2007 - 2022

Gael Power


Image with thanks to Emily McEwan-Fujita

By Mike Small

Scotland is a multicultural country where at least 160 languages are spoken. That gaelic should be one of them seems to irritate people at some deep level and they’re getting angrier about it every day.
The week started with Alan Roden at the Daily Mail publishing an article arguing that councils would force parents to run gaelic classes’. 
Then Kieran Andrews, Political Editor of The Courier, railing against the Scottish Govt launching a new Education Bill, which he argued “promoted Gaelic higher up the bullet point list than making sure all teachers are properly trained.”
It really didn’t do such a thing at all as The National, and any balanced report made clear (‘Closing the attainment gap’). All it did was to “contain provisions to promote Gaelic education by placing a duty on councils to provide Gaelic-medium primary education if parents request it.”
But that  was enough to light the blue touch paper for STV’s “Digital Political Correspondent” Stephen Daisley to go on a twitter rant: “Is there a strong, non-heritage case for spending taxpayers’ money promoting Gaelic instead of thriving, globally-spoken languages?” After being bombarded with non-heritage cases, all of which he ignored, he ended his day long tirade:

“1) Never ask if there’s a non-heritage case for subsiding Gaelic education 2) There’s no non-heritage case for subsidising Gaelic education”.

The self-satisfied bile was enthusiastically joined by an *interesting* cocktail of champions, and could be consigned to the twittering of a slightly bored and ineffectual journo at play, hiding behind ironic humour. Maybe Stephen could get a job at The Student?

But, as David Leask (‘Insular, parochial and narrowly nationalist: Scotland’s anti-Gaelic bigots’writes:

Scotland is still soaked with largely unexamined anti-Gaelic sentiment that, at times, spills in to self-hating bigotry.The Gaelophobe rhetoric is easy to spot: funding for the language is to slow down its inevitable death, very probably as part of some kind of “narrow nationalist” SNP plot. Gaelic supporters will tell you such bilious comment is subsiding. Scots, they reckon, are wisening up to the now well-evidenced educational and cultural advantages of bilingualism. Moreover, they’ll stress how hard to make a credible case against the paltry cost of Gaelic – given its proven economic benefits (and the fact that Gaelic tax-payers have as much right to educate their children as the rest of us).

This deep-seated aversion to your own culture is revealing. It’s often dressed up as a sort of metropolitan-fancy. Who wants to be associated with this broken backward language (subtext: and this broken backward country)? It’s a mindset that has a long history and parades Britishness, cleaved to English language as the pathway to internationalism and modernity. But, as Leask points out: “Should monoglot Anglophone Scots really attack people who are bilingual for being insular?”

Does Leicester this morning look to you like a beacon for contemporary forward thinking internationalism?

The other argument often put forward is the economic case, as argued by the Tax Payers Alliance, and other dodgy front groups. Culture costs and creates opportunities.  Scottish Opera costs us £8.24 million. But for the financial year 2013/14, only 77,446 attended. I haven’t and may never go to the opera. It doesn’t mean I want it shut down.

What’s the non-heritage case for subsiding Opera?

We could go on to make the Commercial Case (having gaelic culture makes money), the Moral Historical Case, the Cultural Case, the Rights Case, the Linguistic Case or the Popular Case – but the reality is that despite the presence of a wall of media hostility, most people support the pitiful gaelic funding and educational demand is growing steadily.

If the level of bile is both culturally interesting and politically revealing, as Professor Kenneth MacKinnon reports here the slew of disinformation, pseudo-history, and cadre of persistently anti-Gaelic columnists is extraordinary:

’Gaelic does not even have a modern grammar’ was attributed to Hugh Andrew, editor of Birlinn ( in Daily Mail news item 14 Feb 11 ) – and subsequent items said he should know better. Expression such as ‘teuchter’ and ’Highland Mafia’ still get an airing in print, as with Ian Jack in The Guardian 11 Dec 10, and as in letter in the Herald 8 June 10, which also quoted an earlier article ( Bruce Morton in The Herald 31 May 10 ) (47) referring to ’the Gaels as being “water- fearing clowns” .’ This is standard fare.

Aside from the irony of pro-indy supporters backing a monoglot culture, the simple fact is that such abuse would be thought shameful if it was directed towards any other group in our society.

If the indyref taught us anything it revealed that many Scots lack a very basic level of cultural confidence. ‘Too wee too poor too stupid’ only has traction if its sprinkled on grounds that are already infected with a degree of self-loathing. As Bernadette McAliskey said at RIC 2014:

“A nation without a language is a nation without a soul. You’ve salvaged your soul but you need to remember you have a language too”.

Political revival goes hand in hand with cultural renewal, and, as John Angus Mackay, the chief executive of the Gaelic development board (Bòrd na Gàidhlig): “If Gaelic is to survive, it will only survive in Scotland.”

Comments (70)

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  1. bringiton says:

    Many of us Scots are descendants of Gaelic speaking Highlanders although we may no longer speak the tongue.
    Gaelic is a major part of our history and I can think of few countries who would seek to eradicate their culture in the way that some would wish here (perhaps the Chinese in Tibet).
    The only explanation that I can think of for this sort of behavior is the denial that Scotland is a country which is prevalent amongst supporters of the union and their sycophantic adherence to all things Anglo.
    Perhaps,once the idea that Scotland is an equal partner in this so called union is widely accepted,attacks on our history and culture will cease.

