaff aroon the lug wi’ a wat cloot with impunity. Our very landscape is illustrated with old Gaelic, Scots, Norse and Welsh place names, each name bringing to life our forbears relationship with the natural features around them. Are we really going to sacrifice the ancient geo-poetic of people and place and replace it with shopping mall speke? Old Dr J. was right on this occasion.

    Anyway, that was so fun, I’m off to cruise the hood, chillax with my bitch and find some normalcy.

  2. Doonhamer says:

    Remember the people you came from? Who would they be? As for me my ancestry is totally Irish or from the south of Scotland (DandG, Borders). Yeh, I know they spoke and speak Gaelic but it is or was Irish, the forerunner of Scottish Gaelic. Before that it was Welsh in the south (compare Ecclefechan and Llanfairfechan – see?). Didn’t the Norse conquer the Hebrides, so shouldn’t we all have a smattering of Norwegian (and Anglo Saxon) as well? Not a drop of Heilan blood although I yield to no one in my mastery of Scots, Clydesdale dialect (see Linmill Stories). Auch meine Frau. So why should my kids learn Gaelic? It is not my tongue or theirs. It is a curiosity with one disadvantage. A desperately complex grammar which will ensure its demise since kids don’t have a clue about grammar. It is too hard to learn properly unless imbibed with your mother’s milk. It is for the few but should we be subsidising Gaelic only schools? Isn’t this a bit exclusive in the outward looking inclusive Scotland? In Wales you have to know Welsh to get many jobs and it is compulsory in schools. In Ireland similar wrt Gaelic for many jobs. Dreadful. How soon before it is compulsory in Scotland?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Doonhamer its not case of yor kids learning gaelic its a case of that being an option for those who want to.

      “How soon before gaelic is compulsory?” This is a ridiculous comment to make, which you presumably know.

    2. Dun Phris says:

      “I know they spoke and speak Gaelic but it is or was Irish” – And yet you call Brythonic “Welsh” (meaning FOREIGN) and write in English, what gives? (Many people from Cymru find the term “Welsh” offensive, and the people you’re referring to didn’t come from modern day “Wales” anyway.)
      Dumfries and Galloway is riddled with Gaelic anyway, if not in the place names, in people’s surnames, and the local dialect. It’s not something that’s completely gone away. Let’s do away with the self-loathing, and monoculturalism and promote diversity and respect for both our indigenous heritage, and that of everyone else here.

    3. Dun Phris says:

      “Not a drop of Heilan blood” – how do you reckon on that then? Did you ever check any of your dozens of ancestors living three/four hundred years ago? No, I thought not.

      Anyway, Gaelic doesn’t just belong to the Highlands, and it’s what makes your Lowland Scots, “Scots” as opposed to just a Northumbrian dialect.

  3. Since the supposedly Scottish media like all things English so much how about this from English writer Storm Jameson…

    “Language is memory and metaphor.”

  4. Tocasaid says:

    Doonhamer – Welsh was never spoken here. Maybe you refer to Brythonnic which was supplanted by Gaelic in much of the Lowlands. And of Gaelic heritage in the Lowlands, there is much. I won’t argue with you more as various comments in your post (as to kids and grammar) make you out to be an idiot. If you’re not, go and research your claims and come back.

    As to the Herald – I don’t feel like access ramps for the disable are being ‘forced down my throat’ so why should this bigot fell threatened by Gaelic appearing on some signs. And don’t Gaels pay taxes too?

    Its strange how some people – there’s two mentioned here – get so defensive or downright offensive, when others get some semblance of equality. If we go down the road of denying minorities services due their ‘lesser’ status, then where next? Have we learnt nothing from history?

  5. Tocasaid says:

    Apologies for the typos. I’m actually fantasising about machine gunning the glaiket as I write.

  6. Bendigeidfran says:

    I attended the FEL Conference in Carmarthen last week and found it very informative and constructive. Why on earth Scots resent Gaelic is beyond me; Welsh is now spoken by 600,000 people and growing year by year with demand for Welsh medium education unstoppable.
    I hope to see a similar increase in Scots Gaelic speakers in next year’s census.
    ” Tir gun chanain, tir gun anam “

  7. lenathehyena says:

    When Sorooshian writes ‘This is very sad’ when referring to the lost language of Namibia and Botswana called !Kung she is having us on. She uses this as an example to grab the reader’s attention and show how well she has researched her piece. But we see just how removed she is from understanding what is really going on by her crass reference to, ‘Gaelic is rammed down our throats no matter how far we are from the Highland hinterland.’

    Despairing for having Gaelic signage at her local railway station, she does not realise that languages travel – languages are not fixed points in our culture. Perhaps the railway station is the most apt place to find these signs after all.

    As for the writer’s rather silly comments about Gaelic schools, I have remarked on those in my own blog but at a time when schools are attempting to eradicate discreet subjects and develop cross-curricular teaching, isn’t Gaelic a perfect medium for linking history with language development, with music and literature, geography and so on?

    It is a strange phenomenon in Scotland that while we, correctly, wish to integrate people and cultures from outwith the country, we often overlook our indigenous culture. How many arts projects make special provision to attract participants or references to foreign cultures yet provide no such incentives to home-grown communities? We are a peculiar sort of people who have come to value what is not ours and denigrate that that is.

  8. bellacaledonia says:

    Hi Lena, thanks for the comment and you are quite right about the writers insincerity.

    I think we should always avoid the temptation to be split between gaelic and other language provision. This is about celebrating culture(s) and world languages, of which gaelic is one. Don’t let us get fooled into ripping apart the public realm of language, its a classic divide and rule technique.

    Here’s an interesting read posted on our twitter stream: ‘Bilingual Children perform Better’ http://bit.ly/brV2te #languages #children #bilingual

  9. lenathehyena says:

    Thanks for recommending the article on languages. Found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

    I do have sleepless nights over my harping on about indigenous culture which might be mis-interpreted as suggesting all things Scottish are superior or more important than the many others which enrich Scotland. It’s probably my carelessness when expressing myself for that is not my view. I advocate Scotland being an all-inclusive society with the emphasis being on the ‘all’.

