On Indigenous Language, Culture, Education

The latest in a series of anti-Gaelic attacks from the great uninformed has reared its grisly head and this time it doesn’t come from our traditional detractors – it has come from an individual belonging to Glasgow’s muslim community. In a short badly written article published yesterday in the Times, a regional list candidate for the SNP at the 2016 Holyrood election Nighet Riaz has said that “anti-Muslim racism” is seeping into Scottish education because language policies treat ethnic minorities as inferior to white Scots … claiming ‘Gaelic was promoted and given millions of pounds in ring-fenced public funding while the traditional languages of non-white groups were sidelined in schools.’

Let’s look at the facts.

Gaelic education receives a sum annually, directly from the Scottish government as paid for by the taxpayer and this year that sum amounted to a total of 6.53 million pounds, a 2.4 million decrease on the peak spend of 09/10, despite the growing appetite amongst Scottish people to have their children educated in the language.

The amount spent on non Gaelic education in Scotland each year is a round £1 billion with a total education spend this year of 1.172 billion from the Scottish government, including pre-school. This means that in 2018-2019 the Gaelic language received about 1.7% of the Scottish government’s total spend on education.

Along with several other desultory claims, Riaz complains about the government giving £5 million to Bòrd na Gàidhlig, money which funds projects all over the country, mostly business, arts and community orientated, but with a focus this year on producing a Gaelic dictionary. Bòrd na Gàidhlig actually has nothing to do with education so I wonder why she has singled out the Gaelic board here? Why would an article which is focussed on inequality in education go on to attack other bodies which are there to support the Gaelic language which are unrelated to this? Could it be that Riaz has singled out the Gaels/Gaelic speakers as an easy target to juxtapose against her own in general?

With a growing interest in the language worldwide, many parents now choose Gaelic for their children whatever their background; Muslim, Polish, English and parents of various other ethnic origins make this choice for their children, no matter what their cultural affiliation is as they understand that this language and culture are integral in understanding this country’s past and it’s future.

Strangely enough despite claims that the financial aid given to ensuring the survival of Scotland’s Gaelic language are ‘racist’ and her insinuations that the language is only spoken by ‘white Scots’ she goes on to admit that there are far more speakers of the Polish language than those who speak the languages of, and I quote ‘brown people’. As far as I know, Polish education in Scotland receives far less support than Urdu and other languages of non European origin.

Why has the Times chosen to print this racist, illiberal, narrow minded garbage?

What Riaz is suggesting is that the Gàidheal, the indigenous people of Scotland’s highlands and islands are just ‘white Scots’ and are not an ethnic minority themselves. This could not be further from the truth. As a minority ethnic group with our own language, culture, beliefs and ideas that are unique to our people, no intellectual person could claim counter to the fact that the Gaels are an ethnic group unto themselves and to label us as just ‘white Scots’ is a completely ignorant and racist generalisation. The subaltern Gael’s unique experience with colonialism, our indigenous belief systems and the way in which our culture has been systematically destroyed puts us more on a par culturally with the Sami people of Scandinavia.

The reason Gaelic needs to be promoted and funded is because this is only a fit and natural reaction to hundreds of years of suppression through internal colonialism. In the current Anglosphere of western culture it would be completely and utterly impossible for our language and culture to survive on anything less than the current funding that Gaelic receives. This affects everyone in Scotland, not just those with a direct link to Gaelic culture, because if Scotland loses its indigenous language and culture we lose our connection to our history, our connection to the land, our connection to the whole philosophy that makes us completely and utterly unique in this world.

We must take responsibility to ensure that we do not lose the ancient legacy that has been handed down through centuries of persecution to this generation and continue to grow and nurture this precious culture.

Riaz apparently said that lack of provision for Urdu is “a form of anti-Muslim racism being played out by the state”. Adding “the reality is that no new funding is being diverted to minority languages other than Gaelic which is ring-fenced by the Gaelic School Capital Fund and protected by legislation, as it is seen as the ‘Scottish’ language.

I have news for Riaz, Gaelic IS the Scottish language. It has been spoken here for millennia. Unfortunately through, deliberate attempts by the state throughout modern history and beyond, it has been beaten out of our children and a taboo has been associated with the language which both those who speak and those who have lost it must now recover from. A form of conditioning associated with colonialism all over the world which can lead to alcoholism, addiction and numerous other social problems associated with cultural loss and alienation.