    1. Brian Fleming says:

      Em, the Chinese in Tibet? That’s not THEIR culture. It’s the Tibetans’ culture.

      1. anons says:

        he is agreeing with you. read it again slowly holding a christmas card under the line.

      2. Brian Fleming says:

        Sorry anons. Same result: “….their culture……..Chinese in Tibet…..”. In that sentence the word ‘their’ has only one possible reference, i.e. ‘the Chinese’. I know what he means. I just had an unfortunately pedantic day. 🙁 🙂

      3. FrankM says:

        I agree with you Brian, that’s how I read your post as well.
        Chinese infiltration of a culture – equivalent to British infiltration of a culture, only in a slightly more subtle way.

  2. Michael says:

    Mike, you are of course correct in most of what you say. Daisley imagines I suppose that hating Gaelic is much the same thing as being a cultural sophisticate but this prejudice instead is indicative of an ignorant small town provincial mind set. The extraordinary riches of Gaelic culture are there for anyone with an open mind to see and appreciate. The monstrous treatment of Gaels, their culture and the places that they live are facts of our history. The costs of promoting Gaelic are minuscule – 0.06% of the Scottish Government’s budget is spent on Gaelic. And that’s without even addressing the issue of the false dichotomy presented by Daisley in terms of Gaelic vs ‘international vibrant languages’, which of these does he speak one wonders? Sadly provincial attitudes are rife in Scotland, the belief in the supremacy of particular languages and cultural forms is a residue of imperialism. These ways of thinking are not however unique to Scotland. Tensions between language groups and opposition to support for minority languages is widespread. Even in Finland where the state has one of the most progressive approaches to supporting linguistic diversity there is a body of opinion which resents every cent spent on services for the minority Swedish speaking population. Switzerland offers an example of successful support for language diversity though even it is not perfect. It strikes me that Switzerland offers many examples of good practice in terms of respect for diversity which we might learn from. Our focus is so often on our neighbours to the east and north that we don’t always recognise that there are other places we could emulate.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Mike, and of course, the other false dichotomy between Gaelic OR Scots not even explored here.

      1. kate says:

        scots is a form of english.
        the lowland, highland divide swept under carpet for indyref, with anti gaelic, anti catholic prejudice amongst other things.
        anyway no worries for these bastards, gaelic culture and language was largely destroyed and the people scattered.

        1. Gone to lunch. says:

          Scots is no more a form of English than Gaelic is a form of Irish; Scots and English share common ancestry and Irish and Gaelic share common ancestry.

          As per Bella Caledonia’s comment above, there’s no need to pick “sides” atween the twa chànan.

      2. David Agnew says:

        Scots was a form of English? well sort of. It has various names Broad Scots, Doric, Buchan Claik. But it was derived from Middle English and was adopted some time around the 9th Century. Prior to that, if you were not a Gaelic speaker then you spoke a different kind of Scots – which was a Brythonic celtic language, and would have been used by the picts. Maybe the latter died out as most of its traditions would have been oral histories and long forgotten. The few places were you can still see examples of that language are wales and Cornwall.

        Now you have to understand, I am not a “Gaelic hater” – but I don’t really feel any connection to it, anymore than I do, the language of the ancient Britons or Scots English for that matter. But tracing a language backwards through time fascinates me. Its history and its a very old story indeed with the story being one of change. I mean look at Doric now, its regarded a rustic curio and only fit for Kailyard Kitsch and that’s just as tragic. Go back far enough and it was a common tongue spoken by lowland Scots. With Gaelic being spoken in the highlands. Go back a wee bit further and it wasn’t spoken at all. At that time the tongue of your lowland Scot ancestors would have had more in common with the languages spoken by the Celtic tribes that dominated Britain at that time. The Celts tongue in England would slowly be absorbed by the language of the Angles and the Saxons, as well as the jutes. Old English as it was called, is derived from Old Saxon, which in turn is derived from old Frisian. Go forward a bit then the Normans arrive bringing their language. Somewhere in the cultural melting pot, standard English starts to make an appearance, but with traces still of the older languages. Eventually in time, this is adopted in Scotland as well, with Broad Scots being pushed out to the fringes of Scotland.

        I guess what I am saying is, how far back do you go, to locate and then claim a cultural heritage. Do you put limits on how far back you go? – for the sake of sanity at the very least I would say yes you should. I guess we can stop at Gaelic because it was exclusively used in the highlands, and being isolated for so long, it survived without it absorbing “loan” words from older tongues or being changed completely. Its still a “live” language, its still spoken, written and indeed sung in. Its traditions are largely unchanged and it didn’t suffer from the same fate as the older Scots tongues.

        So I have no problem with folk learning it and learning about it. Being bilingual is good – multilingual even better. After all John Le Carre once said that having a second language was like having a second soul. So i am all for it. But as a lowlander, descended from lowlanders, I can say with conviction that it’s not part of my culture, or my cultural heritage. But that is not the same as being culturally averse. You can’t be averse to something that was never truly yours. You can’t lose what you never actually owned. But I would hate to see it go or those people whose heritage it is, lose it through block-headed bigotry.

    2. Brian Fleming says:

      Michael, in reference to Finland, what you say is correct. I moved here almost 28 years ago and very quickly learned Finnish. Part of the reason I am only now learning Swedish was the hostility of 2 wives towards Swedish-speakers. But majority opinion in Finland is clearly supportive of our constitutional provision for bilingualism. A worse problem here, in my view, is the position of the Saami minority (mainly in Lapland), who have struggled to be taken seriously by mainstream Finnish society, and official Finland in particular. This is indeed a clear case of racism coupled with callous indifference. So, you are right, Scotland is certainly not unique. It is, however, a particularly sad case where what was once the majority language in the country is now hated by some with astonishing virulence. No comprendo.