  10. pat kane says:

    I know Roxanne, a lovely woman but she’s fallen foul of the “o-shit-i-have-a-column-to-write-what’ll-stir-em-up-ha!-I-know” syndrome which regular columnists are sometimes beset with (I speak feelingly). Let me take the cultural rights arguments as given, and say that an actively multilingual society (within limits – hundreds of local languages cause chaos in Papua New Guinea, apparently) has a cognitive richness of world-view and sensibility that can only enhance the wisdom and innovative diversity of any nation. We’re lucky to have Standard English, Urban Scots, Doric, Gaelic, Urdu, Punjabi, Polish, Mandarin, whatever, as linguistic resources – in the foreground or background – for this country. Let’s not get that het up about a hastily written column which Roxanne will probably regret in about a week’s time.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I don’t think its really credible as an excuse Pat. Isn’t that sort of the deal about being paid to write, that you sort of take responsibility for what you write?

      You end up with sort of rent-a-quote knee-jerk faux iconoclasm. ‘Write what you believe and believe what your write’ is the policy I was always told.

      The author makes the point that this is the sort of drivel trotted out by the Mail / Express etc, like it or not (and there will be plenty who willl say ‘not’) the Sunday Herald is probably the most progressive mainstream print media we have in Scotland.

  11. But as a regularly published commentator, she is surely also a regular reader of newsprint, and must know that Gaelic is an all too frequent – and, obviously, cheap and easy – target for bilious, essentially racialist hostility both from journalists (and not always from the red-tops) but particularly from a bunch of obsessive contributors to the letters pages of papers that should know better. For those of us who are on the receiving end it’s offensive and wounding, and we are, understandably just a wee bit tired of it.

  12. Tocasaid says:

    “hundreds of local languages cause chaos in Papua New Guinea, apparently”

    Cause chaos for who?

    I would’ve expected better from Pat Kane. The multitude of ancient tongues in Papua New Guinea usually only cause problems for incoming capitalists/ colonialists and ‘white settlers’ – exploiters everyone of them.

    Its strange how these societies can survive with incredibly complex yet ‘primitive’ tongues for centuries, at least, but they only become problematic when we force our worldview and society on them. I’m not an expert on PnP’s tongues but i’d imagine that most of the natives are multilingual as are the natives in the Himalayan who can often speak 4 or 5 local languages.

    I’m there’s much there that would offend poor auld Roxanne, her and her writers’ cramp (a poor excuse to resort to Daily Mail type ranting).

    1. pat kane says:

      I have a friend who works for the UN doing incredibly valuable conflict-mediation work in Papua New Guinea – she says (and she has a lot of experience over many different countries) that the country is unique in having so many different tribes and languages, that collective governmental action is incredibly difficult to do – there’s no real national means or mode of discussion. If this is an independence-friendly blog, I’m guessing that people get the notion that homogenised national language(s – plural!) are necessary for the effective operation of a nation-state. Read your Nairn, Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner. Of course Roxanne is wrong about Gaelic – any historic sub-community in a nation (and that means recent immigrant history too, from Urdu to Polish) has the right to support for its language, as a resource for its identity in, and contribution to, a multicultural society. We seem to be not bad at policies for that in Scotland. But sorry that I’m honest enough about the filthy trade of journalism to feel a mote of compassion for a fellow harried hack.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        One of the points that needs to be addressed is our country’s (or our popular cultures) inability to reflect on history. Not obsessively, not compuslively, not uncritically but just with some basic level of clarity. We need to be forward-looking – but we need to know what’s happened.

        Roxanne’s matching gaelic with the dodo is telling as it combines an incredible inability to grasp the resource exploitation process that leads to species extinction with a complete failure to reflect on the process whereby gaelic culture has been banned, marginalised and undermined.

        Its also telling the notion that this culture that represents some alien ‘other’ is visible in the suburbs! How shocking. The underlying feeling is that it is okay if its is contained to the designated wildernesss area ie the Highlands.

  13. pat kane says:

    Agreed. The persistence and thriving of Gaeldom is essential to a healthy Scottish identity – too much was done against its very right to exist in the past. We lose our connection to our own troubled history, and the way it should shape our ethical actions in the present, if Gaelic is regarded as dodo-like, easily extinguishable. The more I read the column, the more worrying it gets.

    1. Peadar Ó Donnghaile says:

      So what does Gaeldom need to persist and thrive in a modern first world country? What is the role of the Gaelic language to be?
      If her role is as an alternative national language, should she not be considered like an understudy? Should she not know all the lines of the national play and be able to act them whenever required?
      What are the lines of the national play? Obviously they include general education- primary and secondary- but they also include income tax forms and applications for job seekers allowance…they include public sector demand for private sector services. 60,000 people may be only 1.2% of the population but it’s a big sample…so statistically there are roughly 6,000 Gaels employed in the public sector and 24,000 in the private sector and among them there will be the usual quota of SME’s doing local authority contract work…So why can’t 1.2% of the public sector budget in Scotland and spend it through Gaelic? Actually I’d go for 0.6% – I wouldn’t want (statistically) to force those Gaels who might feel more comfortable doing business in English to do so in Gaelic, but to have the opportunity would be nice. 0.6% incidentally- given that jobs sustain communities and employment working in “the” language sustains language communities- is the “break-even point at which Alba Oifigiuil (Official Scotland) would stop disinvesting in the existing Gaelic community. She (Official Scotland) is about £151 million short of that at present- a shortfall which would cost nothing bar political will, preferably cross party, to make good- since all would ultimately cost is re-deployment of existing Gaelic (speaking) human resources. Given the width and depth of the financial cuts facing the public sector just now a lot of departmental re-organisations are inevitable anyway.

  14. lenathehyena says:

    Well said Tocasaid – Pat Kane’s response only confirmed what you say about problems over multiple languages come from outside interference ( even if that is in the guise of assistance). As for harried hacks – do me a favour.

  15. Doonhamer says:

    I love the erudition which passes for ignorance on this site. “Welsh was never spoken here”. The Welsh poets Aneurin and Taliesin were from what we now call Scotland. Read their stuff – it is recognisably Welsh although the use of the subjunctive is more noticeable. Don’t lecture me about Wales,please. “Welsh find Welsh offensive.” What are you guys like? Nobody in the hundreds of people I have spoken to in Wales has ever criticised me for calling them Welsh. I bet most of you have never been there whereas I have been many times since my daughter lives there and my grandchild is about to be born in Wales. As for Gaelic never being compulsory, Welsh is compulsory in Welsh schools. So “diolch” and “bore da” to that. I know a bit of Welsh, see but i bet most of you have “dim Cymraeg”.