This is living memory we are talking about here, with many survivors who have keen memories of the thrashings they received for attempting to speak their language in school. Not to mention the psychological isolation of being removed from your own culture, your own way of life, your own communities that happened as a result of years of persecution and displacement.

We are not just talking about figures and numbers of Gaelic speakers here, we are talking about the broken soul of the Scottish people and the way in which reconnecting with our indigenous language and culture can help to heal us, making this country a more positive and progressive place for us all.

As a result of the aforementioned attacks on our language there are now only around 57 thousand people in Scotland who can speak the language fluently. Compare this to an estimated 66 million people who can speak Urdu worldwide and despite Riaz’s attempts to make this a race issue, we can compare it to the 50 million who can speak Polish.

Part of the Scottish government’s commitment to Gaelic is surely, not only to provide Gaelic education for those who desire it but as part of a commitment to ensure that our language survives the global onslaught against indigenous cultures – that we can carry on our own language, culture and tradition to the next generation and that Scotland doesn’t just get swallowed up into global mono-culturalism.

I wholeheartedly agree that it is a responsibility of the Scottish government to ensure that all of our many ethnic minorities are looked after and that eduction be provided which incorporates various beliefs, languages and cultures, but why at the expense of Gaelic?

Riaz has shown here that a great gap is yet to be bridged in dealing with the understanding of Gaelic and it’s place in modern Scottish multicultural society.

Welcome to the UK in 2018 where the Gàidheal are still being attacked as the easy scapegoat for everyone else’s problems.

Perhaps if she was to learn something of this language and those who speak it rather than attacking it, her own culture and people would benefit greatly from the unity of all of Scotland’s ethnic minorities coming together in one voice for equality regardless of skin colour. Instead she has chosen to make this a ‘race’ issue with an unfounded opinion that the Gàidheal, are ‘just more white people’.

I would suggest that Riaz perhaps go and speak to my muslim friends who are currently learning or can speak some Gaelic and who have some understanding of who the Gàidheal are, what our culture is and perhaps have a better idea of how to live in a multi cultural society than she does. A Scottish society where ethnic minorities of all skin colours can co-exist without singling each other out in racist attacks in the UK media.

Comments (27)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Welsh Sion says:

    100% support from a Cymraeg/Welsh native speaker, language professional (translator, editor, teacher) and activist who has an MA in Celtic Studies out of the University of Wales.

  2. Iain says:

    Griogair, tha thu mo gasge. Tapadh leaibh gu mor!

  3. Duncan Mitchell says:

    St. Columba Gaelic Church of Scotland has a Gaelic Service every Sunday at 10am. Learners are welcome and participate.
    Our first Gaelic Service was in February 1770 but we use modern Gaelic today and our Gaelic (and English) services are on Youtube.

  4. Bill says:

    I find the letter in the Times grossly offensive. My maternal grandparents came from Lithuania in 1906 and settled in Glasgow. My mother and all her siblings spoke Lithuanian at home and ‘Scots’ in the street and at school. When my grandfather finally died, they gradually lost the Lithuanian.

    The language of Scotland is Gaelic and a variety of Scots tongues, from the Doric to the Glasgow patois. I find it strange that someone who has chosen to come and reside in Scotland should adopt the approach taken. If there is a requirement for Urdu, then let it be available to all. If I choose to learn Gaelic, then I shall go to class and pay for the privilege, as I would if I chose French, Spanish or Italian.

    Surely the use of the native tongue of a country is one of the best instruments to aid integration. All other languages are a free choice, like other commodities.


    1. Jim says:

      The native language of Scotland is the same as the rest of Britain.
      British, or Welsh as we call it these days.
      The reason why English is spoken as the main language is the same reason it’s spoken inn England.
      Because that’s the language of the people who settled it.

    2. Jamie says:

      ‘The language of Scotland is Gaelic and a variety of Scots tongues, from the Doric to the Glasgow patois.’

      The languages of Scotland, in terms of being longest extant, are English, Gaelic and Scots (in alphabetical order), along with many other languages which have come here more recently. The term ‘native’ is problematic. I just avoid it.

      Re ‘a variety of Scots tongues’, Scots the language has many dialects and this really is quite normal. No need for quotes when referring to Scots. Does Gaelic not have dialects too?

      Also, the article in the Times is not a letter. It’s a Times writer reporting comments made, I believe, to the Scots Pairlament Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia.

  5. Roland Laycock says:

    I’m and English man for my sins, well a Yorkshireman and think Gaelic should be taught at all in schools, but westminster would rather we took on the US language and became a star on there flag

    1. John B Dick says:

      Your spelling and punctuation indicate the extent to which we should respect your views on any matter concerning education.