      1. Michael says:

        The Saami situation is improving if what I’ve read recently. Of course there is also prejudice towards Romany speakers. I once asked a friend of mine if Romanies had their own language; oh no, said he, it’s just a form of baby-talk!

      2. Brian Fleming says:

        This is a response to David Agnew, but there was no reply button under that post.

        David, as far as I can recall, Scots originated in Anglo-Danish, the language of the medieval Danelaw in northern England, not from middle English. It then of course took accretions from variants of Norse and from Gaelic, and from French (at different periods than English did).

        Anyway, Kate’s post is essentially political, not linguistic. One could say Norwegian is a form of Danish, or Danish is a form of Swedish. But it just gets silly. Is English really just a Franco-German pidgin? Or is it perhaps a form of Scots?


      3. David Agnew says:

        @ Brian Fleming – I thought it was earlier but I stand corrected. But it sort of confirms my earlier point but when looking for a cultural legacy, where do you stop? At some point it just gets silly. Keep dialing backwards and you find the various languages come from Europe. English can trace its roots to Germany and eastern Europe and the Celtic tongues from France, maybe Spain as well.

        What we can agree on is that Gaelic has survived all the permutations of language that saw Brythonic Celts disappear from Scotland, broad Scots marginalised and poked fun at. At some point this staggeringly lyrical language has been relegated to the position of being backwards and the language that is only spoken by simpletons. Thats an attitude that needs to be stepped on but hard. I do not see it as part of my heritage, but it is far more part of the warp and woof of Scotland’s history than the Liberal party. I honestly could not give a flying **** if the liberal party ceased to exist here, but I would be angry if Gaelic was reduced to a dead language like Latin, only spoken by pointy heids trying to show off at parties.

    3. Mac says:

      I would look much closer home – Wales and the Welsh language seem to be on the right track. The language accepted as part of mainstream culture now after decades of struggle, things not perfect of course but in principle bilingualism accepted by the majority there.

    4. Stephen Daisley is as much a “cultural sophisticate” as he is an accomplished satirist. I think “silly wee boy” sums him up more accurately.

  3. A very good article, Mike. I (a non-Gaelic speaker) was one of those who provided the rather unhinged Daisley with some non-heritage replies on Twitter, only to be met with a bizarre parallel with funding creationism. Which just goes to show that his enquiry was not based on evidence-led journalistic research but on raw prejudice (perhaps an appointment with his workplace equality and diversity coordinator could be in order?).

    It is odd that a country should, in some quarters, be so down on a key aspect of its own nature and make up, but reassuring that – as you write – most people actually support it.

    Of course, there’s a wider issue here about language competence. Learning one language does not preclude learning another, nor is it a stark, binary choice between Gaelic and Mandarin. Indeed, learning one second language increases your aptitude for languages generally (and indeed your competence in your first language), makes you pick up other ones more easily, and thus broadens your horizons.

    So actually Gaelic is more likely, not less, to make you explore the language and heritage of other countries. We complain (usually rightly) about Scotland having a poor attitude to bilingualism and language learning, yet too often ignore Gaelic as a well-placed foundation for addressing this.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Yes – I should have explored that more, but mentioned it in passing. Thanks

    2. Stephen once tried to tell me that I was not qualified to question his assertion that Gordon Brown has a “formidable intellect” because I am not a trained journalist!

  4. Robert Graham says:

    A very apt analergy between opera and the Gallic language if everything is to be broken down to pounds and pence as the twit tweeter demands we are going to end up with a very shallow bland country just Like most shopping centres nowerdays look the same a whole country painted magnolia all uniform little boxes I for one will probably never attend a opera or learn Gallic but who am I to dictate to others or enforce my personal likes or dislikes this is our native language it needs support or it will eventually disapear how sad a utter act of spite for a few pounds ,money is for doing things, for building for enhancing our surroundings and culture just a thought !

  5. emilytom67 says:

    To subjugate a nation you eradicate the culture/history/language of the native peoples then fill them full of swally job done,we are on that slippery slope,it will be a huge task to take on the unionists and beat them as the majority consider themselves British first and Scots a very distant second if at all, the opposite in England English first and British if at all a very small 2nd.Travel through England and you will see the Cross of St George everywhere,Scotland the opposite.

    1. jacquescoleman says:

      In the days when the Inger supporters used the UJ as their flag it was completely the opposite. The English flying Geordie X is a new phenomenon. And the Scots NOT flying it as much as before is because of the pressure not to appear anti-English. I say to hell with it. Get those saltires up flying proudly.

  6. I have heard people say we should learn Chinese instead of Gaelic, so do these people realise that what they are doing is volunteering Scotland to bypass its own heritage once again, this time in favour of China. If Scots do not rescue Gaelic, no-one will, it is part of our heritage, place names from virtually every part of Scotland (not Orkney and Shetland) have names derived from Gaelic. If you take the time to learn it, a whole new level of understanding and appreciation opens up about our little country. I agree with others who say that Gaelic haters are those who have a crippling inferiority complex about Scotland. Thankfully plenty of us are starting to appreciate and discover the Scotland which has been ignored and sidelined for so long.

