Gaelic Revival



Neil Mcrae (‘What Gaelic Revival?’) quotes a foreword to Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s Annual Report written by me when I was the Bòrd’s Interim Chair. He does so extremely selectively, but that’s nothing new. I’ve tried reasonable debate with Neil in the past and swore I would never do so again. But let’s not get too personal.

Most fair-minded people reading the foreword from which Neil quotes would, I feel, think that there was some balance in what I wrote. After all, there was indeed a lot to be optimistic about in 2008. Research showed that there were at least seven areas in the Western Isles where a majority of parents had expressed a wish for their local school to be an all-Gaelic school. All that was needed was the local authority to make a move to establish these schools as Gaelic schools. Highland Council had committed to building two standalone Gaelic schools. BBC Alba began its life in September 2008. Research projects – which Neil likes – had been commissioned for the first time. Subsequent Annual Reports are also available on the Bòrd’s website.

My foreword, from which Neil quotes, finished off by saying:

It has not, perhaps, been the easiest of years for the Bòrd, but it has been a good one for Gaelic … I would like to think that we will find ways to ensure that people in all sorts of communities across Scotland and abroad remain enthusiastic about Gaelic and want to participate in ensuring a turnaround in its level of use. That is largely in their own hands, and we must encourage people to use Gaelic in all situations, and at every opportunity.

An acknowledgement of something Neil himself says, that the survival of Gaelic is largely in the hands of individuals who must use it. Relentlessly self-congratulatory? I don’t think so but we can agree to differ.

Rather than having “completely parted company with reality” I have never been one to shy away from honesty about the state of Gaelic which I can assure Neil I care about as much as he does. It is close to my heart and defines my identity.

I have brought up three children as Gaelic speakers in the home. They have all attended Gaelic medium education and I can say that it is a good education. Unlike Neil, I have first-hand experience of Gaelic medium education. I admit it has weaknesses as well as many benefits but, overall, it is a good education. Everything has strengths and weaknesses but I can say that I have no regrets at having put my children into Gaelic medium education. Of course it t could be improved. That is why, in the current National Gaelic Language Plan, there are measures proposed that would help improve Gaelic education and some of these, I know, are already being put into action. Some of you reading this might be interested in something I posted to Facebook a while back which outlines what would, in my view, make a difference to Gaelic education.

Within the context of the money available to Bòrd na Gàidhlig (with which, for the avoidance of doubt, I now have no connection) and the overall funding for Gaelic available through the Scottish Government and some experience of what local authorities are (or are not) willing to do at their own hand, targets in the current National Gaelic Language Plan seem realistic. As we have seen, it is nevertheless difficult to increase numbers in Gaelic medium education and I agree with Neil that the numbers are far too low at the moment. There is still unmet demand, however, and it is early days. I have no doubt increases can be achieved with the right level of political and financial support, largely at local authority level, for it is local authorities that make educational provision. Gaelic education costs no more than English education and all that is needed is a shift in existing resources. But attitudes also have to change in order to bring about that shift.

Not everything works or will work. New things have to be tried out. Criticising initiatives that might not have worked as well as expected, often for good reasons, simply stifles innovation and makes people retreat from experimenting for fear of castigation.

The targets set in the first National Plan for Gaelic were, with the benefit of hindsight, too ambitious. In another time they might not have been. But Scotland’s local authorities have been cash-strapped over the past few years and there has been, in those circumstances, a low level of political support in local government that has had to be tackled in order to make any progress. It is clear that this will be a long haul. But there should be no apology necessary from those who were party to the development of that first Plan, myself included, for making it ambitious. The Gaelic language – and its speakers – need ambition, optimism, confidence and encouragement. Let’s also remember that the first National Plan for Gaelic was just that. The first one. This had never before been done in Scotland. There had never been such an opportunity previously. Its delivery was always going to be challenging and a learning curve for all involved.

I was very closely involved in the writing of the current National Gaelic Language Plan after which I resigned my post as chair of the Bòrd – exhausted and, I will admit, somewhat demoralised at people, like Neil, sniping relentlessly from the sidelines. My optimism has been regained, however, and I will continue to play a part in other ways to secure Gaelic’s future.