    Is this what we can look forward to when we have thrown off the yoke of English oppression? God help us.

  16. Doonhamer says:

    Before all you pedants go for me again, could I just say I am so sorry for using the modern spelling of Aneurin. It should be Aneirin who was a bard in Yr Hen Ogledd in Gododdin or Edinburgh as some of us now call it. So, no Welsh connection with Southern Scotland at all. Off to Carlisle now, or Caerluel, as those who never spoke Welsh in this area never called it. The luel bit by the way is a corruption of Luguvallum, the Roman name for Carlisle. Just thought you would like that bit of information from this “idiot”. You guys are slipping. We haven’t had the N or F words yet so does this mean Blog’s Law does not hold?

  17. Bendigeidfran says:

    Doonhammer is correct but most of you must know the history of early Scotland surely. Strathclyde (Ystrad Clyd) was a Brythonic kingdom as was Rheged which straddled the present western border of Southern Scotland and the English ‘Lake District’.
    Dunbarton was the ‘Fort of the British’ and towns like Ecclesfechan (Eglwys Fach – Little Church) confirm southern Scotland’s pre Gaelic, pre Dal Riada, Brythonic roots.
    But don’t worry friends – we lost our northern ‘Sudetenland’ a long time age ago and have no territorial claims!

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Bore da. I only have a few words of Welsh, but I have nothing but respect for the way they have revived the fortunes and usage of their language.

      However, Welsh was NOT spoken here. It was Brythonnic – the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish and Breton. You may as well say Niddrie, Penicuik etc are Cornish names. Equally, Scots Gaelic is not Goidelic nor Irish having long since diverged from these roots.

      I would also presume that Wales was not a nation as we know until after Brythonnic died out here. Gaelic on the other was the formative language of the Kingdom of Alba and continued to be used in government, in the ‘Lowlands’ ( a relatively new term) until at least the 12C.

      This however has strayed somewhat from your original point – as a Scot, Gaelic is, whether you like it or not part of your heritage. And the crux of the matter is, were remnants of Cumbric/ Brythonnic to be spoken still somewhere in Strathclyde, I’m sure that Roxanne Sooroshian would be equally virulent against it.

  18. Tocasaid says:

    Further, according to Wiki, there is some disagreement over whether Cumbric/Brythonnic was even equivalent to Old Welsh, never mind the Welsh that we know.

    Quote:
    Equivalence with Old Welsh

    Some linguists argue that the differences between Cumbric and Old Welsh are not enough to classify Cumbric as a separate language or, if it is so classified, at what point it can be considered to have become sufficiently separate.[who?] No definitive answer to such questions can really be given, partly because data on Cumbric is very sparse (or comes to us through Welsh sources), but chiefly because no principled distinction can be made in any case between languages and dialects.

    Differences that apparently existed between Cumbric and Welsh include the final sound of such forms as *lanerc (grove), which are invariably found without the [x] sound of Welsh llannerch. Examples are Lanark and Lanercost. Jackson[16] thought that the development of [rk] to [rx] which happened in Welsh may have happened later in Cumbric or not at all. This feature is also found in Pictish or Pritennic placenames further north and it may be that in this Cumbric was closer to Pictish than to Welsh.[3] Koch[17] sees Cumbric going with Welsh rather than Pictish, although place name evidence suggests that the three languages were quite similar.[18] It may well be that during the period all three survived their speakers could understand each other. Certainly the Cumbric speakers and the Welsh both called themselves “Cymry” and Welsh tradition shows that they felt themselves to be close kin or even one people – ‘Remnants of the True and Ancient Britons’.

    Another possible difference between Welsh and Cumbric was noted by Jackson[16] in the legal term “galnys”, equivalent to Welsh “galanas”, which he felt might show syncope. Similar syncope seems also to be found in the (presumably Pictish) name of the Mounth (?= Cumbric *monidh).

    Noted above was the apparent lack of aspiration found in Lanercost and Lanark, but the Cumbric word *monidh (Welsh ‘mynydd’) is regularly found apparently exhibiting both syncope and lack of aspiration in many place names e.g. Kinmont (as in Kinmont Willie) and Trimont (now a caravan site north of Carlisle). James mentions the lack of voicing also found in many Cumbric place-names[3]. One example (not James’s) is Rutter Falls — a farm by a waterfall in Westmorland, which seems to contain a word cognate with Rhayader in Powys, namely ‘rhaeadr’ — a cataract, but with an unvoiced [t] instead of the voiced sound [d], but there are many other examples of this phenomenon e.g. Tinnis Castle, Drumelzier from the word dinas – a fort. As Watson points out this devoicing is also found in the Cornish name Tintagel from din – a fort [10].

    Another feature is the loss of the semivowel [w]. Watson[10] cites the Galloway dialect word “gossock” which is presumably the Cumbric equivalent of the Welsh “gwas” a servant or a knave with the diminutive -og ending (note again lack of voice). This lacks the [w] of the Welsh word. The same feature is apparently found in the personal name Gospatrick – in Welsh this would be ‘Gwaspadrig’. The place-name Niddrie apparently represents a Cumbric equivalent of Newydd-dre, ‘New Settlement’ but again lacking aspiration and the semivowel [w]. We should also note the pronunciation of Carlisle as [karlail]. The Welsh for Carlisle is Caerliwelydd. In Bede it is Luel from a Latinised British Luguvalium. Caer was prefixed by Cumbric speakers after Bede’s time. The point to note is that again the [w] sound has disappeared. Loss of [w] is not uniform however and Gospatrick in his charter refers to his wassenas or his retainers which seems to be a Cumbric wassen (Welsh gweision) with an Anglo-Saxon plural appended [19].

  19. Ray Bell says:

    About twenty years ago, some Scottish broadsheet ran a series called “sacred cows”. These were generally critical articles of one kind and another. One of them was a piece on Scottish Gaelic, containing most of the same kind of material as this dodo article. The trouble is that Scottish Gaelic ISN’T a “sacred cow”, it’s more of a “soft target” or “scapegoat”, even within much of the SNP!