  7. MBC says:

    Good for you Mike. Comparatively little money is spent on promoting Gaelic, it’s not doing anybody any harm. You have to wonder at what prompts these anti-Gaelic bigots.

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      That’s it in a word. Bigots. If they weren’t busy hating the Gaelic language, they’d be busy hating something else.

  8. Kenny says:

    We are incredibly lucky to be a country of two languages which are from completely different language groups. Something Switzerland cannot boast!

    Learning a foreign language is immensely rewarding in developing the brain. I remember at school we had two hours a week for the following activities: music, home economics, technical studies, art. I cannot believe Scottish schools cannot find one hour a week to study Gaelic, at least for two years say at the start of secondary school. It need not be all language: it is possible to teach language in a way that you are combining the lessons with a history of the culture.

    That is all you need: an introduction, enough to whet the appetites of people so they could either continue Gaelic to examination level or possibly take it up again when they have more time later on in life…

    1. IAB says:

      I am a product of a marriage between an Irish Woman (Irish/English speaker) and a Highlander (Gaelic/English speaker). Neither thought it useful to teach me a second language and so I am monolingual. I have always felt a lose and, as I have become older have started to read Scottish history and the history of the Gaels is fascinating. I would argue that Gaelic should be introduced a few words at a time at nursery level and have timetabled hours each week until secondary school. Research shows that the earlier children are introduced to new languages, the better chance there is of them developing as polyglots. It would also give the opportunity to introduce the history of Scotland. To look outwards, we need to know who we are.

      1. IAB says:

        Typo – loss

      2. Eman says:

        Introducing a bit of Gaelic would be a start but the overwhelming evidence is that if children are not immersed at an early stage they don’t become fluent and choose to use English over Gaelic as it’s easier for them. That is why it’s so important to use it in the home and to have Gaelic-medium schools. Tapadh leat airson an artaigil seo, Mike.

    2. Fran says:

      Switzerland, of course, has languages from the Germanic and Romance groups.

    3. Brian Fleming says:

      Kenny, I see no essential difference with Switzerland in that sense. All Scotland’s languages (by that I mean Scots, English and Gaelic) are indo-European, as are Switzerland’s languages.

      1. Marconatrix says:

        Maybe he confused Switzerland with Finland. Finnish is not Indo-European. OTOH the Celtic languages as they now exist went through a long period of isolation in these isles, and acquired a lot of their own ‘funny ways’ that set them apart from the mainstream continental languages, be they romance or germanic.

  9. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    I wrote the following bit of bio for a publication about 20 years ago:

    “I was born in 1948 in the Vale of Leven at the southern end of Loch Lomond. We emigrated to Canada when I was three…The space of Canada still inhabits my head. A mental space of uncharted distances. An elemental space of wood and snow and creek and sky. We returned to the ‘Vale’ in 1958.

    In my early teens political awareness dawned on me with the self-evident fact that Scotland should be an independent republic. This remains as obvious to me yet as the sky is blue. Gaelic wasn’t taught (or mentioned) at school, and apart from some token Burns, neither was Lallans. It struck me as odd and then increasingly outrageous that we were being schooled almost entirely in the language and literature of another country.

    I saw how language to an alarming extent predetermines and sets the parameters of thought. I saw the totalitarianism of English, whatever its speakers’ nationality. Had not Scotland two languages of its own? I would declare a republic of the mind!

    I chose radical ‘opaque’ Gaelic rather than the more pellucid Lallans, which blends into and out of English. Some do find the energy to use both. I observed that the surrounding placenames were Gaelic. I discovered that the people who gave their name to Scotland were Gaelic-speaking. Teutonic tongues were doing quite well, thank you very much.

    Nowadays I am as much motivated by the belief that all languages are the resource of all men. If Celtic speech dies from the face of the Earth, we all stand to lose. Human thought will have that bit less room for manoeuvre…”

  10. Gordie says:

    Always delighted to read well written articles in support of the Gaelic. Well done for sticking up for the Gaelic language.. The arguments for the language are immense and the arguments against it are pitiful It’s detractors are blinded to their own prejudices by sheer arrogance.

  11. John Mooney says:

    Daisley appears to be attempting to become known as a Scottish clone of the pathetic Hopkins with is incoherent diatribes,he is such a plonker!

    1. If Stephen Daisley wants to learn from a master of satire, he should read some Flann O’Brien whose first language was… er… Gaelic.

      1. JBS says:

        Ah, that takes me back…to Edinburgh, and a copy of the Penguin Modern Classics edition of ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ bought in Thin’s:

        “He turned to me with a facetious wry expression and showed me a penny and a sixpence in his rough hand.

        I’m thirsty, he said. I have sevenpence. Therefore I buy a pint.

        I immediately recognized this as an intimation that I should pay for my own porter.

        The conclusion of your syllogism, I said lightly, is fallacious, being based on licensed premises.

        Licensed premises is right, he replied, spitting heavily. I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind.”

        And after that, ‘The Third Policeman’ and the other novels. Memories…

  12. Gordon says:

    Gaelic, the kilt and Highland culture was proscribed after the ’45 rebellion. Schools had to teach in English only. One way of subduing and getting control of a people is by snuffing out their language. Most conquerors do this. The Romans did it, the French and the Portuguese did it in Africa and the Spanish in South America. Unfortunately for us, most of us are Anglophone and monoglot, which makes us jealous of anyone who has mastered more than one language – especially when we can’t understand what is being said within earshot. For me, I would dearly love to speak the language of my Highland ancestors, but I am too long in the tooth now and the language I have been lumbered with from birth is the language of the uncultured, class-ridden oppressor. I can get by, though, in French and Spanish.