      1. Ian McQueen says:

        You are well surnamed, my friend. “it’s” for “its” has become a common mistake — it’s even been seen in your own Conservative magazines, and is therefore hardly an indication of general ignorance, is it? I notice you had no real answer to the actual arguments being made.

  6. Dougie Blackwood says:

    An Interesting piece, I am a speaker of Scots without any Gaelic but had a discussion with a family member about Gaelic signs and their implementation. There is a concerted attack on the provision of Gaelic signs although I believe the cost is minimal. Is it an Anglo centric campaign is stuttering along based on xenophobic dislike of anything that looks remotely foreign?

    Regardless of my own ignorance of the language I am happy for the Scottish government to continue the little it does to foster the continuation of Gaelic. Some of the unsophisticated (unpretentious) culture of the Gael is a delight to the ear and I have a couple as favourites on YouTube.

    1. Iain N Morrison says:

      Failte Dougie, My first language is Scots Gaelic and its refreshing to here supportive comments such as yours. My Gaelic was learned from my parents and peers and not in the classroom. It would wonderful if that could come back again, however, classroom learned Gaelic is now essential for it to survive. In my childhood up to the age of 14 I would speak Gaelic 100% now it’s less than 5% of my communication. Moran taing Dougie

  7. Graham Ennis says:

    An utterly brillient article. BRAVO!

  8. Fay Kennedy says:

    Here in West Australia there are quite a few devotees of Gaelic and when I hear it sung or spoken am very moved. I could have learned this beautiful language at high school (Glasgow) l and refused because there was no one to encourage and guide me at the time. Big regret. Unfortunately too many folk have no real understanding of how important language is in connection to place and how it supports healthy communities which is something that Scotland has been deprived of for far too long. The indigenous peoples of Australia who have been at the coal face of cultural genocide have not given in to their colonial masters completely and continue to fight for their access to language. When people are encouraged to have dignity and pride in their culture everyone benefits.

  9. Ronald Smith says:

    Good to see the language of the Albannaich being defended against invaders. I note that this column identifies their country as ‘Caledonia’ – a name derived from an eastern tribe who were part of the long extinct pictish nation which did not speak Gaelic, the language which replaced their own when the Gaels took over in the 9th century, themselves the invaders, who were then shoved out of the eastern and lowland parts by Anglo-Normans a couple of centuries later, incomers whose language is now called ‘Scots’.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      I’m a sucker for the Horslips album, ‘The Book of Invasions’ (1976), but the notion that the Gaels of Dál Riata were ‘invaders’ of Scotland is not supported by modern scholars. The idea that cultural change needs to be explained by invasion and displacement tends to get short shrift these days. I note you have skipped over the Maeatae of the Central Belt and the Britons of Strathclyde, Rheged and Lothian.

  10. Rab alexander says:

    Attention seeking behaviour from a failed SNP candidate, when needing attention play the racist card.

  11. Síle says:

    This happened to my Irish great grandparents and their children when they moved from Galway to England. Their first language was Gaeilge. After the move to England, they only spoke it in their home. The children were dissuaded from using it as the stigma was too great.

    I feel I’ve missed out on a huge part of my heritage

  12. Iain MacKinnon says:

    A strong and necessary response, Griogair. And well made.
    You asked: ‘Why has the Times chosen to print this racist, illiberal, narrow minded garbage?’ My response would be that it has printed it in order to forward The Times’ own ‘racist, illiberal, narrow minded’ agenda.
    In the headline to Nighet Riaz’s article The Times’ editorial team chose to emphasise the assertion that it is Gaelic funding (and therefore presumably by implication Gaels) that discriminates against Muslims. Surely this is an example of a hegemonic actor engaging in ‘divide and rule’ the subalterns?
    Without wishing to give any credence to her opinions, it seems to me that Nighet Riaz is being used here as a tool in order to further the agenda of the neo-imperial ‘white Scots’ who run the Scottish edition of ‘The Times’ (and I saw that the same newspaper this week was trying to support Tom Devine’s latest revisionist diatribe against the distinguishing characteristic of the history of the modern Gaidhealtachd: our domestic colonialism, and colonialism’s attendant racism). Nighet Riaz’ ignorant opinions would be little more than a facebook rant, had they not received the oxygen of publicity in The Times. That stalwart Gaelic activist, Findlay Macleod (Fionnlagh ‘Stri’), has always emphasised that we keep a critical attention on the background language and cultural forms by which we are marginalised and oppressed.
    Generally, the hegemonic regime only gives a discursive platform to the subaltern when its own interests are at stake. The background force and hegemonic actor here is the Anglophone Scottish edition of The Times and the genuinely ‘white Scots’ who run it, not the pained, deluded cry of another subaltern (although I think you do important work in disclosing and emphasising her delusion).