    I doubt that Roxanne (I can’t spell her surname, unfortunately) has ever written such a fervent piece on the massive amounts squandered on defence, but judging by her article, she’s obviously a keen environmentalist, which contains a large amount of recycled material. In fact, a single fighter jet costs more to maintain per year than Scottish Gaelic does. Multiply that by the number of jets the UK has, plus aircraft carriers, plus the Trident replacement, plus the war in Afghanistan and you’re already coming up with a figure which is THOUSANDS of times as large as the amount spent on our language. But of course, none of it’s really for defence per se, it’s for fighting American wars, and for keeping the arms industry afloat.

    “Off to Carlisle now, or Caerluel, as those who never spoke Welsh in this area never called it.”

    It’s already been pointed out to you that “Welsh” is a highly inaccurate term for what they spoke. We don’t call Cornish or Breton “Welsh”, even though they’re descendants of Brythonic.

    So, tell me, how do the existence of Brythonic placenames invalidate Scottish Gaelic? There are pre-Celtic placenames in these islands too – do they invalidate the promotion of Cymraeg and Cornish?

    Anyway, if you knew ANYTHING about Celtic studies, you’d also know that Scottish Gaelic contains dozens of Brythonic features not found in Irish, in grammar, vocabulary and perhaps even accent. In fact, it retains more Brythonic in it than any other living language in Scotland.

  20. Doonhamer says:

    Another linguistic point. As a Glaswegian the pronunciation of Carlisle is with the emphasis on the second syllable. Residents of Carlisle place it on the first syllable as a Welsh person would pronounce Caerdydd, Caerleon etc. The C sound is common on the Cumbria/DandG border with Cumwhitton, Caerlaverock, Carrutherston and Comlongan. The list goes on and is evidence of the original inhabitants of the area.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Aye, very interesting. However, you might as well say that the Romans here spoke Spanish as to say that Scotlands’ Brythonnic Celts spoke Welsh.

      Whatever, its a diversion from the Herald’s article which was a disgrace. Like another poster here, the Herald is the only paper I occasionally buy. I doubt if I’ll bother next time.

  21. DougtheDug says:

    An interesting article from Roxanne which is a sad display of poor fact checking and a racist attitude towards Gaelic. I’m sure she thinks she is the bees-knees of cutting edge attitude and modern thinking but no intelligence shines out her writing at all.

    I’ve done a little basic research on !Kung and it is a spectrum of dialects spoken in Angola and Namibia and though it is endangered it is still alive. When she said, “…it became defunct because the !Kung people switched from hunting and gathering to farming, rendering the vocabulary useless.”, it was a toss up between laughing at her and crying real tears that the stupid are allowed to publish. What did she think happened? That the !Kung speakers had a quick confab about the fact they had no word for plough and decided to switch en masse to Bantu or Khoi? It’s suffering the usual fate of languages are without a large pool of speakers, without a state or made up of rural poor which is to be displaced by larger neighbouring languages.

    My heart bleeds for her as Gaelic is rammed down her throat. Every Gaelic place-name sign a barb in her delicate gullet. Perhaps she should think a little how it is for Gaelic speakers who have had to fight just to get their children educated in Gaelic and still have no right to use it in any official communications with anybody. It’s even been a long struggle to get Gaelic placenames on road signs in Highlands. It’s English which has been rammed down the throat of Gaelic speakers over the last two to three hundred years.

    Roxanne has wholeheartedly bought into the, “natural selection”, viewpoint about Gaelic which is that as it has fallen so low it should be allowed to die naturally. Which is all well and good but Gaelic hasn’t fallen to its current state through some natural decline as it’s been under assault from the British State for the last three hundred years. Leaving Gaelic to die a “natural” death is like beating some animal close to death and then leaving it to die because its the natural thing to do as it is too weak to fend for itself. Did Roxanne even take an iota of time to work out why Gaelic has got to its current state?

    Then there is the obligatory reference to Urdu. One of Gaelic’s biggest problems in the last few centuries is that the British State has always tried to reduce it in status or define it as “other”. From the 18th century onwards it was describing it as Erse, Irish not Scottish, in other words not Scots but foreign. Nowadays there are continual attempts to equate it with recent immigrant minority languages in Scotland and class it as a minority language in the same breath as Urdu or Polish. It then loses status, it becomes “other” and disappears outside the mainstream of Scottish culture and society divorced from its roots. Pat’s politically correct naming of recent immigrant languages in a discusion on Gaelic has just the same intention as the 18th century naming of Scottish Gaelic as Erse.

    Gaelic is indigenous to Scotland just like Scots and it should be treated on par with English just as Scots should and both should not be treated as minority languages embedded in an English world. I find it sad that Lenathehyena feels the need to apologise about promoting Scottish culture in Scotland, nobody else will promote it unless we do and there’s a lot out there who would be happy to see Gaelic, Scots and Scottish culture in general simply disappear.

    Quite apart from Gaelic’s importance in the placenames, history and literary, linguistic and musical culture of Scotland to name but a few there is the question of numbers. If Urdu dies out in Scotland there are about 65 million speakers left in the world. If Polish dies out in Scotland there are about 40 million speakers left. If Gaelic dies out in Scotland that’s it. It’s gone. On simple numbers alone quite apart from its cultural significance and indigenous status Gaelic needs much more support than the recent immigrant languages in Scotland.

    The anti-Gaelic brigade like Roxanne are motivated by one thing only which is that Gaelic is distinctively Scottish. A language is a major definer of cultural boundaries and unlike Scots which can be arrogantly dismissed as some English dialect Gaelic can’t. It’s a constant marker that Scotland is different within Britain even if you can’t speak it. I wonder who the intended audience for this little article was? When Roxanne pinned her scribblings on the fridge who did she search out for approval when she looked round? I suspect she looked South. “Look Mum, I’ve still got the nasty Gaelic mark but I don’t like it, honest”. The Scottish cringe lives.

  22. Alex Buchan says:

    Doug I agree with everything you’ve said but would take issue with the last two sentences. I feel we have to acknowledge that there is a large constituency for this kind of attitude in Scotland itself. To deny this would be to underestimate the problems Scotland faces. Although I agree it is a manifestation of the Scottish cringe, I think the Scottish cringe has more to do with how educated Scots view themselves, rather than worries over how they are viewed by others [although I accept that others perception is part of why they want to see themselves in a certain light]. Their worry can be summed up as that of being worried they are trapped in limiting Scottishness rather than being free to define themselves.