Talk of ‘quietly dropping’ targets is nonsense and gives an unfair, and false, impression of under-handedness. The current National Gaelic Language Plan was consulted upon in communities all around Scotland and online. It was clear for all to see that there had been a change in targets. And I can assure Neil that the “Shawbost Report” was taken extremely seriously by the Bòrd in my time as its chair. It did not offer as bleak a picture as Neil, characteristacally, makes out. But there has been a concerted effort to make headway in that community to try and ensure greater use of Gaelic. No acknowledgement of that action from Neil, however.

All these things have to be done within the confines of the limited resources available. When resources are limited there will always be a tendency to put all the eggs in one basket, or spread them too thinly. Should we spend all Gaelic money on education, or should we spend it on a community like Shawbost? Should we continue to spend money on the activities generated by Gaelic organisations, or should we consign the Gaelic-speaking people working in those organisations to augmenting the unemployment statistics? Should we have more Gaelic schools or a Gaelic television service? People like Neil have never been in the position of having to make that kind of decision.

The answer, of course, is that we would like to support all those things – and more. The answer is more resources, despite Neil’s view that we should be less reliant on public funding to revitalise Gaelic. Part of the answer must also be to give things a chance. As Neil well knows, language shift cannot be reversed overnight, in a year or in ten years. The census figures (“nervously awaited” by whom?) will give us a snapshot of people’s perceived abilities on one day in a decade. That’s all. They are not the be-all and end-all and it would be a huge mistake to use them in measuring the success, or otherwise, of efforts to revitalise Gaelic since the last census. In reality, those efforts have only just begun with the weight of an Act of Parliament and a framework for language plans behind them for the first time.

It was never expected by anyone involved in Gaelic development that the 2011 census figures would show an increase in the number of Gaelic speakers. Let’s wait and see what they do show. For me, if there has still been no progress in the next 30 years, I’d be worried at that point. But let’s have some optimism (which is different to self-congratulation) rather than the “nothing’s working – let’s consign Gaelic to the grave” attitude peddled by the likes of Neil. Let’s be realistic but let’s not denigrate that which was done, and is being done, by committed people – politicians, parents, teachers, community groups, artists and more – who are trying their best, with goodwill, to revitalise Gaelic.

Perhaps Neil should put his energy into some of the grassroots activities he advocates or offer solutions to some of the problems he is all too ready to highlight. Problems that nobody working in Gaelic fails to acknowledge. There is nothing to stop anyone doing something to revitalise Gaelic on a voluntary basis. There is loads already happening on a voluntary basis and long may that continue. But if Neil thinks Gaelic will be revitalised without organisations paid to work on putting the infrastructure in place to allow that to happen he has, himself, “parted company with reality”.

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  1. Tocasaid says:

    Pios math is taing do Bhella airson cuisean a reiteachadh.

    It is perhaps worth noting that the ‘top down’ approach to Gaelic used to consist of beating the language out of kids, a deliberate policy not to provide services (in the form of roadsigns, education, translation and more) in the language and a virulent racism that saw whole communities marginalised within the country of their birth.

    Now, because of the demands and struggles of Gaels – including natives and learners – we have an inclusive approach that provides services, valuable resources for education and at least some level of esteem that goes at least some way to redressing the centuries of shame that was instilled in Scots towards their indigenous tongue.

    Neil has confessed in previous postings to Bella that he has had many problems in his life. That is regrettable but his over the top negativity and hostility to various individuals and groups in the Gaelic world means that many good people are wasting time dealing with his one-man agenda rather than doing something constructive.

  2. Lachie Macquarie says:

    Halò, My twins are in Primary 2 in GME, they love it. I love it but I am not a linguist. It is not an easy language and there is not a Gaelic gene. My father was beaten at school if he was caught using the language and eventually it was beaten out of him. His father, as was common and I guess still is, shrugged. I know how much the the teachers love the language, that is obvious in there willingness to try and help a linguistic dunce and macerator of the Gaelic is commendable.

    Resources, eggs, limited, resources. Making the language more acceptable to the whole of Scotland, in my view is hugely important. The amount of people that say that they want to help Gaelic but they don’t approve of the money being spent on it because it’s not worth it. No Gaelic linguistic or educational ghetto. Road signs, publications from the Government, local authorities, etc. Make people realise the importance of the language and how it shaped the country. They need to feel more comfortable with it.

    Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority spent £50K per park entrance marker in Cowal, supposedly bi-lingual. Well I suppose, maybe they are happy with, Loch, Lomond and Trossachs but you get my drift. BTW, as an aside I have just emailed the park authority asking them about this, I am not holding my breath. ‘s mise le meas.

  3. Like Neil, I think Gaelic culture in its widest sense would be augmented and enriched by a swelling of community-led activity. However, if it were not well-supported externally I don’t believe it would either thrive or achieve Neil’s objectives for the language. I find myself, then, in broad agreement with Arthur’s remarks – despite sharing his reservations about the wisdom of offering them. I’d make the point, though, that policymakers want to deliver public services in this field to a standard just as high as elsewhere, and are queasy about anything that might fall short of that.

  4. Calquhoun says:

    I’ve been involved with the Gaelic development world for the last five years, and I think that Neil Macrae genuinely presents a more accurate picture than does Arthur Cormack. I agree that we need optimism and enthusiasm, but we also need realism, and an ability to take on board criticism and learn from experience (rather than constantly pretending to the outside world that everything is hunky dory). There is a growing feeling that Bòrd na Gàidhlig not only is not helping, but actually may be making things worse, by exacerbating divisions among Gaelic speakers, dividing professionals from non-professionals. Neil doesn’t help his case by being overly blunt and sarcastic (laying him open to the kind of ad hominem attacks we see above), but that doesn’t mean he is not ultimately right. Trying to work with Gaelic organisations can make you go slightly mad, as I know from personal experience.

  5. Ossian MacUrcrin says:

    In my own opinion, there are two things which would radically help with making Gaelic more everyday and and mainstream;
    The first is the setting up of not only all Gaelic primary schools and just as importantly, all Gaelic high schools. It has long been a mystery to me as to why we enthusiastically educate children through the medium of Gaelic at primary level, only to then funnel them through an English based education system during their crucial, formative, teenage years.
    Fluency gradually drips away and Gaelic becomes merely something associated with primary school and childhood, instead of being an integrated part of everyday life.

    My second point pertains to native speakers who have the language but barely use it, but who like to assume a condescending superiority, when learners like myself attempt to use the language in normal everyday situations.
    Comments such as “I’ve more Gaelic in my little finger than you’ll ever have.” and “Och you’ll never be a Gael no matter how much you learn” are extremely off putting and potentially destructive, particularly when opportunities to use Gaelic in a normal, everyday manner (such as in shops etc) are so few and far between.
    I’m not trying to become Duncan Ban MacIntyre/Sorley Maclean or, The Lord of The Isles; I just want to be able to use Gaelic when I can and to deepen my knowledge of the Gaelic landscape around me,, so lighten up!

    Le durachdan. 🙂

  6. Abulhaq says:

    In the real world “image” is everything. Surrounding Gaelic with tasteful pictures of lochs,mountains,tartan and derelict crofts may look romantic in a kitsch touristy way but it all smacks of the end of the road. Gaelic, or Scots, should not be forced to subsist in a dedicated reservation with the occasional token nod to the outside world. The safe option, seemingly preferred by many politicos keen not to be identified as cultural radicals, is a killer. In my view a dose of the radical is exactly what is needed. May be age related but wrapping language rejuvenation in cosy cotton wool is a turn off. Gaelic is like the cousin who has been out of town too long. Exposure to the edgy, dangerous modernity of city life, a style makeover and a new vocabulary might refresh the “image”. What’s the Gaelic for “cool”?

    1. Tocasaid says:

      LIke this maybe:

      Oi Polloi may not be to everyone’s taste and it won’t bring back ‘Gàidhlig druim a’ bhaile’ as Neil Macrae wants but if this aint grass-roots, then what is? Contemporary subject matter sung in a non-trad medium in the medium of Gaelic. Glè math gu dearbh.

  7. It would be nice if Neil MacRae’s was indeed a one-man agenda. However, the small but vocal legion of Private Frasers will do nothing except fulfil their own “Wur doomed” outlook for the language. I did not comment on his article as I am resolved to deny authors who offer no constructive solutions the attention they crave for that is the sole reason for their article.