  13. Jim Bennett says:

    Very good article, albeit with one caveat. The historic languages of Scotland include Gaelic, Scots and English as well as the precursor to modern Welsh. It’s not correct to say that Gaelic “is the Scottish language” . Gaelic is “a” Scottish language, one which should be fully supported.

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      It most certainly is. A Scot meant a Gael whether from Britain or elsewhere. There are Sorbian speakers in Germany but that doesnt mean German isnt the German language. Scotland was called that because of Gaelic rather than English or British and Pictish.

  14. Richard Mathan says:

    Tapadh leibh!

  15. Crumbs says:

    I didn’t expect this to kick off so soon. There’s no point arguing logically about this. It is, in Lewis Carroll’s words, a matter of who is to be master, that is all. The government has conceded territory in the Western Isles to Islam. The fact that it was acquired by somebody else’s pathological altruism rather than by force of arms makes no difference. Over time, as numbers grow, Islam will expect to dominate and to make it into a place where its followers can live the life that suits them. Once a mosque is built, the territory becomes, under sharia law, Islamic territory in perpetuity. If the Scottish Government imagines that the new population is happily going to send their children to Gaelic-medium schools to become the next generation of Gaels, singing laments for the Clearances and demonstrating for the tourists and primary school kids how their ancestors used to waulk tweed, they are sadly deluded.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      I just can’t wait for the introduction of Sharia law in Stornoway. The Taliban will be light relief from the Wee Frees.

  16. Calum Carlyle says:

    Edinburgh currently has one primary school which teaches in gaelic as a primary language, and that school is the most ethnically diverse school in Edinburgh.

    Dr Riaz should more appropriately be applauding Scotland’s efforts at providing multilingual education, or if she has to direct her ire somewhere, why not at English language education? After all, the amount of money which is ringfenced for gaelic medium education is a drop in the ocean compared with the amount which is ringfenced for English language education in Scotland, which is to say almost the entire education budget.

  17. Kathryn MacLeod says:

    The piddling funding Gaidhlig receives is an apology payment for the mauling the language and its users have had over centuries,and still get bashed by incomers.See a recent piece by the learned Frank Mcavennie in the Scottish Sun on road signs. This is a Scotsman for you,a Gaidhlig hater. The rebuttal by the silky journalist John Morrison was sheer class and very,very funny!2018 and still they put us down. I am a native speaker,so,ya, boo,sucks, we survive.

  18. Stuart Murray says:

    On pages 79 to 80 of his book “Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages”, Professor Peter Schrijver writes: ” The closest cognate of Irish is British Celtic, or rather Highland British Celtic, the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish, and Breton that was spoken in the west and north of Britain. Although on the face of it the Old Irish of the seventh century and Old Welsh and Breton of the eighth century look very different from one another, almost all of the differences between them had arisen in a relatively short period between the fifth and seventh centuries AD, when masses of sound changes affected both languages. In fact, during the Roman period Irish and British Celtic must have been so similar that Celtic speakers on either side of the Irish Sea had little difficulty in understanding one another’s language. The earliest datable linguistic development that was not shared between Irish and British is the development of the Proto-Celtic diphthong * ai to * ɛ̄ (as in English bed but long), which affected British Celtic but not Irish, probably at some point during the later first century AD at the earliest. Before this happened, Irish and British Celtic were not just mutually comprehensible dialects; they were indistinguishable from one another.”

  19. Stuart Murray says:

    Its perfectly possible to condemn a statement on Gaelic by a Muslim and also condemn Islamophobic comments that some may respond with. Islam is not the reason Gaelic has suffered. Scottish English speakers have been for centuries.Somewhere in the planet there may be a Taoist or Mongolian Shaman opposed to Gaelic because of something they read on the internet and they also wont reflect their religion in their ignorant opining on Scotland’s original language. In fact Islam promotes bilingualism by necessitating an understanding of Arabic among the majority of non Arabs in order to read the Koran. Ironically if any culture has “overtaken” the Western Isles, its the vaguely English one (Ie Scottish English as well as other English speakers and Gaels who’ve switched to just speaking English) agus ‘s e calpachas as coireach.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.