What’s Gaelic for Omerta?

“Scotland has changed for ever” is a mantra that’s repeated without reflection too often. But it’s true in unexamined ways. Levels of cultural self-belief are bedded in and declining levels of cringe are apparent everywhere. This is a difficult process as it can lead to obsession with ‘culture’ over harder more pressing issues (sic). At it’s worst it can lead to a sort of wha’s like us couthy commercialised Neo Shortbread Tin marketing (think Coorie, think teatowels). But at its best it’s about the following four revelations about our own culture: you have one; it has merit; it’s worthy of study and celebration and criticism like any other; there should be institutions that do this staffed by people who know something about it. These four ideas have actually been alien for a very long time despite the comfortable assumption otherwise.

There’s also a growing awareness that Scottish culture has in many respects has been ignored, marginalised, deemed unimportant or mislaid, and that this needs to be overturned. This is true whilst its also true that in some respects we are obsessed by a very superficial relationship to our own culture. These two realities are intimately connected.

The stushie about the Scottish Anglican Network describing public spending on gaelic as an “utter waste of money” – and then spending a day attacking a much rumoured ‘gaelic mafia’ are an example of a tired and tedious abuse of gaelic culture. It’s not unusual but it’s increasingly marginalised and irrelevant. The assumption that is its ubiquitous and mainstream is wrong. People who hate their own culture are now in the minority. This is significant.

The attack came in response from a fairly innocuous tweet by the Scottish Parliament saying;

To which the St Brides church replied: “Why are public funds being spent on something that 98.8% of Scots don’t understand. Utter waste of money.”

The culturally confident assumption from the Anglican’s (note other Anglicans are available) was that this sort of outburst would be celebrated online.

The hegemonic cultural assumption that gaelic should be reviled and ridiculed comes in the same week that Gaelic Duolingo course announced a new improved Gaelic course. The course has trebled in size. Gaelic Duolingo announced:
  • The lexeme (language unit) count has jumped from around 1100 to around 3500. This is a much more substantial course.
  • 15,900 fully recorded Gaelic sentences from 17 lovely Gaelic speakers from across Scotland and Nova Scotia / Cape Breton.
  • Loads of new topics, as suggested by learners: fighting, flirting, Highlands, Lowlands, Dòtaman, the Mòd, landscape, politics, technology and many more.
  • Comprehensive tips and notes for all skills. About 41,500 words of notes. Basically a book.
Not only is the sort of attitude put out by the Anglicans no longer tolerated, no longer mainstream, it represents a generational impasse. It is outmoded, it is of the past.
This time last year we reported that Gaelic Duolingo had surpassed 60,000 users. The reality is that the numbers of people learning gaelic has gone from 5,500 (in Scotland) to 560,000 around the world.  That’s a global soft power as Scotland emerges into the world as a political entity.
This isn’t just about gaelic. If you take the on and offline work of Alistair Heather, Chris McQueer or ‘Miss PunnyPennie’ (@Lenniesaurus) there’s signs of this being a generational shift.
Libby Brooks from the Guardian writes (‘Duolingo sparks Gaelic boom as young Scots shrug off ‘cringe’ factor‘):

“Last month, the Open University Scotland launched a free online course – which has already attracted nearly 7,000 unique visitors from the UK, US, Canada and Australia – that teaches the Scots language in the context it is spoken, as well as highlighting its role in Scottish culture and society.

While Gaelic has sustained a more gradual revival, with well-established schools and broadcasting, as well as its current visibility in the time travel blockbuster series Outlander, there is now an increasing recognition of Scots, says Sylvia Warnecke, a senior lecturer in languages at OU Scotland.

She explains: “In the academic world, the recognition of Scots as an important part of our linguistic and cultural landscape has existed for quite a while, but that’s not the case in other areas, like education, where Scots has always been considered ‘bad English’, or in popular culture, where it’s used to add humour.”

Last year also featured the first Scots language awards, held in Glasgow in September, where the winner of the lifetime achievement award was the writer Sheena Blackhall, who was recently also named as the first Doric makar, or poet laureate.”

Of course none of this matters at all if we don’t resolve the rural housing crisis, the rural jobs crisis and the rural economy crisis, which are all intimately and tragically connected to the very real gaelic language crisis. We know all this.
There’s not much point someone downloading an app in Nova Scotia if you can’t get a house in Portree.
While we celebrate Duolingo and a host of innovations, what we need in tandem is community lead planning, meaningful land-reform, regulation of short-term lets and Air BnB, a complete re-think of over-tourism in Scotland and a real strategy to create local economies. Some of that is already in play amongst the movement for resilience and against depopulation, but it needs to be ramped up and made a national priority.
“Scotland has changed for ever” describes a static and slightly lazy assumption.
Scotland is changing forever. It’s unstuck. Where we go and how we channel that momentum is the interesting bit.