  13. zenbroon says:

    Nothing against the Gaelic, but this is 2015, folks. How can you possibly have any kind of article about Scottish language and blatantly ignore the fact there there *another* minority language in Scotland? One that is spoken by 1.6 million people. Mike Small ignores/ disparages Scots speakers’ linguistic identity, lumped in here as part of an undifferentiated Anglophone ‘monoglot culture’. Is that honestly still acceptable from anyone claiming to promote Scottish multilingualism?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Zenbroon – fair enough – though this was specifically about the anti-gaelic outbursts. Like Macdiarmid and Maclean knew, it’s not either or, its both and many. I don’t and never have ‘disparaged Scots’ at all.

  14. zenbroon says:

    Oh, BTW here is the Anti-Scots bingo version to get you all started…..dead or dying, has no grammar, has no standards, just a dialect of English like Brummie, old-fashioned, economically useless, Chewin the Fat, would stop children learning good English, working-class, can’t be taught, language of The Scheme, uneducated, reduced to a few dialects like Doric, rural, waste of money, artificial, an SNP plot, only spoken by pensioners, rough and unpleasant, Oor Wullie, Glaswegian/Doric/Shetland isn’t Scots, slang, Lallans, bad English, has no word for___, will have to wait till independence anyway…

    1. Gordie says:

      That tired old trick eh? Gaelic against Scots, Scots against Gaelic. If that’s the way you want it you can have it that way all to yourself. The rest of us can easily celebrate a support two fine native languages in one country(at least).

  15. Frederick Robinson says:

    There are much the same problems in France, even disregarding languages imported more recently by immigrants from all over the world, the Regional Languages of France include Breton, Occitan, Catalan, ‘French’ in a wide variety of dialects, Alsacien, Basque, to name but the main ones. Similarly in Spain, in addition to Castilian (Standard Spanish), there are, again, Basque and Catalan, Galician, Andalucian, Valenciano….

  16. Edulis says:

    As above, the anti-Gaelic Mafia really do think that Scotland is just a region of Blighty. I have Irish ancestry so I am quite happy to think of Scotland in pan-celtic terms. We have such a wealth of heritage, much older than the Norma-Anglo-Saxon ascendency, that Gaelic language education should follow the example of Welsh in being offered as an immersion subject in all schools from 1st year primary. Scotland needs to re-join the world in so many ways. Having Gaelic as a fundamental part of our discourse has no downsides.

  17. Why should an article on Gaelic make mention of Scots? (apart from the name having been taken from it). I think its good that the writer stayed on topic.

  18. Tinto Chiel says:

    This is just another facet of the Scottish cringe. It is complicated by most Scots’ ignorance of the linguistic history of their country. The “othering” of Gaelic accelerated for political reasons after Culloden, of course.

    Gaelic was spoken over almost all of Scotland at one time, as a glance at the place-names shows, but people have been conditioned into thinking it has nothing to do with the Lowlands, despite the large number of Gaelic names in, say, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. The last speaker of Carrick Gaelic, Margaret McMurray, died around the time of Robert Burns’ birth. This is not so long ago, really. She lived near Maybole.

    The answer is education, and I don’t just mean Gaelic-medium schools, but a proper teaching in schools of the history of Gaelic and Scots, for they both need to be appreciated as intrinsic parts of Scottishness. That is why both have been suppressed by the Establishment.

    We must not let the ill-informed and bigoted air-brush Gaelic from the Scottish picture. It is an ancient and beautiful language which I hope will be nurtured after independence, when malign and retrograde attitudes will have less effect.

    1. Eman says:

      …by way of example: Siorrachd Rinn Friù (Renfrewshire), Siorrachd Lannraig (Lanarkshire) and Siorrachd Àir (Ayrshire). A couple of ways to learn more about Gaelic: http://www.cli.org.uk/gaelic-awareness/ and http://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/more-languages/gaelic-modern-scotland/content-section—learningoutcomes

    2. Marconatrix says:

      “It is an ancient and beautiful language which I hope will be nurtured after independence, when malign and retrograde attitudes will have less effect.”

      Then we should look to Ireland … and make sure NOT to follow their example!

  19. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    It is no doubt worth clarifying on this thread that there was in fact a Celtic linguistic presence in Shetland and Orkney prior to the Norse takeover –

    Visit Shetland website: “The Romans came, saw but did not try to conquer. For the first 700 years of the Christian era this northern outpost of Britain remained in the hands of tribes who spoke a Celtic dialect. The richness of their culture is seen in monuments such as the Bressay Stone, the Papil Stone from Burra Isle and, above all, in the ornate silver hoard of the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure [….] And no-one can visit St Ninian’s Isle without a sense of wonder at what befell the Celtic civilisation of Shetland. The Viking invasion was so overwhelming that only a few Celtic place-names survived. Were the original Shetlanders slaughtered or were they merely enslaved and their culture eradicated? Archaeologists and historians are still arguing about it.”