    There also has to be an acceptance among native speakers that, unless they welcome learners, the language is indeed doomed. There are just not enough native speakers left for the language to survive as a living language outside of Academe. Learners should be welcomed not just in linguistic terms but as taxpayers and potential advocates for resources for the language. Instead of snobbishly moaning about English idiom and mistakes, why not just correct them with good grace and humour?

    Somewhat bizarrely, in an off-piste bar in Glasgow during Celtic Connections, I was prevailed upon to volunteer to be on the committee of Bothan Dun Eideann, despite having only done one term of evening classes. Presumably that only happened because of my experience with Edinburgh Folk Club but more-so because none of the native speakers could be bothered with the hassle.

    The great majority of native speakers are indeed welcoming, patient and encouraging. However, I had never been made to feel as small as I was by one couple’s utter disdain and contempt when I couldn’t understand a question they were asking when I was selling raffle tickets and switched to English. It took all my self control not to ask “Dè Ghàidhlig a th’air Just shove your raffle tickets where the sun doesn’t shine.”

    We can go on whining in terms of the old joke when giving directions “Oh, I wouldn’t start from here.” The wrongs of the past are just that: Past. We have to start from here. If Gaelic dies or clings on as a bastardised creole, it will be the fault of the Private Frasers and the disdainful language snobs. No-one else.

    1. Neil McRae says:

      You seem to imply that I have criticised Gaelic learners, which I would never do (I’m one myself). Abuse of the language by official bodies, however – that’s a different matter.

      1. No Neil, I only mentioned you in the first paragraph. It’s not all about you, you know.

  8. Sneddon says:

    What Roddy said. I have nothing but contempt for folk with negative view of gaelic and the people/organisations fighting to revitalise the language. If they were basque they’d be moaning about the basque language board. The trend seems to be grammar, spelling and pronunciation nazis in every language with nothing else to do but to try to feel ‘superior’ to make then feel better about their own shortcomings. Either become part of the solution or just get out of the way.

  9. Mac an t-Sagart says:

    Art’s response here is disingenuous in at least one way. GME may well be a ‘good education’, but the important question is ‘Does it produce Gaelic speakers?’ There is more and more evidence that it doesn’t, in the absence of significant home support. In any case, there can be no growth in GME if there is no growth in the number of teachers, and it is hard to see where they are going to come from.

    A few of the commentators here seem to have difficulty distinguishing between Gaelic-bashing and Bòrd na Gàidhlig-bashing. Many of us are great supporters of Gaelic, who work hard to develop the language, but are constantly having to deal with the inertia and conservatism of the professional Gaelic agencies, who are not renowned for their willingness to ‘experiment’.

    It is high time we had an honest debate about these things. It is not too much to ask that Bòrd na Gàidhlig justify the £5m it receives from the government every year, and that it engage properly and honestly with its critics, rather than bullying and demonising them.

    1. Arthur Cormack says:

      Mac an t-Sagart – I am sorry you found my post disingenuous. It was actually a reaction to Neil’s piece and I had intended it to be included along with all the other comments on his piece. Therefore, I was trying to address some of the specific issues raised by Neil. Bella decided to post it as a standalone piece. If I had set out to write an essay on Gaelic medium education, it would have been a different kind of piece.

      Of course Gaelic medium education produces Gaelic speakers. Are you really saying that Gaelic would be better off without Gaelic medium education? How many young speakers of Gaelic might we have without it?

      How fluent the children are in circumstances outwith school is another issue. Likewise how often they choose, or have the opportunity, to use the language. But it cannot be disputed that children who have gone through GME have Gaelic abilities they probably would not otherwise have.

      I don’t need research to tell me that Gaelic medium education, on its own, is not going to produce legions of new Gaelic speakers – in its current format and with its limited availability, at least.

      There is neither the numbers in the system, the time spent on immersion, nor the continuum from pre-school to the end of secondary and beyond, at present, to make children as fluent as they could be through education or to help create significant numbers of speakers. That is the reason expansion in numbers is being proposed through the National Gaelic Language Plan.