Image Credit: @DrochBheu

Comments (72)

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  1. Andy Anderson or Seoras Mac'ill'Andrais says:

    I was born in a Glasgow slum just before the war and my first language was a version of Scots. I moved to Fife while still a child to a mining village where another version of Scots was popular. Later in life, while serving as a piper in the Cameron Highlanders my pals were mostly Gaelic speakers I started to learn Gaelic and although far from fluent I can speak, read and write in Gaelic. So I can manage to express myself in writing in English and in Gaelic but I can’t write, and find it hard to read Scots.
    I do believe that an understanding of the different native cultures is Scotland is interesting and rewarding. Just as learning about other cultures can be interesting and rewarding.

  2. Geoff Bush says:

    Detractors of Gaelic would do well to pause and think about the reasons why Gaelic, once the most commonplace language in all parts of Scotland, is now spoken only by a small minority. The short explanation is political, cultural, economic and linguistic genocide over the past 3 centuries.

    1. Finlay Macleod says:

      Over the past 8 centuries more like it.

    2. Alex says:

      Indeed! It’s easy to say “who cares” when it’s someone else’s culture being destroyed. Easy but still criminally wrong, but Scots who became part of the Imperial framework became the strongest detractors of our own culture?

      In the past 300 years plus, Scots thought they became better people by walking away ( or driving away others) from their own culture.

      Schools and Kirks taught us from an early age to despise Scots culture and history. I look back at my primary school teachers of fifty years ago with disdain and disgust. Yet they had, already had done to them what they were doing to my generation- making us traitors to our ancestors?

      I think the biggest problem as regards Gaelic education and other elements of Scottish culture and history is that a lot of Scots grew up being taught lies about who we are and where we come from.

      Their sense of who they are and how they became- is essentially a fabrication.

      Perhaps now that we (Scotland) are confronting our Imperial slavery history we can now confront the fact that our neighbours very nearly became successful in totally consuming Scotland and as in slavery, we cannot stand back and say Scots did not have any part of it.

      Before people in Scotland will take up Gaelic classes in large numbers they will need to be reminded of who we are and where we came from. Many of us don’t know as this was stolen from and and those before us.

      The lack of Gaelic speaking is a symptom of the problem, the problem is many Scots need a major sector of their sense of self and world view downloaded and installed.

      That’s not going to be easy, but I think in some ways at least we are going in the right direction.

  3. Sandy Thomson says:

    Important to note that the Scottish Anglican Network has nothing to do with the Scottish Episcopal Church, which is a strong supporter of Gaelic. The SAN broke away from SEC over the issue of gay clergy. They are a tiny group of six congregations – including one in Harris!

  4. SquirrelTowers says:

    Excellent article and younger folk are ever more confident in speaking their language. As an English bird that’s called Scotland home for 25 years, there is much still to explore, discover, create and celebrate about the culture of this place. So many un-dug archaeological sites (a major and amazing hill fort near me has never been excavated), songs and tales http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/ and history not fully explored. It’s probably just me but it’s tantalising what might happen and be created with a hefty chunk of increased funding direct to the cultural sector in an enlightened newly independent Scotland.

  5. Finlay Macleod says:

    We would like to hear from parents in the Dumfries area who would like to see a Gaelic medium pre-school group and also a Gaelic medium unit in the local area.
    If you would like more information then we ask you to contact the Moray language Centre email [email protected] and let us know where you live in the area.

  6. Liz Summerfield says:

    I’m doing the Duolongo course. Gaelic was my granny’s first language, and though she didn’t teach it to me, our speech was peppered with it until my primary schoolmates knocked it out of me. The main failing of the Duolongo course is that it doesn’t ask you to SAY the words, so I can read it a bit, but not get my tongue round it. I am amazed at how many references in it there are to other languages, from Russian (believe it or not) to the romance languages.

    1. Anna says:

      Just repeat what you hear – listen and repeat as many times as you like. It’s helpful to hear the pronunciation from a native speaker. I think that’s one of the tips given at the start of a lesson.