    Scots Language Centre website regarding Orkney: “Three languages are known to have been spoken in Orkney’s history. Pictish (a P-Celtic language related to Welsh) is presumed to have been spoken until about AD 900 and then Norwegian until the 18th century. The third language spoken in Orkney is described by The Orkney Dictionary in the following terms: ‘In Orkney today we speak a dialect of Scots but we have an accent which is all our own…if we are asked what language we speak, we say Orcadian.'” http://www.scotslanguage.co.uk/books/view/49

  20. emilytom67 says:

    We are taught and accept the history of Britainwe are force fed Shakespeare little of Burns,Scotlands acheivements enhanced civilisation as we know it,Winston Churhill saying that our contribution along with Ancient Greece was colossal,yet we learned little of it.

  21. Murto says:

    This ‘self hating’ is so common in Ireland also. The number of times that I get asked ‘what does your name mean’ i.e what is the English version is appalling. Ironically when living in England, and Canada (or Scotland) this did not happen.

  22. Neil McRae says:

    Sorry Bella, but you undermine your own case by citing, as the “commercial case” for Gaelic, the patronising quangocratic tosh of “Ar Stòras Gàidhlig”.


    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Point taken Neil. I could – and maybe should – write an entirely separate article about the commercial case. This was just one example.

  23. jockmon says:

    Thank you for your article. I am from the UK, born in England, but of almost pure “Scottish” descent. I now live in New Zealand, where uncannily similar sentiments are expressed and arguments heard about the declining Maori language, though unfortunately in our case often with strong racist overtones. I was lucky though to have a holiday in Scotland last year and stay in Plockton, where hearing the gaelic language and singing was a wonderful cultural addition to the family’s stay. I am delighted to hear there will be more support for the Scottish gaelic language, an ancient euphonious language with a strong and beautiful oral and written tradition, just as valuable as English, which is a bastard language of impermanence and dissonance . It seems very odd to me when Scotland is likely to be forging its own independent future before long, that one of the major threads of that independent culture, Gaelic, should have to be fighting for recognition and support. I look forward to the time when Gaelic as a first language starts gaining ground and not losing it. Why doesn’t the Scottish parliament insist that Google Translate should incorporate translation for Scottish gaelic, and the parliament could assist in this process. Perhaps the Scottish parliament would also wish to strengthen ties with other Celtic parts of the world, such as Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Galicia, where each area can encourage and take heart from each other’s efforts to preserve the Celtic culture; not as some sort of atavistic appendage, but as a living and breathing and developing culture of relevance and utility.

  24. emilytom67 says:

    I am of Scots/Irish blood and very proud of both,as said before we face an uphill battle inmo, we have a large % of the population that are not proud of their country and would prefer to be called British??,there is no sound reasoning behind this train of thought,you cannot enter into dialogue as they just blank you,it is beyond me how to approach or overcome this,most countries would love to have dual languages but here in Scotland we are divided and fighting against it??.When reading the history of Scotland/Scots I found it difficult to put my finger on just when we lost our pride in our nation did we ever have it?,was it at the time of the Reformation? /was/is it religion based?I know that the nobility/establishment changed sides regularly to suit themselves unsurprisingly,I don,t think through the course of time that we were ever a “united” nation,we had the highlands quite separate and the borders doing their own thing with the central belt squeezed in between,we are still a divided nation therefore very easily manipulated,I think we need a very large influx of fresh blood.

  25. Using Gaelic, like any other minority language, however much its opponents may dislike it, is a human right.

    They may as well be honest about it and join Farage’s merry band of fruitcakes, since they’re repudiating the European Convention of Human Rights by trying to deny others their rights to privacy (Article 8), freedom of thought (Article 9) and freedom of expression (Article 10), not to mention the fundamental Article 2 – the right to an education in accordance with parents’ views.

    In another time and place, there were special courts set up for such misdemeanours, in Nürnberg, I seem to recall.

  26. Another good article about Gaelic. I’ve found Bella Caledonia to be a strong and consistent supporter of Scotland’s languages.

    There’s a lot of support across Scotland for Gaelic; some people don’t have a view either way (which is fine of course); and then there’s the folk who actively resent the language. The latter group is a minority I reckon, just a vocal one.

  27. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    David Agnew’s informed comment above (23:43) shows welcome awareness of our richly diverse linguistic heritage, but unfortunately states that “Gaelic…was exclusively used in the highlands”. This is quite incorrect, as a glance at historical distribution maps of the place-names of “achadh” (“field”) and “baile” (“hamlet”) will immediately show (please scroll down to maps 4 and 5):

    In this general context, it is worth also noting that until late medieval times the term “Scot” (Latin “Scotus”) referred to someone of Gaelic-speech, whether from Ireland or Scotland. In fact Ireland at one point was itself known as “Scotia”. Cf the 10th Century ‘Sanas Cormaic’ –

    Ba mór cumachta Gaedel for Bretnaib, ocus niba luga do-threbtais Gaedil for muir anair quam in Scotia” (The power of the Gael over the British was great, and the Gael lived no less to the east of the sea quam in Scotia (ie than in Ireland)” ‘The Irish Language’ by Máirtín Ó Murchú, Gnéithe dar nDúchas 10, Dept of Foreign Affairs & Bord na Gaeilge, Dublin 1985)

    By the 16th Century, however, the Scottish State apparatus had switched from Gaelic to ‘Inglis’. Gaelic was thenceforth alienated (or “othered” as someone else on this thread well expressed it), being mentally expatriated as ‘Erse’. In its stead ‘Inglis’ was internalised by the establishment as “our awin langage” and the term “Scottis” re-assigned to distinguish it from ‘Sudroun’ (Southern English, or English English). Cf a few lines of Gawin Douglas (c1475-1522) from the Prologue to his translation of The Aeneid –