      All this, of course, comes down to desire to use Gaelic as well as opportunity, not to mention resources.

      There are questions of opportunity to use the language. Is it little wonder that young people’s Gaelic skills are not all they could be when some of them stop their Gaelic education at P7? I am no researcher but I see a significant difference in ability between those in that situation and those who keep going with Gaelic until the end of S6. Part of the answer has surely got to be more subjects through the medium of Gaelic in secondary as well as many, many more opportunities outside school to use the language.

      My point about Neil’s piece is that the system is not the fault of the teachers, Yet, by criticising the ‘kind’ of Gaelic taught, or fluency of children coming out of school, Neil and others criticise the teachers who are doing the best they can within the confines of the system. How will negativity like that peddled by Neil affect their desire to continue teaching? How will the certainty of criticism affect the desire of young people to take up Gaelic teaching as a career? How will young people being told they have ‘rubbish’ Gaelic affect their desire to use the language? What motivation will children have to speak a language when people around them tell them it is dead, or dying?

      You mentioned the “absence of significant home support” and I agree that support in the home, and bringing up children speaking Gaelic in the home, is the best way to pass it on. But the reality is that such an option is only available to a fairly limited number. Even within that limited number the desire to use the language, on the part of some of the parents, has weaned because the language was devalued for them when they were young. A change in attitude is needed. People have to value Gaelic. It has to have prestige. Parents need to understand what level of fluency their child can achieve through Gaelic education in order to make informed choices about how far to take it and to decide what other actions they might need to take.

      Perhaps a better understanding of the outcomes from GME would persuade more parents to start using the language again if they speak it, or to learn it if they don’t. Perhaps it would inform parents that their child is not as fluent at the end of P7 as she, or he, would be by continuing with Gaelic until the end of secondary school.

      I don’t share the pessimism of some, however, and believe all these things can be fixed. I believe things have to be done in the spirit of optimism. Issues of prestige and investment have to be considered by government, government agencies and the Gaelic organisations. The best they can do is put the circumstances in place that allow what needs to happen at community level to take place. That includes public funding which Neil seems to think Gaelic would be better off without and some direction to local authorities whose job it is to educate children – in line with the wishes of parents.

      I have long believed in statutory Guidance on Gaelic education being introduced, along with investment in more standalone Gaelic schools. I believe the training of Gaelic teachers should be offered through the medium of Gaelic, with CPD, to ensure that the skills of teachers are A1 and continue to be so. In order to compel local authorities to expand provision, I believe a legal entitlement to Gaelic education is necessary. Not everyone agrees with me, but that’s fine. It won’t stop me saying what I believe will make a difference.

      None of these things is the fault of teachers, parents or – even – Bord na Gàidhlig (which is, by the way, accountable to the Scottish Parliament for its work and, through its Grant-in-Aid, responsible to Scottish Ministers for how it spends its money). Neil’s tone implies that those working in Gaelic are oblivious to the problems and issues and that they are incapable of addressing them. The fact is that a lot of these issues are being addressed but they will take time and, as I tried to explain in my piece above, are being addressed within the context of limited resources. Certainly more resources are needed.

      And that’s only formal education …

      I don’t know anyone working in Gaelic who believes that Gaelic education, in isolation, will be the saviour of the language. But a better system of Gaelic education – “GME Max” if you like – would help, along with expansion in its availability. I recognise that would still not be enough on its own, but that’s for another day.

    2. I know this is anecdotal, but one of my fellow students (a Scot of German extraction) was motivated to join the class precisely because he had enrolled his son in Gaelic Medium Education.

      I’ve no problem with constructive criticism of BnG or any other agency. I do have a problem with BnG Bashing. It strikes me that there is a tendency in some to strike out at any perceived ‘authority’ for the sake of it, whereas the folk at BnG etc. are just folk like you and me trying to do their best for the language. I come back to my raffle ticket experience: I suppose it could be perceived as a monstrous academic failing on my part or the part of Edinburgh University that “Detailed Descriptions of Raffle Prizes 101” isn’t included in the Year One Term One syllabus of Gaelic Evening Classes; However, I’m content to beaver away in the hope that by the end of year 3, I may be able to offer something approaching a tantalizing description in Gaelic of the CDs, prints, books or bottles of wine on offer. I’m also content to continue to turn up straight from work with a Tesco sannie for dinner an hour before the event starts and help shift furniture, set up stages, do the door and all the other stuff that makes a night like Bothan successful for which no Gaelic language skills are required.