      1. Liz Summerfield says:

        I have an additional problem – I have only about 30% of normal hearing, so any small syllables between those that are stressed are lost on me, and similar sounds are hard to distinguish.

        1. Time, the Deer says:

          LearnGaelic Dictionary has sound files, Liz – just look up the word or phrase you want and click on the speaker icon. The wummin’s Gaelic is very crisp and clear, good for beginners. Cùm a’ dol a charaid, you’ll get there eventually 🙂

  7. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    I don’t think anyone could reasonably deny that Gaelic is one of contemporary Scotland’s many languages and that its speakers are entitled to the same consideration that the speakers of Scotland’s other languages enjoy, and vice versa. But there’s no good reason why it should be privileged within our multicultural (but not yet plurilingual) society over Urdu or Polish, say, or even English.

    It’s good that the business of the Scottish parliament is being made accessible to Gaelic speakers by the provision of interpretation services. I look forward to the appearance of road signs in Arabic and Mandarin et al, as an assertion of our national identity.

    1. Anna says:

      For an intelligent person, you can sometimes make some foolish comments: place names are in Gaelic on roadsigns as many places originally had Gaelic names which were then anglicised by non-Gaelic map-makers, sometimes out of all recognition and using letters which don’t exist in Gaelic. We don’t yet have place names which derive from Arabic or Mandarin – as you know fine well.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        True, true! (Although, ‘originally’ might be stretching it a bit far.) But you get my point…

        1. Achmacath mac ille Motha says:

          Quite a few Dumfries cooncilors deny Gaelic was ever spoken in Dumfries-shire (a certain infamous Councillor Diggle (I’m not joking) springs to mind). Place-names tell a different story, a farm for sale on Galbraith’s website is a nice example (take a look, a snip at £705k https://www.galbraithgroup.com/property/edi200025-barnglieshead-canonbie-dg14-0xr) just now at Canonbie right on the English border rejoices in the name Barnglieshhead which is none other than ScG bàrr na h-eaglaise ‘hilltop of the church (hopefully not Anglican!) +head. There are plenty of Gaelic place-names in Cumbria as well.
          This is not to deny other languages are evident in Dumfries-shire place-names, Northumbrian, Cumbric, Norse, Scots and English.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Aye, but which Gaelic was it that displaced and led to the eventual extinction of the Old English and Cumbric language-communities? Was it that of the Scots Gaels or the Norse Gaels? I’ve read that the Gaelic of the incomers perhaps had more in common with Manx and Irish Gaelic than with the Gaelic spoken by the Scots. In fact, doesn’t the name given to the region by the Scots kings, prior to the extension of the Anglo-French hegemony over the kingdom in the first half of the 12th century, derive from a phrase meaning something like ‘the land of the stranger-Gaels’?

        2. Time, the Deer says:

          I think you’re getting confused pal. Irish and Scottish Gaelic come from the same roots; it was the Norse influence on Scottish Gaelic that (mostly) accounts for the differences between them one hears today. Scotland has always been a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country, and language is dynamic. Your notions of ‘incomers’ and rigid linguistic categories are misinformed and outdated. Perhaps something to do with none of us ever having been taught this stuff at school? If you wish to catch up, read Ewan Campbell’s seminal article, ‘Were the Scots Irish?’ and take it from there. Slàinte.

  8. Martin Meteyard says:

    There was a great programme ‘Rebel Tongue’ on the Scots language on BBC Scotland last week, fronted by Alistair Heather. It should still be available to watch on iPlayer.

  9. Richard Easson says:

    It’s a well known and indisputable Biblical fact that Jesus spoke Gaelic.

    Well you never know. (Certainly not Border English)

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Aye, but was He a Lewisman or a Skyeman?

      I remember a conversation I had with Aonghas MacNeacail on the poets’ bus a few years ago, during which he spoke of someone he described as ‘a Gaelic speaker from Lewis’, before quickly adding ‘if that’s not a contradiction in terms’.

  10. Mary McCabe says:

    When the new SNP Government announced there would be one question on Scottish history in the Higher history paper and one question on Scottish Literature in the Higher English Literature paper, a predictable storm broke out along the usual “parochial!!” “narrow nationalism” lines.

    Since then we’ve heard very little about it.

    In recent years there’s been much activism over getting the Scots to “face up to” the part the Scottish merchant classes played in slavery and the wealth they gained in compensation after the slaves were liberated.