    Mike’s point on “our country’s (or our popular cultures) inability to reflect on history” speaks of the same problem. Yes its the Scottish cringe that stops us from doing this, but its not just others who imprison our minds, we collectively do it ourselves. There are probably lots of historical and cultural reasons for this; from the nature of the union settlement, to the nature of Presbyterianism as the dominant cultural influence, with its emphasis on the individual and its lack of respect for the past [only lime and mortar]. Whatever the reasons the task is to recast Scottishness as modern and relevant. This is already happening in certain ways but I think the SNP government [and the previous government] often project an image of Scotland, through the promotion of, for instance, ‘Tartan Day’ in America, and the ‘Home Coming’, that for many suggests a backward looking notion of Scottishness that they don’t want anything to do with. I think the inability of the SNP government to consistently articulate a modern image of Scotland in part explains why they have run out of steam.

  23. bellacaledonia says:

    Thanks Doug. I wouldn’t disagree with a word – other than just to say that references to Polish/Urdu or whatever languages can play an important role in recognising that we are a multicultural society (and proud of it).

    Language debate should never be allowed to be reduced to a zero-sum game in the same way as the arts debate is framed: “do you want visual arts or theatre?” In fact the connection between our language and our wider culture is the subject of recent in Skye and Dundee, see ‘Window to the West/ Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar: Towards a redefinition of the visual within Gaelic Scotland. ‘ (details are here: http://fineart.dundee.ac.uk/research-projects/window-to-the-west/research.jsp?pid=51)

    Recognising our contemporary cultural richness should not preclude or exclude our indigenous languages (unless we allow this to happen).

    Alex – I mention the Window to the West project because there are different and more sophisticated projects that are celebrating, recognising, and innovating with our cultural landscape, from Oi Polloi to Martyn Bennett (www.martynbennett.com/) to a thousand more poets, writers and artists. There is a relation between the ‘cringe’ and slightly crass efforts to (re) defend the culture as expressed in Tartan Day etc which always starts with a defensive /protectice stance and always aims to commodify our culture. Perhaps that’s why it comes across so bad and in fact, often, reinforces the cringe mentality, it’s framed as a tourist drive rather than something of intrinsic worth, a dynamic living culture rather than a heritage one.

  24. Alex Buchan says:

    Mike, thanks for he links to other projects/activities. I think your use of “slightly” in “slightly crass” is telling because it suggests a feeling that you have to defend such initiatives, I might be wrong but, it seems to suggests a concern that any criticism if allowed to pass might open the floodgates to a wholesale attack on any promotion of Scottishness. Do we need to be so defensive? Roxanne’s article is indefensible but the paucity of discussion in the popular broadcast media or print media on why there are Gaelic signs on railways stations makes such an article almost inevitable. We need to be just as critical of the lack of interest of the rest of Scottish journalism in understanding what these changes signify. The real issue here I feel is the sorry state of Scottish journalism and how this reflects and reinforces a more widespread cultural ignorance in Scottish society. Much of this I feel can be traced back to a collective uneasiness about Scottishness. The image of Scottishness as an object for consideration most of us get reflected back to us is the commodified version, which is one reason why the “cringe’ is so persistent. I feel we need to learn from the situation in Wales on how to develop a greater dissemination of appreciation of the importance of genuine culture as opposed to commodified culture. My main point is that this is not peripheral. The success or failure of any independence referendum will largely depend, I feel, not so much on purely economic arguments, as on a balance of economic arguments and a positive Scottish identity. The ‘cringe’ in other words, in its widest manifestation, is central to Scotland’s future.

  25. Hamish Scott says:

    My heart sank a little reading that article on Sunday, not just that the article was written but that it was considered acceptable for publication. The Sunday Herald is the only Scottish paper I still buy, partly because of the quality of its journalism. However, the Scottish mainstream media is largely in the hands of the English Ascendancy and its Scottish supporters. It does not represent Scottish opinion generally. Social attitude surveys show a generally positive attitude by Scots towards both Gaelic and Scots.

  26. Ray Bell says:

    Doonhamer wrote –
    “The list goes on and is evidence of the original inhabitants of the area.”

    Sure, we know all this, but again, I’ll ask, how does it invalidate Scottish Gaelic? Why use Brythonic as an argument for English?! Actually, they were the first recorded inhabitants of the area, not the original ones. There were various groups, of whom we know very little, who came and went from Scotland before the last Ice Age. They almost definitely did not speak a Celtic language of any kind, but have left remains in some deep caves.

    1. Doonhamer says:

      I’m not using at as an argument for English. I was simply pointing out that there was a whole slew of languages spoken in Scotland in the distant past and we could promote any one of them. Someone said in the comments that Welsh was not spoken in Scotland. Not modern Welsh obviously, but its precursor was as is indicated by so many place names across the SW. Gaelic survived because of remoteness but it could have been wiped out by Norse in the Western Isles. It did not survive because of any linguistic superiority. It just did. Old Welsh died in Scotland because the Saxons defeated the Britons at the battle of Chester (AD 613) and split the linguistic group. The southern group retreated into Wales where the language survived while the northern group were wiped out or assimilated. Saxons were not good at assimilating the languages of former inhabitants.

      1. Tocasaid says:

        A whole slew of languages, including the French that was spoken by the Romans, or was it actually Latin? Whatever, most of them are not with us now. If Brythonnic or Norn were still spoken, I’d argue for their retention. Gaelic is still with us. Geography has played its part in her survivial just as repression, famine and clearance and caused its decline. Its worth remember though that Gaelic was spoken as far south as Stirlingshire with living memory. I am also told that there are still one or two Lomondside speakers left – only 30 odd miles from Glasgow.

        As to ‘linguistic superiority’ – it doesn’t exist. All languages are useful.

        Lastly, these conversations often revolve around language revitalisation efforts – you talk of ‘promoting’ dead language. Well, Gaelic despite needing some measure of support is still used. From crofters to the media, from schools to punk bands. I would be interested in finding out the criteria for denying Scots (citizens, tax payers, whatever) the right to use – be it in the media, roadsigns, education or whatever – their indigenous tongue.

        Is is minority status?

        A dangerous road to go down.

        S trom an t-uallach aineolas.

  27. Ray Bell says:

    Further to Doug’s comments on “…it became defunct because the !Kung people switched from hunting and gathering to farming, rendering the vocabulary useless.” – isn’t this a process every other modern language has had to go through? After all, Chinese, Russian, English, Arabic, French, Spanish etc have all had to go from being mainly rural medieval languages to the state languages of powerful industrial urban entities.