      In other words:

      “Who does this worthless English-speaking amadan think he is, trying to sell us raffle tickets in English at a Bothan event?”

      is an understandable, but “bashing” point of view. Likewise:

      “The worthless English-speaking amadan is doing it because you couldn’t bother your backside to volunteer, but hopefully he’ll eventually be doing it in Gaelic and encouraging others to engage with Gaelic long after you and your excellent Gaelic are pushing up the daisies, you cantankerous old fart!”

      would have been an equally understandable, equally “bashing” and utterly non-constructive response.

      Everyone engaged in the debate should remember that there are Scots who resent any funding or effort whatsoever for Gaelic and who would be quite content to see the language and its culture die. Fractious Gaels “bashing” each other not only adds to their armoury, but could lead to more sympathetic folk losing patience and interest.

      Perhaps Gaeldom could learn a lot from how Yes Scotland and the National Collective have embraced internet technology to motivate and engage a virtual army of activists to work collectively and often anonymously and “Keep Their Eyes on the Prize” with next to no in-fighting. Just as winning independence, according to the the mainstream media (MSM) polls and the MSM itself, a year ago seemed an impossible task but now seems eminently achievable by September 2014, so the national reinvigoration of Gaelic, just like learning Gaelic in middle age seems nigh-on impossible; little by little over the years, trying things out and and learning from mistakes, both prizes are achievable.

      Here’s a suggestion for BnG: At the moment, it seems the Universities’ Adult Learning Classes each have their own syllabus and the SMO short courses likewise have their own syllabus. Could BnG use its good offices to try to develop a National Adult Learners Syllabus tying the two learning methods together such that an adult learner, if they so wished, could for example do Year 1 at evening classes, Year 2 as a 2 week residential course at SMO in the Summer and then go straight to year 3 at evening classes again, or any variation thereof?

  10. bellacaledonia says:

    I think Mac an t-Sagart that we are having “an honest debate about these things”.

    Thanks for all the contributions, it’s a really good discussion to be having.

  11. Douglas says:

    Let me add one last thought to this. The state should be spending a lot more money on Gaelic because it is the British state, Scottish aristocrats and Edinburgh lawyers who are primarily responsible for the drastic decline in Gaelic speaking in the Highlands and Islands certainly.

    Which is to say Gaelic is a political issue. You cannot have a State which colludes with the systematic undermining and suppression of a culture for centuries, shrugs its shoulders and then makes belated and piecemeal efforts to revive it, relying on people working voluntarily, for example, or paying money out of their own pockets. The state has a debt to Gaelic Scotland. There should be somebody running Gaelic groups throughout Scotland, and paid to do so, not necessarily through formal teaching.

    If you want to be learn to speak Gaelic – you might learn to read it on your own, but to speak it, you really need classes – you have to spend a small fortune. The state should be paying to revive Gaelic, not individuals.

    There are 8 million Catalan speakers, and a year long Catalan course in Spain costs 60 Euros, that is for the full year. It is massively subsidized by the Catalan state, and we need the same for Gaelic…I think there is a lot more demand for Gaelic in the community, but not everybody can afford the classes: that simple.

  12. Douglas says:

    PS: I would propose a “Gaelic tax” on landowners who own more than a certain amount of land in the Highland and Islands to directly finance a Gaelic revival.

    The same beneficiaries of the Clearances, or their descendants. should foot the bill for the renaissance of Gaelic in Scotland. That is only fair.

  13. Iain MacTaggart says:

    Anyone who thinks Gaelic’s situation is worse off than 30 years ago is havering. My parents were punished for speaking it. Today, Gaelic is much sought after.

    Things may not be as rosy as they should but I wonder if Mr McRae ever stopped to think how much worse things would be without Bord na Gaidhlig, Comann na Gaidhlig, na Feisean, the Gaelic schools and Gaelic tv? What I also don’ t understand is why so-called community action cannot go hand in hand with all of this?