    It’s true that at school we learned about the parts Plymouth, Bristol and Liverpool played in the slave trade and nothing about Glasgow. However we never questioned that because we were taught nothing at all about any of Scottish history – we assumed that nothing important had ever happened in our wee backwater. “History” for us was based on the kings and queens of England and their wars, in some of which Scotland was presented as the enemy.
    Nowadays schools mainly teach 20th century history, with particular focus on the two World Wars.

    We know this neglect of Scottish history is deliberate. After he stopped being Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth said there had always been a reluctance to teach Scottish history in case it turned the pupils into Scottish nationalists. In 2001 there was a heated debate in the Scottish Parliament over whether the history of the radical Wars and 1820 Uprising should be taught in Scottish schools – it ended without a vote.

    It’s good to have a Black History month every year. It would be even better if in Scotland we also had a few weeks devoted to Scottish History.

    In other aspects of culture it’s the same. My son sat Higher Modern Studies in 1999, the very year the Scottish Parliament was instituted. In the whole course there was no mention of the referendum, of devolution, or the Parliament.

    Until 2012 the participants in Aye Write (Glasgow’s main literary Festival) were selected by a man based in Bristol, whose website focused on the Bristol Literary Festival and mentioned “Aye Write” only in a footnote. Any novel written in Scots got short shrift.

    1. George Muir says:

      Surprise surprise!!

    2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      And yet the information is out there. That some Scots don’t know their history and literature because they weren’t spoon-fed them in school is hardly an excuse. Scots from other ethnic traditions still manage to engage with their respective heritages, despite the dearth of Asian, African, Caribbean, and Eastern European history and culture being taught in our schools. The whole grievance bespeaks a lazy victimhood in which they should be ashamed to wallow. Sapere aude!

      1. Wul says:

        “That some Scots don’t know their history and literature because they weren’t spoon-fed them in school is hardly an excuse.”

        Aye it effing well is! How are you supposed to know what you don’t know, if you don’t even know how to find out what you don’t know?

        What a snobbish thing to have said.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          You take responsibility for your own learning and read as much and as widely as you can, Wul, that’s how. There’s nothing snobbish about educating yourself; lot’s of people, from all sorts of different backgrounds, manage it.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Apologies for the buckshee apostrophe in there.

          2. Why have schools at all Anndrais?

          3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Childcare and progression into future employment.

            I’ve nothing against schools as communities of scholars rather than centres of discipline and skills production lines. Schools can provide access to useful educational resources for active learners, but they can also cultivate the kind of dependency in one’s learning to which Wul alludes

      2. Time, the Deer says:

        You might want to look into the 1872 Education Act. The language and history of the Gàidheil were deliberately extirpated from the curriculum.

    3. Tony Maries says:

      South of the Border the history of Scotland was barely a footnote in my education which featured History at O and A Level and a degree.
      Particularly up to A Level ‘British’ history from 1600 was presented as an onward progressive march from the absolute monarchy of the Stuarts to the growth of parliamentary democracy and the Reform Act of 1832 which ushered in a increasing tide of liberal and then social democratic reform culminating in the Labour government of 1945.
      I don’t remember anything from that time about the Union and the 15 and the 45, all very significant events which were of major importance in the evolution of a Great Britain. In fact I am not quite sure what I actually was taught about the history of Scotland.
      I would be very surprised if very much has changed since.
      I expect that the history which is taught in public schools was and is even more Anglo-centric. Hence the outburst by Boris Johnson about ‘devolution being a disaster’ and the remarks by Rees-Mogg earlier this week about needing to put right the meddling with the constitution by the Blair government (ie abolition of the devolved governments in Holyrood and Cardiff).

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Why couldn’t you have read Scottish history when you were at school and, more especially, university. What prevented you? The fact that it wasn’t taught is hardly an excuse.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          More generally, what makes us so passive in our learning? Why don’t we take more active responsibility for it?

  11. Mrs Rebecca MacLeod says:

    The tweet was from the account of one church in the network. It did not represent the view of the network (nor did it purport to) so that bit in this article needs to be changed. I don’t know, but I suspect it did not reflect the view of the congregation either, and that the tweeter had an insufficient grasp of the appropriate use of a corporate account.
    I contacted the network to ascertain their position, and the response was pro- not contra-Gaelic. Perhaps then, this serves as an example of the minority nature of opposition mentioned in the article.
    I’m not an Anglican. I made my enquiry based on the suspicion that the network and the congregation were unaware of the Twitter activity and the negativity towards them which could follow, and that if I were in either organisation I would appreciate the opportunity to act.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Well done, Mrs MacLeod! Just goes to show that one shouldn’t automatically jump to grievance-conclusions. ‘Chips’ and ‘shoulders’ immediately spring to mind.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        You sound to me by now like a Unionist, anti-Gaelic troll and in any case, you certainly haven’t read Ernst Gellner as you have claimed elsewhere otherwise you would hardly claim that Gaelic and Polish have the same status in Scotland…