  28. Doonhamer says:

    Thing is Tocasaid it is not Scotland’s indigenous tongue. It arrived about 500 AD around the same time as the precursor of English. It is an indigenous tongue of part of Scotland and a sparsely populated part at that. There is no point in signing off in Gaelic if you are interested in communicating with non speakers. You merely make yourself culturally exclusive and, dare I say, take on a slightly superior cultural mantle. “I know Gaidhlig, I am better than you.”

    1. Peadar Ó Donnghaile says:

      Thing is Tocasaid you aren’t to say any thing in Gaelic because its rude to the English speakers that are in the (chat) room who do not speak Gaelic. Which in turn enables Gall na mi-ruin to get away with the old lie “Gaelic was never spoken here” (because we said it was rude).
      Doonhamer,
      The word Gaelic can mean Scots or Irish Gaelic and if your Gaelic is good enough in one you can get by with the other. Just like if your Lallans is good enough you will understand Doric after a few dances in rural Aberdeenshire.

    2. Tocasaid says:

      This is the problem when arguing with the ignorant – it would be like me arguing with a surgeon on the best way to deal with removing a cancer. If you haven’t bothered to learn any Gaelic or even about it, and just repeat oft-read prejudices and misconceptions in the tabloids, then you are gonna wind people up.
      – Gaelic IS (was) the language of the Scots, certainly when talking of the tribe that gave their name and language to our nation. I find it amusing when bigots offer denial of this (as well ‘Gaelic was NEVER spoken in the Lowlands) without offering one shred of evidence? Btw, the letters pages of the Scotsman/ Daily Record do not constitute evidence. If you can offer a serious alternative analysis of our Lowland Gaelic placenames from East Lothian to Galloway to Falkirk as well as a counter thesis to Professor John Purser’s proposition (in ‘Scotland’s Music) that many Lowland Scots songs were originally Gaelic, then I’m willing to check it out.
      -The timescale is debated. BBC Scotland’s ‘Scotland’s History’ a few years back stated the recent archaeological evidence puts the arrival of the Scots back a few hundred years from the ‘5oo AD’ that was previously thought. Some claim that its possible the Ireland and the Dal Riata seaboard were settled at around the same period. The later cultural aspects of this culture now form much if not most, of our contemporary national iconography – bagpipes, the clarsach, the bards, kilts, tartan (itself only reimagined by the Victorians, based on ancient practices), whisky, shinty (and from that golf and hockey) as well our iconic placenames – glens, lochs, corries, bens, duns, bals and straths. Wallace and Bruce were Gaels, though multililngual – Bruce himself wrote to the Irish and spoke of our shared tongue.
      – ‘Sparsely populated-‘!!! Sounds like a good springboard for prejudice and withdrawl of rights and services. Until the 1700s, most of Scotlands population lived north of the central belt. Further, until recently and within living memory, Gaelic was spoken in areas as far south as Perthshire, Stirlingshire and Lomondside. You contradict yourself too – earlier the Western Isles were annexed by the Norse (“shouldn’t we all have a smattering of Norse?” – we do, in Gaelic and English) now Gaelic is indigenous to these parts. Maybe if you read about it, you’ll see that the Hebrides were bilingual before English made it there. Galloway too. Go figure.
      – As to being exclusive, well thats the nature of language though English has been the main medium here despite odd bits of Gaelic or Scots (Doonhamer – exclusive name?) I don’t get all fearty and crabbit (I assume I’m not being exclusive there?) when I hear Asians speaking Urdu etc so why should you have such a complex? So, the upshot of it is, ‘we Gaels are free to speak/ write our language, as long as its not within earshot/ sight of those who only speak the language of the Empire’? Not a very progressive attitude.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Tocasaid – you are absolutely right to highlight the sheer ignorance that characterises what passes for a debate on Gaelic in Scotland.

        But where does the hostility come from? There’s some pretty nasty stuff out there…. the best you can expect is sympathetic indifference…”I’ve nothing against Gaelic, I just don’t want to put any money into it..”I even heard a student at SMO defend that opinion….and he was learning Gaelic!

        Then there’s the nasty stuff…what is that? Guilt? Insecurity? Fear of the other? What is going on when otherwise intelligent people begin to babble ignorant prejudices disguised as informed opinion – in newspapers, as their job of work, paid – when it comes to Gaelic? How do they get away with it? Pat Kane’s defence of the article is just as bizarre as the piece itself.

        Scotland should, or at any rate could, be a land of linguists, translators, language experts. It has a tri-lingual culture…this should be one of the ways we are different from England, this is something we have which England doesn’t….a resource…for the bean-counters out there, language is worth a lot of money these days…

        ….instead, Scots is slighted, Gaelic is mocked….or the other way around….which leaves Scottish identity where? What are you left with? To squander one national language can be seen as careless, to squander two means something deeply worrying is going on in the culture at a very basic level…exactly how are Scottish people meant to understand their culture without Scots and Gaelic? Answer: they’re not meant to, they’re meant to watch the telly and support one of the Old Firm…

        The articles people should be writing in newspapers should be asking why more people don’t learn Gaelic, or why Scots is not promoted properly. The Catalans treasure their language, they’re fiercely proud of it…how can you be a proud Scot and not care about the future of Gaelic? Chan eil mi a tuigsinn….

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        MacNaughton – I have had a feeling reading the comments here that too much energy seemed to be going into condemning Roxanne Sorooshian and defeating Doonhamer, as if the problem was isolated to two individuals. So I am grateful to you for bringing in evidence that both are merely symptomatic of wider problems that, instead of being acknowledged, seem generally to be off the radar in Scottish discourse.

        I presently live in England so I am apprehensive about commenting on the current situation in Scotland, but your comments ring true with my own experience. I’ve lived alternately in Scotland and in various locations in England. Over the years I’ve come to realize the the English are generally far more at ease with their identity than the Scots. What I haven’t found and would really like is to track down any books or academic papers written on the causes or roots of this Scottish self-loathing.

        Certainly, I notice the difference when I travel from England. Of course, its merely an intuition and based on my own experience, but Scots at large seem far more cynical and averse to any genuine sentiment for their own culture, although widespread sentimentality gives the impression of the opposite.

        Unlike Ireland, where a genuine appreciation of culture seems to go hand in hand with a modern nation, Scotland seems both stuck in the past and unable to feel genuine pride in its culture or its history. I appreciate that there are external reasons for this such as the way Scots and Scotland are often portrayed in the media but too little attention seems to be given to the internal causes for this and how these are perpetuated.