    “As that I culd, to make it braid and plain.
    Kepand nae sudroun, but our awin langage,
    and speakis as I learit when I was page…
    Nor yet sae clean all sudroun I refuse,
    but sum word I pronunce as nichtbour does;
    Like as in Latin been Greek termes sum,
    So me behuvit whilom, or than be dum,
    Sum bastard Latin, French, or Inglis oiss, (oiss=use)
    Whar scant were Scottis I had nae uther choiss”

    So in his apologia here, Douglas (Gaelic: “Dubh Ghlas” = “Black Water”) explains that rather than “be dum” if he lacks a word in “Scottis” (ie the Scottish variant of Anglic speech) he has felt himself justified in his use (oiss) of some form of Latin, French or (Southern) English.

    It is fascinating to surmise that this literary virtuoso with the Gaelic name must surely have rubbed shoulders almost daily with Gaelic-speakers. He almost certainly (as the gifted linguist he was, not to mention in his office as Bishop of Dunkeld) would have been able, at the very least, to ‘get by’ in Gaelic himself. Yet now when his “awin langage” of ‘Inglis/Scottis’ fails him he has “nae uther choiss” than recourse to one of the three languages he mentions (Latin, French, or Inglis). Gaelic (speech of the “Scots” for a millenium before him) seems not to be on his mental map! (Of course our Government soon became determined to extirpate Gaelic from ALL maps, – cf the Statutes of Iona, 1609):

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Fearghas

    2. Tinto Chiel says:

      Well said, Fearghas. You know your stuff. And as you pointed out earlier, although people in Orkney and Shetland espouse their Norse heritage, they were originally Picts. DNA evidence seems to indicate that they have much more in common with that of NE Scotland, suggesting that the Vikings colonised the Picts rather than extirpated them.

      All Jock Tamson’s bairns?

      Tha, gu dearbh!

  28. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    A few relevant quotes and sources –

    From original Government papers regarding the Statutes of Iona etc:

    “THE QUHILK DAY it being understand that the ignorance and incivilitie of the saidis Ilis hes daylie incressit be the negligence of gaid educatioun and instructioun of the youth in the knowledge of God and good lettres: FOR remeid quhairof it is enactit that everie gentilman or yeaman within the saidis Ilandis or ony of thame having children maill or famell and being in goodis worth thriescoir ky, sall putt at the leist thair eldest sone or, having na childrene maill, thair eldest dochtir to the scuillis in the lawland and interteny and bring thame up thair quhill thay may be found able sufficientlie to speik, read and wryte Inglische.”
    (Statutes of Icolmkill,1609)(Collectanea de Rebus Albanicus pp119-20)

    “Thairfor that they shall send thair bairnis being past the age of nyne yeiris to the Scollis in the Lawlandis, to the effect thay may be instructit and trayned to wryte and reid and to speake Inglische; and that nane of thair bairnis sall be served air (heir/oighre) unto thame, nor acknawlegeit nor reid as tennentis to his Majestie unles thay can wryte, reid, and speik Inglische.” (Act of Privy Council of Scotland 1616)(Collectanea de Rebus Albanicus p 121)

    “Forasmekle as the kingis Majestie having a speciall care and regaird that the trew religioun be advanced and establisheit in all the pairtis of this kingdome, and that all his Majesties subjectis, especiallie the youth, be exercised and trained up in civilitie, godliness, knowledge and learning, that the vulgar Inglishe toung be universallie plantit, and the Irishe language, which is one of the chief and principall causis of the continwance of barbarities and incivilite amongis the inhabitantis of the Iles and Heylandis, may be abolisheit and removit…” (Act of Privy Council of Scotland 1616)
    See note 9 at:
    Regarding the historical re-assignment of terms ‘Scottis’/ ‘lingua Scotica’ etc –

    Two excerpts from Martin MacGregor’s essay “Gaelic Barbarity and Scottish Identity in the Later Middle Ages”:

    “This linguistic shift has naturally been explained in terms of another one, by which the language spoken by non-Gaelic Scots, named ‘lingua Theutonica’ in ‘Fordun’, and ‘Inglis’ in vernacular contexts, steadily assumed greater social and political prestige between 1350 and 1500, as the preferred language of aristocracy and government. In 1494 it is apparently referred to for the first time by one of its speakers as ‘Scottis’, and in 1513 was lauded by Gavin Douglas as ‘the language of the Scottis natioun’. The substitution had taken time, nor was it yet complete. Dunbar, Mair and Leslie all continue to use ‘Inglis’ of the speech of Lowland Scotland. Is the timescale indicative, not only of ambivalence concerning ‘Scots’ status vis à vis ‘English’, but also of a consciousness of Gaelic as the existing ‘lingua Scotica’, and of this as a reality or obstacle only gradually overcome? Certainly there is a sense of a ‘changing of the guard’ in the way in which the shifts in the terms applied to each language mesh chronologically, with ca 1500 as the point of transition. A passage in Blind Harry’s Wallace, apparently adopting the perspective of the point of composition ca 1476 rather than of the War of Independence, links Gaelic and Scottish, while an Argyll charter of 1497, and a crown charter of 1505, use ‘Scotice’ of Gaelic. In 1498 Don Pedro de Ayala, Spanish ambassador at the court of James IV, noted that the king’s ‘Scotch language is as different from English as Aragonese from Castilian. The king speaks, besides, the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and on the islands. It is as different from Scotch as Biscayan is from Castilian’.” (pp 38-39)