        A more sophisticated troll than most, but a troll who, like trolls do, pops up on every single thread to try to impose their own agenda on the debate…

        1. MacNaughton says:

          My post is directed at Anndrais Mac Challium, not Mrs Rebecca MacLeod…

        2. Time, the Deer says:

          Every. Single. Thread! Guy needs a hobby…

        3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          I read Gellner alongside other students of nations and nationalism, like Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm, and, more recently, Paul James, for example, with a goodly pinch of salt to hand. Some of what Ernst had to say I find provisionally sound, some of it I find definitely flawed. You need to be so discriminating when you read these guys.

          Jan Zielonka also had something of interest to say a couple of years ago in an article in New Scientist entitle ‘End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?’., in which he argues that the future structure and exercise of political power will resemble the medieval model more than what he calls ‘the Westphalian one’, with the latter being about the concentration of power, sovereignty and clear-cut identity, and the former about overlapping authorities, divided sovereignty, multiple identities and governing institutions, and ‘fuzzy’ borders.

          As a matter of interest, though, why do you think Gaelic should be ascribed higher status than Scotland’s other languages?

          1. Time, the Deer says:

            Do you realise the argument you are repeatedly making with regards to Gaelic is the linguistic equivalent of saying ‘all lives matter’? Do you really want to be that guy Andrew?

          2. MacNaughton says:

            What is it you find flawed about Gellner for example? I mean, give us some detail since you’ve not only read him, but read him with salt….

            It’s like when you go on about language and bring in David Hume, who was writing at a time when most people believed God had named everything in the world. The big realization of the importance of language and how it shapes reality starts in the latter 19th century and continues long into the 20th, more than a century after Hume….

            I just think you’re trolling….

          3. Steaphan says:

            Which other currently spoken community languages in Scotland would you categorise as Scottish? Please write a sentence in each one.

          4. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Okay, here’s what I recall from my reading of Ernst Gellner.

            Gellner defines ‘nationalism’ as the political principle that holds that the state should be congruent with the nation. This is the definition I assume in my thinking, it being as good as any other; so, to that extent I’m a follower of Gellner.

            For Gellner, nationalism is the imposition of a unified ‘high’ culture or ‘national identity’ on society, which replaces local, ‘low’ cultures and most multiculturalism. Again, I follow Gellner in this; though, while he sees this imposition as a necessary condition of a successful state, I deplore it as undemocratic.

            His theory as to the origin of ‘nationalisation’ starts by regarding the transformation of society from an agrarian-based economy, like the one that underpinned Scottish society prior to the Union, to an industrial one, like the one that began to shape Britain from around the 1750s.

            For Gellner, society before capitalism was vertically bound, with strict and largely impenetrable boundaries between communities (‘fiefdoms’) and between the social classes within those communities. While these distinct communities might have been bound at the very top by a single kingship, they didn’t always share (indeed, they hardly ever shared) a common language or common memories, myths, religion, or ancestry.

            According to Gellner, this situation changed with the rise of industrialism and its need for a uniform and disciplined workforce. Mass standardised education began to manufacture armies of interchangeable operatives for standardised factory production.

            Gellner argued that, as part of the commodification of labour in the service of capitalism, nationalism strives to have one ‘high’ culture or ethnicity under the one roof or ‘state’, For Gellner, this uniformity of national identity is the most important principle of successful statehood in the modern world. As such, nationhood is something for which minority ethnicities within a regime always strive, since it represents for them the only way they can aspire to a share of success in the modern world.

            The main philosophical problem I have with Gellner’s theory is that it’s too functionalist. It’s not at all clear that all aspects of nationalism serve a function, let alone the historical function he ascribes to it. Some aspects of it may be entirely gratuitous.

            Another problem I have with it that it’s not at all clear that nationalism is in fact a necessary condition of industrial society. Does a capitalist regime really depend on having a homogenised workforce to function well?

            A third problem I have is with his contention that nationalism can serve as a ‘liberation theology’ for minority ethnicities within capitalist regimes that are seeking to assimilate them to their cultural hegemonies. At most, national liberation can free such ethnicities to successfully pursue their own capitalist regimes, but not from the more global regime of capitalism per se and its more profound existential alienations.