  29. MacNaughton says:

    What are we to make of an article on Gaelic which looks at railway signs and ignores the poetry of Sorley MacLean, or the exceptional musical culture of Gaelic Scotland, one of the great European folk cultures….? Not a lot obviously.

    You don’t have to be a Gael to despair at Roxanne Soooroshian, you just have to know something about Scottish culture….

    ….the Herald journalist is almost certainly a monoglot too, she certainly sounds like one, and unless you speak another language well – it doesn’t matter which one it is – you simply do not understand the advantages of language learning, nor the inherent value each and every language brings, its unique contribution to knowledge and understanding… as Setiner puts it in “After Babel”, “there are no small or lesser languages”….

    As for the bogus notion that this is some kind of process of natural selection – a falsehood, language is political – why doesn’t the Herald journalist in question take a look further afield – at Spain say – where 30 years (under Franco) ago 1 in 20 Basques had some knowledge of Euskera and today 1 in 5 do, or at Catalonia, where the Hollywood majors are now obliged to dub a certain number of 35mm prints per theatrical release into Catalan?

    There is a whole body of socio linguistic theory on this matter, which is not particular to Scotland or Gaelic….not a mention from the Herald journalist about any of it (lovely woman or not – that’s got nothing to do with it). You know, in Sweden, they are worried about the erosion of Swedish in certain areas of Stockholm, where English is spoken by immigrants? This is a big issue, all over the world.

    Scottish Gaelic has too much culture behind it ever to die, no matter how much its existence reminds some people of another Scotland which they can’t quite get a handle on. Fortunately, there are still people curious enough about Scottish culture to engage with it (particularly Germans by the way)…

  30. Iain Mac says:

    I really wonder why anyone would waste time putting Gaelic down? Would Scotland not be a better place if more of us were at bi-lingual? Like it or not, Gaelic is central to our identity and learning it – for those many monoglots – opens up so much of our culture and history. Though like someone said above, Gaelic is not just history – tens of thousands still use it in a variety of domains.

    Really, its just the same old battle between knowledge and ignorance.

  31. MacNaughton says:

    Alex Buchan – for some reason I can’t comment on your reply to my mail, so I’ll do so here.

    I’m not trying to make any general claim about Scottish people per se, I don’t where you read that in my post. There are all kinds of people in Scotland, some of whom are very engaged with Scotland in some ways, and some in others. Most are probably not engaged very much at all, but that is probably true of most people in most places.

    The Scottish press is woeful though, with some honourable exceptions, and the ignorance and the general indifference to the historic languages of the country is pretty depressing I must say, as somebody who lives between Spain and Scotland and can compare the two.

    I would like to see Scotland as an ultimately fully tri-lingual country, which is to say, one comfortable with itself in all contexts in any of its three languages (you’ve got to aim high!). That should be the goal. The question is why are we making into a problem something we should be celebrating and capitalising on?

    30 years 20% of the new books each were translations from foreign languages, now the figure is about 4%. The Anglo-saxon world doesn’t want to know anything outside itself, and its culture has always, like all cultures, relied on new ideas from abroad….Scotland should look north for once, not south, where heads are disappearing into the sand about anything outside of the English paradigm. That is a cultural crisis in the making.

    In terms of Gaelic, you need to completely change the agenda of the debate, as with so much in the UK with the appalling press we have. You have a central European language with 2000 years of culture behind it which has been spoken here for centuries; how could anybody seriously consider any other policy than defending it?

    By the way, it is a European language too, it isn’t just Scotland’s. You realise that when you go up the SMO in Skye and meet all of the foreigners who pay good money to come and learn it. The loss of Scottish Gaelic would be cultural catastrophe greater than other in Scottish history I can think of and the attitude in Scotland is, as far as I am concerned, a national embarrassment up there with the state of our fitba.

    As for the Urdu argument, it’s a complete red-herring and one unique to Scotland as far as I can see. Every country in Europe has a large immigrant population; nobody in Spain is arguing Moroccan or Polish or Romanian should be made available to all school children here – though no doubt all three are available somewhere if you want to learn them. But here for the most part they teach the historic languages of the Iberian peninsula – there are about 5 or 6 official languages here. Would those who argue for Urdu and against Gaelic care to do the same with a Catalan or a Basque? I’d love to see that argument. After 40 years repression by Franco, I don’t think you’d get very far.

    Truth is, I never heard the Urdu argument once in Spain….they would laugh at you if you even mentioned it. In Catalonia, they are pushing forward with the idea that all University professors must have a certain level of Catalan to get a job. Can you image the same with Scots or Gaelic? (Maybe one day, eh?) What’s interesting is where the argument is, where the goalposts are – miles away from the debate in Scotland, where we are begging for linguistic rights the rest of Europe takes for granted, (on which note, can we please have BBC Alba on Freeview now in line with European Charter of Regional and Minority languages? Enough procrastination from the BBC)

    Learning Scottish Gaelic completely transformed the way I think about myself and Scotland. And by the way, (nobody subsidised me to pay for my classes by the way).

    My view is that the first and most important way you can change your country is to change the way you think of it by broadening your understanding of it. There is no better way of doing in the case of Scotland than learning Gaelic. I think that helps when you go to convince other people that it needs changing…Scotland should be celebrating its linguistic difference as great cultural richness, not strangling the life out of its languages until they die.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      MacNaughton – I clearly misread your comments on some pretty nasty stuff out there and sympathetic indifference being the best you can expect, and even a Gaelic student agreeing with the view that you wouldn’t want any money put into the promotion of Gaelic, as evidence of a wider problem in terms of Scottish attitudes.

      Worth it, however, because the vision, from the perspective of Europe, that would see Scots being taken seriously as a language in its own rights and Gaelic being enthusiastically taken up by many more Scots as a way of understanding themselves and their nation, raises the benchmark of what to aspire to, for me at least. Although, sadly, I think it would take the effect of a British equivalent of Franco to make it happen either this, or the other, side of independence.

  32. B Griffith says:

    Well writtan and thoughtful article Bella caledonia, I find attacking a minority language and those who speak it a throrougly ugly and divisive thing to do.