    I hope Arthur Cormack keeps up his good work and does not let one or two attention seekers and purish detract him.

  14. Neil McRae says:

    Arthur said:
    “I’ve tried reasonable debate with Neil in the past and swore I would never do so again”.
    That’s an interesting way of describing bullying e-mails threatening legal action, which dried up when I asked you to send a solicitor’s letter!

    “After all, there was indeed a lot to be optimistic about in 2008. ”
    UNESCO’s assessor obviously didn’t think so; in fact, if I mind right, he said in a newspaper interview that he regretted being over-optimistic in his assessment! Whoops, somebody forgot to get him on-message.

    “Unlike Neil, I have first-hand experience of Gaelic medium education”.
    At one time, believe it or not, I was considering taking up a career in GME, and spent some time in the classroom. I thought the teachers were excellent, but some of the children were clearly confused. But I missed vetting and went back to it.

    That’s all for now as I’m having to use cranky work computer …

  15. Gràisg says:

    Isn’t it interesting that this type of debate is the preserve of blogs, forums, facebook pages etc. It would be wonderful to see all this debated on Reido nan Gaidheil and BBC Alba – Art and Neill and perhaps an audience of the various strands of thought.

    Personally, I’m sorry folks but I suspect that the modus operandi that brought us still persists at the heart of BnG. Maybe all those that voted to spend (eventually 500K plus) on that deceased site would just like to make a very small apology some time? That would go a long way with one or two heretics.

    1. Tocasaid says:

      Neil will never debate in on radio or tv in the same way as he wouldn’t take up a post on BnG to actually do something constructive. Similarly, his negative antics hardly encourage native Gaels to use the language either. Many posters have asked him to spell out his approach but without reply.

      It’s easy for one or two loose cannons to criticise without actually getting involved in ANY group be it BnG, Fàs Dhùn Eidinn (activists who don’t see a penny of tax payers’ money), Buidheann Dubh, their local Cròileagan etc. Or else, their extreme behaviour has seen them sidelined. Those ‘confused’ kids in GME don’t know their luck.

      1. Gràisg says:

        A bheil sibh tarraing asam a charaid?- saoilidh mi nach bi dòigh fon ghrèin e a gheibheadh Niall aite air a bhord, nam bheachd neo chudromach fhèin. Agus gabh mo leisgeil ma bhios mi cho bragail gus a bhith beachachadh cuisean Gàidhlig sa Ghàidhlig (Gàidhlig neonach neach-ionnsachaidh fhios ‘m)
        Sidelined? – Aig iomall san oiseann ag òl Victory Gin mar rabhadh dhan cuid eile?

  16. Arthur Cormack says:

    Neil – think carefully about why you were threatened with legal action and who could be described as having bullied whom. In the end, I couldn’t be bothered. Life’s too short and I’m not going to debate further with you.

    All I would say is that there was nothing new in UNESCO’s stance but the warning was, of course, heeded. We can either be optimistic about a future for Gaelic or do what you would seem to favour and shut up shop, closing the book on the language.

  17. If the Scottish state goes down the same road as the Irish state and ghettoizes the language in the education system then in the education system is where it will remain.

    In Ireland the government and civil service pursued a policy in relation to Irish (Gaelic) of killing through neglect. Everything was lip-service or meaningless gestures designed to ease the conscience of the Anglophone majority through a few mealy-mouthed platitudes. Meanwhile Gaelophones were treated as second class citizens with second class rights and were starved of resources and equality of treatment.

    While that has changed in recent years through the Official Languages Act and other positive moves to curb (if not end) intuitional discrimination much of that work has been rolled back by the current Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government which is intensely hostile to its Irish-speaking citizens and communities. We’re losing the Language Commissioner, official bilingualism is to be subject to “cost-saving” reviews and those public bodies who break the law in relation to their legal duties towards Irish-speakers are being rewarded for doing so.

    Speaking Irish and refusing to speak in English can even get you arrested and detained by the Gardaí (some of whom according to an official report believed that Irish-speaking citizens should be treated as “foreigners”)!