            So, as far as I’m concerned, Gellner provides a useful definition of nations and nationalism, but some of the web of conclusions he spins from it are at least dubious.

          5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:


            Every language-community whose members participate in the civic life of Scotland is ‘Scottish’. Which would you exclude? And why?

            And I’ll ask again: Why should Gaelic enjoy a privileged status over, say, Urdu or Polish? Why shouldn’t other Scottish languages enjoy equal status?

          6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            @ MacNaughton

            Are you sure about Hume? I only remember bringing him in when I was going on about the David Hume Tower and the legacy of his racism, never when I’ve been going on about language. Hume’s views on language were pretty primitive; I can’t imagine why I’d bring him into a discussion about that.

          7. Time, the Deer says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim

            You are still arguing ‘All Languages Matter’. Gaelic deserves extra support because of the extraordinary violence inflicted upon the language and its speakers over the last few hundred years.

            You are a curious character, Andrew Maccallum, choosing to represent your name in Gaelic, despite not speaking the language, and then denigrating it at every opportunity…

          8. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Where do I denigrate Gaelic? I’m arguing that (to copy and paste my original post):

            ‘I don’t think anyone could reasonably deny that Gaelic is one of contemporary Scotland’s many languages and that its speakers are entitled to the same consideration that the speakers of Scotland’s other languages enjoy, and vice versa. But there’s no good reason why it should be privileged within our multicultural (but not yet plurilingual) society over Urdu or Polish, say, or even English.’

            And I don’t think anyone could reasonably deny that Gaelic has since the 12th century suffered great violence in the culture wars that have taken place in the northern part of these isles, as did Cumbric, say, before it. Is that enough to make it exceptional among modern Scotland’s many languages? I don’t think so, but we may have to agree to differ.

          9. Time, the Deer says:

            Please enlighten us as to this historical phase of ‘Cumbric’ persecution you refer to – I will require citations of the relevant academic literature.

            Gaelic was spoken in over half of the land mass of Scotland for many hundreds of years, it was the language that the kingdom of Alba was founded on, the vast majority of our place names are Gaelic, and it came under unprecedented attack in the days of Empire, with children literally beaten by their schoolteachers for speaking it… To claim this doesn’t make it exceptional in Scotland *is* to denigrate it.

            Did they not invite you along for a dram after that one Gaelic class you went to years ago or something?

          10. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Gaelicisation in Galloway and Carrick occurred at the expense of Old English and Cumbric between the 5th and 11th centuries (vide, for example, Brooke, D: Wild Men and Holy Places. Edinburgh: Canongate Press, 1994, or Jennings, A. P.: ‘Origins of Galloway’, in Lynch, M, (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

            Yes, the Anglicisation of Scotland from the 12th century onward has occurred at the expense of Gaelic. But what possible relevance can that have for the relative status of Gaelic as a language of modern Scotland? As a language-community today, Gaelic is no more or less Scottish than Urdu or Polish is. In fact, according to the last census, more Scots speak Polish at home than speak Gaelic. This is not to denigrate Gaelic or the historical experience of Gaelic speakers; it’s just to recognise the place of Gaelic in modern Scotland’s multicultural landscape and its relative importance within our multilingual society.

          11. Steven says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim

            You really are stretching the definition of Scottish.
            Just because Poles and Indians or Pakistanis live in Scotland doesn’t make their languages Scottish.
            If you asked a Pole or an Indian or Pakistani if they considered Urdu or Polish to be Scottish, I think you would get a “no” for an answer followed by a quizzical look.

            Let’s give the full names of Scottish languages: Scottish Gaelic, Scots. These are Scottish.
            Even English is not Scottish, because (the clue is in the name), it is English!
            Yes, there is a Scottish variety of English but I’ve yet to find it defined in any textbooks for English learners, it’s still English.
            On the other hand, you can find textbooks dedicated to the study of Scottish Gaelic, and maybe one or two for Scots, as well as the excellent privately-maintained website Wir Ain Leid. You can find Scottish Gaelic on Duolingo where around 500,000 people around the world are using it to learn Scottish Gaelic.
            Guess what – people from elsewhere who are interested in Scotland don’t tend to learn Urdu or Polish to further that interest.