  33. D F Gillie says:

    Instead of a bureaucratic, prescriptive approach to raising awareness of Gaelic and nurturing its survival that seems to dominate at the moment, what if we tried a different tack?

    When I was a Geography teacher (in a central Scotland school), I integrated Gaelic quietly into lessons where it was appropriate. In a couple of weeks, I was teaching 2 students over lunch – one of them wasn’t even one of mine. My enthusiasm and passion for learning and using Gaelic has led those who know me to see Gaelic as something worthwhile.

    Let us consider inviting people to take part in Gaelic language and culture in creative, thoughtful and enjoyable ways: through geography, art, theater, place-names, the poetry of Sorley MacClean, etc – let your imagination be your guide. Using Gaelic as a political blunt instrument does neither it nor its supporters any credit. We need to increase the profile of Gaelic – not through arguing and posturing, but through positive outreach activities that demonstrate what a thrilling thing it is.

  34. Bendigeidfran says:

    There seems to be universal agreement amongst you all that Gaelic must survive and I applaud you for that.
    Now get the people on your side and start the crusade; you needn’t go as far as Catalunya or Euskadi for inspiration (and certainly not Eire) as has been suggested.
    Cymru is closer to home and our language battle started 40 years ago with non-violent direct action and civil disobedience.
    Today the ongoing struggle is bearing fruit – in abundance!
    The Gaelic language is a precious part of Scotland’s culture but needs champions not just to save it but to help it spread and flourish.
    Pob bedith yn eich ymgyrch.

  35. Doonhamer says:

    Well, this has been very stimulating. 51 comments. Did I actually say folk should not learn Gaelic or even that it should not be encouraged? Don’t think so. I actually know a little and have no problem with bilingual road signs since I can read and pronounce them. I have been told I have quite a good Gaelic accent. Some of you just jumped in. I just said that my ancestry was not of the Scottish Gael and I really cannot identify with that culture because it is not mine. That’s me and shouting at me cannot change how I feel. I have no Scottish Gaelic speaking ancestors within the last 200 years or so. Not my fault.

  36. Doonhamer says:

    One other point. Some have said that the situation with English and Gaidhlig is comparable with Spanish and Catalan. Don’t think so. Having had a look at Catalan a better comparison would be English and Scots. The English/Gaidhlig comparison is more applicable to Spanish and Basque and now you are into serious language learning. Give you something more to talk about.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      I don’t understand your points. The discussion above is not down to linguistic similarities or differences but attitudes. I know the Basque Country reasonably well and their attitude towards their tongue would put poor Roxanne in her grave with fright. Some 80% of all kids in the B.A.C. are in the Model D schools which sees immersion in Basque at age 0, English immersion at age 4, Spanish – the dominant tongue at age 8 and a fourth language in the early teens. The language too is visible everywhere from the Spanish speaking cities to the Basque Highlands. Newspapers, TV, punk rock…. they’d put the Scots to shame. And like the Welsh, they didn’t get this from being polite – they fought for it and used their tongue.

      If someone didn’t understand the words they spoke or added to a blog post – tough. As to ancestry – does it matter? I know Gaelic speaking kids with German, Spanish and Asian blood. The late Ali Abassi of Radio Scotland learned Gaelic to fluency. As a native Urdu speaker, he told of the importance Gaelic should have over Urdu in Scotland. If Gaelic dies here, it dies. Urdu is a world tongue, it needs no support. And, I doubt if Ali had Gaelic ancestry either.

  37. MacNaughton says:

    Doonhamer – I’m not comparing the grammar and syntax of Catalan and Gaelic but the way they are viewed socially and politically (generally speaking) in Catalonia and Scotland respectively.

    Anyway, Gaelic is an indo-european language, Basque is not. I’m not a linguist, but I’d say Gaelic has a lot more common with Catalan than it does with Basque for that reason, linguistically I mean. It simply must do.

    If you mean Gaelic is hard, well all langauges are a bit hard at least to begin with, but it’s part of the myth that surrounds Gaelic that it is this (barbaric) language which is impossible to learn. It is not true – it’s a load of nonsense peddled by lazy journalists, who have never even bothered to open a Gaelic book in their lives probably.

    It’s interesting that you say that you don’t identify with Gaelic Scotland. Fair enough. Without getting into whether it is really possible to feel yourself Scottish without some kind of identification with Gaelic Scotland – scratch Scotland and you often find Gaelic Scotland underneath – I don’t understand why there needs to be an explicit identification at all. That is exactly my point.

    Gaelic is a national treasure, and a resource, but it doesn’t “belong” to anybody as such. It happens to be the langauge we have on our doorstep – and lots of fellow Scots speak as their first language – and if you don’t give significant finance and ultimately equal status to English it will probably die out – like all languages which have a history of being on the losing side in historical-political conflict.

    Would you accept Loch Lomond be concreted over if it saved the Scottish government a few quid? I bet you wouldn’t. What’s the difference? It’s much part of Scotland as any landscape in the Highlands you care to mention. About half of Scottish culture is written in it!

    Given that the indigenous communities that spoke it up there have been broken up and largely displaced, there is no other way it will survive but through promoting it throughout the country and offering at every school in the land – to anybody who wants to learn it, no matter their background.

    …anyway, that’s enough passion for one night.

  38. Tecwyn Evans says:

    I like most people I am disgusted with this article. It is rubbish and I would not normally comment on such extreme views.

    However I think it is wrong for her to attack children because of their names, stereotyping children can do a great deal of harm.. Surprising from someone called Roxane.
    What does that name say about her parents?

    However the rest of the discussion on here has been very interesting especially regarding Brythonic.

    Linguistic experts have difficulty in deciding where Old Welsh begins and Brythonic ends. The proper name for what the Anglo Saxons call Wales is Cymru and the language is called Cymraeg. These names probably first came into being in the Ystradclud (Strathclyde) area in the 6th or 7th centaury,

    Cymru cymes from Early Welsh/ Brythonic Cam + bro, fellow country. This gave is Cumbria and the language Cumbric in Wales the b was dropped to give Cymru. Cornish and Breton still retain the b and call Wales Kembra and Kembre respectively.. So Cymraeg was spoken in Strathclyde it was the name it’s speakers gave to Brythonic.

    The question is was Gaelic spoken alongside Brythonic in Southern Scotland? The fact that there are so many Brythonic words in Gaelic might suggest this. If so it would mean that Gaelic was spoken in many parts of Scotland before Dalrida..

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