    Gaelic-medium schooling is essential but only if it is widely and freely available at all levels (pre-school, primary, secondary and third-level). However it must be coupled with wider use in wider society. Having thousands of Gaelic-speaking children is useless if that Gaelic is confined solely to the classroom (as happens all too often here in Ireland). It must be accepted in the wider world and that can only come through positive legislation.

    All the countries or regions normally mentioned in language-revival did it through genuine pro-active laws on language equality. Revival was an agreed policy of state and promoted as such. In Ireland we had such a policy. That was later downgraded to “official bilingualism”. Now it is being downgraded to “limited services where demand exists”.

    Whatever you do in Scotland in serving and reviving your Gaelic language please look to Ireland as an example of what you should not do.

    1. Although what’s being done by BEO Lurgan to make Irish cool among the young is magical.

  18. Seon Caimbeul says:

    Arthur Cormack, former chairman of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, says:-

    “Criticising initiatives that might not have worked as well as expected, often for good reasons, simply stifles innovation and makes people retreat from experimenting for fear of castigation.”

    That seems to be the main overall to Neil’s article. That is very worrying indeed. It looks as if there is a group of people, including the former chairman of the main Gaelic development agency, who feel very strongly that official bodies shouldn’t be criticised.

    That is not a reasonable position to hold. It is so unreasonable as to be untenable. Official bodies are not children shoved under the spotlight at their first Gaelic mòd. They are not tormented artists strugging to express themselves in new and creative ways. They are not fluffy bunnies. There is nothing about Gaelic official bodies that might need some special dispensation from the same norms of criticism that we expect all other public bodies to respond to.

    Official bodies interpret and deliver government policy objectives. It is childish to pretend that they should be protected from criticism over spending decisions. Especially when the sums, although not much in the greater scheme of things, represent a huge percentage of the available funding for Gaelic. Some schemes appear favoured, even privileged, while some groups are told that there is no funding. Then it turns out that substantial amounts of money have been spent on things that don’t work, things that anybody who asked the most basic sorts of questions might have had doubts about. Two of the examples that Neil mentions seemed quite avoidable at the time. Had the Bòrd bothered to ask the existing onine community for their views, then a fortune might have been saved on Maybe some of the money could have been used to stimulate and support the existing system which had been put together by volunteers.

    The news that the Ulpan language learning system had recently been heavily criticised by the government in Israel, where it originated over sixty years ago, on the grounds that it is not an effective system of language learning, was in the public domain. Even the most basic enquiries might have suggested some questions that could have and should have been on the mind of the Bòrd when it made its decisions.

    Or maybe not. Maybe there were good reasons for taking what appear to be mistaken decisions. The point is that nobody knows for sure. Because so few questions are asked in the public domain. Elected representatives rarely ask any questions about Gaelic, even if they themselves speak the language. Journalists rarely ask questions about Gaelic, even if they are Gaelic speaking journalists employed in Gaelic contexts. There are lots of people who fail in their duty to ask simple, basic questions about Gaelic development.

    Now Arthur tells us that the Bòrd’s actions and decisions should not be questioned. As if the Bòrd has some divine right to do what it likes and not to be answerable to criticism. He’ll be telling us next about an old sword he found, sticking out of the ground. One that nobody else could pull out . . .

  19. Seon Caimbeul says:

    That seems to be the main overall response to Neil’s article.

  20. James Maclean Mcrae says:

    Agreed! Well said Seon.

    Also ‘‘Land reform, land reform, land reform. For Gaelic culture to thrive, we need to let people come back and live in the land, we need to address the issues as raised by people like Andy Wightman and many others.’’ Excellent statement Douglas. I concur wholeheartedly…
    Let us hope when the big estates are broken up, those returning are saved the negativity and parochialism experienced by folk like Ossian, as mentioned in his comment above..
    It would also be very encouraging to hear students from Sal Mor Ostaig conversing in Gaelic as they go about their business on Skye outwith college hours, at least once in a while…. If they, and indeed those being paid big money to teach the language can’t be bothered, why then should the rest of us make an effort? Let the revolution commence at check-out tills in Broadford Co-op. Oidhche Mhath!.

  21. ¡Genial! Aplastantes criterios. Manten este criterio es un post genial. Tengo que leer màs posts como este.


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