            The first time I visited my local library many years ago, books in Urdu enjoyed privileged status over Scottish Gaelic books.
            The library had purchased far more books in Chinese, Urdu, Hindu, Polish and other languages than they had of Scottish Gaelic or Scots.
            This is probably still the case in that particular library.
            I think you’ll find that even today, Urdu and Polish and other languages are all privileged over Scottish Gaelic and Scots in many walks of life in Scotland.
            For example, in guides to tourist attractions or information provided by councils.

            I fail to see how furthering Scotland’s native languages should be seen as a privilege, rather than a fundamental human right. Therefore your question is a red herring.

          12. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            No, Steaphan; I’m giving it an inclusive civic definition rather than an exclusive ethnic one. Anyone who participates in the civic life of Scotland is a Scot, irrespective of their ethnicity, place of origin, the colour of their skin, religion, political beliefs, language, or whatever – including all those ‘Poles’, ‘Indians’, and ‘Pakistanis’, with their ‘foreign’ languages and customs, whom you ‘other’ by your nativism.

            If anything’s to be denigrated, it’s ethnic nationalism. It literally disgusts me. I have been known to throw-up in its presence.

            (At last, we’re getting to the meat of the matter.)

          13. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Sorry! ‘Steven’. (I muddled you up with someone else; namely Steaphan!)

          14. Steaphan/Steven says:

            @Anndra Mac Chaluim

            Same person. Steaphan and Steven are the same name, just one is Scottish, the other English. How can that be? Well, the spelling of Steaphan follows Scottish Gaelic convention representing the Gaelic pronunciation, whereas Steven represents the English pronunciation.

            So, you see this is not about ethnicity but about defining which languages are Scottish and which are not, from a linguistic point of view.

          15. Time, the Deer says:

            So Cumbric declined when people started speaking Gaelic, there is literally no evidence to suggest a state-sponsored campaign of persecution or actual ethnic cleansing, as occurred in the Highlands. Try again.

            You are woefully out of your depth here; realise when you’re wrong and educate yourself.

          16. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            That’s right, Time; when the Gall-Ghàidheal invaded, the local British and English inhabitants all went to Gaelic classes and started speaking Gaelic instead, as people did in the early Middle Ages.

            Mind you (to hold forth as you draw me another pint), if it hadn’t been for a descendant of the Gall-Ghàidheal, Fergus, and his sons, grandsons, and great-grandson, Alan, the Community of Galloway would have much more quickly been absorbed by Scotland. It was only after Alan’s death in 1234, when Alexander III of Scotland invaded Galloway, ostensibly in support of the inheritance claims of the husbands of Alan’s three daughters against that of his illegitimate son, Thomas, whom the Community wanted as its king, and defeated it, that Galloway’s independent existence to an end and its Gaelic culture began to be replaced by the Anglo-French culture of the likes of the Balliols and the Bruces.

            Not quite the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the Highlands following the ’45, I grant you; in fact, I’m sure that, compared to that, the culture wars in Gallovidia were a much more polite affair.

          17. Time, the Deer says:

            Where did you cut and paste that from Andrew? History is not all about men with big swords dominating people, this is an outdated view. The idea of Gaelic ‘invading’ Galloway was discredited in 1986. The fact that evidence for Brythonic still exists in place-names reveals what we call language contact – ‘What do you lot call that river over there?’ is not exactly fighting talk. Turn off ‘Blood of the Clans’ and read some research:

            Clancy, T. (2008), ‘The Gall-Ghaidheil and Galloway’, Journal of Scottish Name Studies 2
            Livingston, A. (2011), ‘Gaelic in Galloway: part one–expansion’, Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History.

            However you want to frame it, you simply cannot credibly draw an equivalence with Brythonic dying out in Galloway due to cultural change in the medieval period, and the persecution of Gaelic and of Gaels by the British State in modern times. You are clutching at straws. Give it up – you have been barred from other threads because you can’t accept when you are wrong. When we seem to be at odds with everybody, all of the time, it’s healthy to consider that maybe we are the ones in the wrong about something, and that we should perhaps reconsider our views. Slàinte.

          18. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            No, indeed. History is about the evolution of human culture through time. Gaelic supplanted the Brythonic and Anglic cultures of the territory we now call ‘Galloway’ in the early Middle Ages, which cultures for whatever reason failed to thrive in the changes to historical environment effect by the arrival of the Gaels and subsequently died out of the population. Equivalently, over a much longer period, culminating in the brutal suppression of Jacobitism in defence of the revolution of 1688, English supplanted the Goidelic cultures of the territory we now call ‘Scotland’ and those cultures all but died out of the population. That’s history for you: nature red in tooth and claw.