    “Articulations of Scottish identity exhibited a series of paradigm shifts across the middle and later middle ages, the cumulative effect being to alter the relationship between ‘Scottish’ and ‘Gaelic’; to gnaw away at the capacity of the terms ‘Scoti’ and ‘lingua Scotica’, and their vernacular equivalents, to be used in the Scottish present to refer in whole, or in part, or at all, to ‘Gaels’ and ‘the Gaelic language’. Whereas for the older authorities drawn upon by ‘Fordun’ the ‘Scoti’ of Scotland were Gaels, speaking Gaelic, to ‘Fordun’ himself — apparently building upon Bartholomew — ‘Scoti’ equally meant non-Gaels, speaking ‘lingua Theutonica’. A ‘Scotus’ no longer needed to speak ‘lingua Scotica’. By the sixteenth century ‘lingua Scotica’ or ‘Scottis’ referred exclusively to something other than Gaelic, the capacity of ‘Scoti’ to refer to Scottish Gaels had been dissipated, and Gaels in Scotland could be described as inhabitants of ‘hibernica patria’. Presented thus, the shifts in terminology seem to signify the sort of self-conscious determinism present in David Murison’s formulation, coined with reference to the linguistic situation ca 1500: ‘by ignoring the Highlands, state and speech after more than four hundred years had found unity, in the King’s Scots’. In fact, the tentative and far from universal adoption of ‘Scottis’ rather than ‘Inglis’ suggests no sudden triumphalist annexation.” (pp 42-43)

  29. Gus Rury says:

    David Agnew……..there was indeed a time when most of Scotland spoke Gaelic,it was not always ‘a highlands language”.

    It was in fact the official language of the Scottish Royal court when a language called ‘French’ was the official language of the English Royal court.

    Robert I of Scotland (Robert Bruce) spoke Gaelic, his mother was a Gaelic Earless basically and his dad got lands and men (and his eldest son Robert I both of these things along with the Gaelic language) from the gaelic connection, it was the widespread adoption of Gaelic as an ecclesiastical language which changed religious practices in Scotland that created an early form of the united country, Alba.

    1. Marconatrix says:

      IIRC a certain Margaret was involved … No not *that* one!

  30. John Tracey says:

    I have read and reread the article and comments and then taken some time to think before posting.
    In my 38+ years in secondary education I have had varying degrees of contact with Gaelic teaching and learning – contact with pupils, teachers, parents and ‘officials’.

    A very small minority of pupils were interested in Gaelic at school and likely most of those who were keen had very strong support at home. This is not so different from pupil attitudes to French, German or any other modern language learning. Other subjects were more appealing (or less unappealing) for whatever reason. Most of us remember having to do a modern foreign language until we were 16. Since devolution this “must do” has gone. The benefits of two languages obviously not deemed important enough for our politicians at a national level. Pupil numbers studying modern languages have declined markedly.

    Most teachers have no overt reaction to Gaelic – they focus on their own subjects. If Gaelic or any other subject threatens their subject, interest levels rise.

    There are different groups of parents. There are those who have a family and cultural background in the language and there are those for whom Gaelic is trendy. Very distinct groups in attitude with the latter being as much a negative for Gaelic as they tend to be very demanding, know their rights, etc. This does not endear them to many and thus can engender a negativity towards Gaelic. The Gaelic-medium Primary School in Inverness Head Teacher post is an ongoing saga with very loud parental voices being heard. Without the positive support of the majority of parents, will Gaelic-medium teaching and learning develop?

    Officials do as they are told. I have known many for whom there is very limited interest in Gaelic but because nationally and at local authority level there is policy, officials will do as bid. This is not the same as giving heart and soul to the subject and culture.

    Latterly I was Head Teacher of a secondary with Gaelic on the curriculum. At most there would have been fewer than 20 pupils in S1-6 studying Gaelic in any given school session. It cost 0.6 of a teacher for this. Class size average was 3. Other subjects had class sizes of 30 (30+ on occasions). Questions about value for money, about fairness, etc were raised at various stages by pupils and parents.
    I hoped to broaden the curriculum with more Gaelic-medium teaching. No support was forthcoming locally or nationally. I suppose there was a reality of how do we afford this or more basically how do we find teachers who are Gaelic speakers?

    Personal thoughts.
    I have not come across an anti-Gaelic mafia. Indeed I would say the reverse in terms of influence in high places.
    The majority of people in Scotland focus on the here and now and on their future – the past is just that to them: the past. It may not be what we want but it is a reality. The place of Gaelic language and culture must be justified in terms that all can appreciate.
    This is an interesting topic and discussion but between now and 7th May I hope other topics will be more of a priority.
    Bernadette McAliskey’s comment on language is fine but I care not whether the words are in Gaelic, Urdu, Doric, English or whatever – the language I want to hear in Scotland is the language of justice and peace.

  31. English was not the language of justice and peace when it was being imposed on Gaelic speaking children through legally sanctioned violence and Gaelic remains a spoken language despite the deliberate attempt to eradicate it with such means.

    1. John Tracey says:

      Alas, no language can claim to be solely the language of justice and peace. All languages fall foul of human weaknesses for violence and injustice.
      I live in hope all languages will be seen as equivalent and all languages will speak of nothing less than justice and peace.

  32. Dale says:

    Love this game

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