            That Gaelic deserves special consideration among the languages of modern Scotland because Gaelic speakers suffered grievously in the past is an instance of the pathetic fallacy, an appeal to our emotions. I suspect that what really drives the privileging of Gaelic is ethnic nationalism; the idea that a nation is to be defined by ethnicity and the heritage of its so-called ‘native’ Volk rather than culture-neutral universal citizenship.

            So, for that reason, I stand by my view that:

            ‘I don’t think anyone could reasonably deny that Gaelic is one of contemporary Scotland’s many languages and that its speakers are entitled to the same consideration that the speakers of Scotland’s other languages enjoy, and vice versa. But there’s no good reason why it should be privileged within our multicultural society over Urdu or Polish, say, or even English.’

          19. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            @ Steaphan/Steven

            Yep, you’re getting there, Stefan. It is indeed about defining (or delimiting) which languages are ‘Scottish’ and which are not. To define (or delimit the extent of) anything you need some criteria. The question is whether, in this day and age, we should continue to use ethnicity as a criterion by which to define what is ‘Scottish’ and what is not, or whether we should instead use the more culture-neutral measure of citizenship. I believe that the latter’s less exclusive and more congruent with the sort of pluralism we require to police a postmodern cosmopolitan society.

          20. Time, the Deer says:

            I’m not sure why I am still engaging with someone who thinks it’s cool to demean hospitality workers (‘to hold forth as you draw me another pint’). Was this you too, Andrew? Seems on-brand:


            You are wrong, you have repeatedly been proven wrong, and you still insist on repeating your fallacious argument. I conclude you are a troll, and a particularly tedious one at that.

            Thalla ‘is cac, amadan.

          21. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, it’s completely out of character. I’d have bent the rules to make sure the poor young fella caught his train. It must have been someone else.

            And I apologies to all hospitality workers out there for demeaning you by implying that at least some of you draw pints.

            And, Time… It’s up to you to decide what you’re getting out of engaging me in conversation. I can’t imagine… You seem to be causing yourself nothing but aggravation.

          22. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            I also apologise to all those Gaelic speakers whom I’ve denigrated by suggesting that they should, as a language community, enjoy the same rights as any other language community in Scotland.

          23. Time, the Deer says:

            Lol, you might want to check which name you’re logged in under before commenting, Andrew – so you have two trolling accounts, do you?

          24. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, I changed my moniker after it had been intimated to me by some folk in a virtual pub that I was nuthin’ but a loud-mouthed schnook. It seems… I say, it seems kinda appropriate – loud-mouthed, that is.

            I made a funny, son, and you’re not laughin’. (Nice kid, but about as sharp as a bowling ball.) I keep pitchin’ ‘em and you keep missin’ ‘em. That’s a joke, son; don’t ya get it?

          25. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Queer place, that bar. The barman flounced off in a state of high dudgeon when I asked him to draw me a pint.

            (I’m glad we’re still talking, though, Time. Have you worked our why yet?)

    2. Steaphan says:

      Indeed. The official Church spokesperson went on to apologize for the lone clergy members misuse of their work email, and described notable figures of their church’s history who have furthered Christianity through the Gaelic language.

  12. Gashty McGonnard says:

    The way others are reporting it, the anti-Gaelic tweet was from one parish’s account (St Bride’s, Naomh Brìde … oh the unconscious irony!), and the SAN distanced itself quickly from the remarks. Let’s not blame a whole denomination for one boozy sexton, or whatever.

    Definitely good to see that those attitudes don’t get to act all hegemonic any more.

    1. Gashty McGonnard says:

      Btw, the Gaelic for omertà is guim tostachd… probably.

      1. Time, the Deer says:

        ‘Cha chan me càil mus can me cus’?

        1. Time, the Deer says:

          *Cha chan mi càil mus can mi cus*, lol, damn that phonestic spelling..!

          1. Time, the Deer says:

            *phonetic*… Obh obh, time to stop work for the day…

        2. Steaphan says:

          Ma tha android agad gheibhear fiosaiche litreachaidh don Ghàidhlig ann.
          If you have android, you can get a Gaelic text predictor.

          1. Time, the Deer says:

            Cha robh fios agam air sin – taing mhòr. Bha mi a’ coimhead air sgrìn ro fhada!

  13. Tommy moore says:

    Scots? (Snorting with derision!)

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