Gaelic bingo


There’s still no clarity on Brexit. There’s still no news on when there’s going to be another General Election. But this week there’s the SNP conference in Aberdeen, and the annual national Mòd is being held in Glasgow. There will be plenty on the pages of this blog about Brexit and the SNP conference over the coming days, but today, for a wee change, I thought that I would mark the Glasgow Mòd with a blog post about Gaelic bingo. Gaelic bingo is the game that Gaelic speakers play when confronted with arguments against the use and promotion of Gaelic in Scotland. Without exception, they’ve all heard all these arguments many times before. Gaelic bingo is when you reward yourself with a wee deoch, that’s Gaelic for drink, whenever one of these hackneyed old arguments rears its head again. What I propose to do in this blog post is to run through some of these arguments, although running over them might be a lot better, and to debunk them as best as I can.

Gaelic is a dead language

For a dead language, Gaelic is remarkably resilient. Dead languages are languages which have no speakers. Gaelic has, according to the most recent census in Scotland, over 57,000 speakers in Scotland. An unknown additional number of people have some knowledge of the language. Now of course, in terms of the population of Scotland that’s not a huge proportion, however modern Scottish Gaelic still has a sufficient body of speakers to put it amongst the top 5% of languages of the world in terms of number of speakers. You might think that’s surprising, unbelievable even, but the fact is that there are around 7 billion people in the world, and – very approximately – around 6,500 different languages currently spoken around the world. A relatively small number of languages together account for the great majority of the world’s population.

These are linguistic giants like Standard or Mandarin Chinese, which has some 1.5 billion speakers of whom around 920 million speak it natively. Then there’s Spanish, which has approximately 460 million native speakers. English comes third with about 400 million native speakers, but in addition it has as many as 1 billion second language speakers. English is followed by Hindi which has over 340 million native speakers, with tens of millions of second language speakers. The different varieties of Arabic, which are not all mutually intelligible, together account for over 320 million native speaker, and tens of millions of second language speakers.

The vast majority of languages however, are spoken by a small number of people. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has a population of 260,000 but over 113 indigenous languages. The largest of them, the Lennakel language of the island of Tanna, has just 13,000 speakers. The second largest, Nakanamanga, has 9,500 speakers in the north of the island of Efate. The nation of Papua New Guinea has a population of 8.1 million who together speak over 820 different languages, over 12% of the total number of languages in the world. The largest indigenous languages in Papua New Guinea have a few tens of thousands of speakers. Most of them are spoken in only one or two villages.

People wrongly think that Gaelic is a “dead language” because they compare its number of speakers with those of the linguistic giants of the world, and not the typical language with a couple of thousand speakers in Melanesia or Africa. In fact, there is a significant number of European languages which have fewer speakers than Gaelic. The Aranés language of the Val d’Aran in northwest Catalonia has about 9,000 speakers. The Sorbian languages of eastern Germany, two closely related Slavic languages related to Czech and Polish, have a total of 50,000 speakers between them, 10,000 speak Lower Sorbian and 40,000 speak Upper Sorbian. Also in Germany, there are only around 10,000 speakers of the various dialects of North Frisian, and a mere 2,000 speakers of the related East or Saterland Frisian. Northern Sami, which has more speakers than all other Sami languages combined, has about 25,000 speakers in the far north of Norway and Finland.

Gaelic was once far more widely spoken than it currently is. However languages do not lose speakers because there is some mythical free market of languages. They fail to retain speakers because of cultural, political, and economic decisions made by governments. Most of the languages of the world spoken by a mere couple of thousand of people are perfectly stable and are continuing to be acquired by children. Gaelic is under pressure because of the political decisions made within the British Isles over many generations. The current policies of support for Gaelic seek to reverse that tradition of centuries of neglect and outright persecution.

What Gaelic most certainly is not is a dead language. A dead language is a language which has no remaining speakers. Any language which has been sufficiently recorded and attested retains the possiblity of being revived, even if it ceases to be passed on naturally from parent to child. Cornish ceased to be passed on to younger generations in the 18th century, but in recent decades has been successfully revived. A dead language is a language like Pictish, which not only does not have any remaining speakers, but also does not survive in sufficient attestations to enable it to be revived. No one can construct even a basic sentence in Pictish. Gaelic is very far from dead. It not only retains a significant body of native speakers and second language speakers, it is also abundantly attested. It’s not going to go away.

People who say Gaelic is a dead language and therefore it should not be supported are in fact trying to kill Gaelic off. By killing Gaelic off, they seek to prove the truth of their claim that Gaelic is a dead language. The Gaelic for self-fulfilling prophecy is fàisneachd féin-choileanaidh. If Gaelic really was a dead language, we wouldn’t be able to tell them that.

Gaelic is a political project of the SNP

People who claim that the Gaelic language is a political project of the SNP or Scottish independence supporters are themselves politicising the language. Gaelic is a part of the cultural inheritance of everyone who lives in Scotland, not just those who have recent Highland and Island heritage. Gaelic belongs to everyone in Scotland, irrespective of their political views on the position of Scotland within the UK or as an independent nation. When you try and identify the language with one side in Scotland’s constitutional debate, that is a blatant attempt to politicise the language.

In fact, the support that the Gaelic language enjoys from the Scottish government are not because of decisions of the SNP. It is probably true that people who are supportive of Scottish independence tend to be more supportive of Scottish culture, of which Gaelic is an important and vital part, however many of the most prominent and active supporters of the language do not believe in Scottish independence.

Gaelic enjoys the current level of government support and protection because of a decision made by the Labour government of Tony Blair. In 2001, the British Government signed and ratified the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages in respect of Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish in Northern Ireland, as well as Scots, Manx, and Cornish. The charter is an international treaty, and as such it could only be signed and ratified by the UK government. The effect of the charter was to guarantee a level of protection, funding, and recognition for the languages named by signatory governments.

Gaelic and Welsh enjoy one of the highest levels of protection. (Scots, although also recognised as a language to be protected by the charter, was granted a lower level of recognition by the UK government.) It’s because of the international treaty obligations of this charter that the UK government was obliged to facilitate the creation of a Gaelic language TV channel. It’s also because of the obligations of this treaty that we see the presence of the Gaelic language on road signs and public notices. Because of the political structure of the UK and the devolution of certain responsibilities to Holyrood and the Welsh Senedd, the powers and obligations to protect and nuture those languages mentioned in the charter which are spoken in Scotland fall to the Scottish Parliament and government.

In other words, the measures adopted by the Scottish Government with respect to the promotion and protection of Gaelic are due to obligations imposed upon the Scottish Parliament by an international treaty which was signed and ratified by the British Government.

It should be pointed out that the treaty obligations of the British government to protect and support Gaelic will not end with the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages was signed and adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe, a much larger organisation which has 47 members. The goal of the Council of Europe is to uphold democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in all of Europe, not just the EU. Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Russia, Armenia, Bosnia, and many other nations are members of the Council of Europe but are not members of the EU.

There are more speakers of Polish in Scotland than Gaelic

There are many languages which are spoken in Scotland by minority ethnic communities. It is right and proper that the Scottish Government and the Scottish educational system encourages and supports those communities in their efforts to maintain language fluency in community languages. It enriches all of us if there is a confident and secure population of Polish speaking Scots. It enriches all of us if those Polish-Scots are able to pass on their language to their kids.

However there are two main differences between these community languages and Gaelic. The first, and most obvious, is that these languages are not minority languages elsewhere. Polish is spoken by over 40 million people around the world and is the sole official and national language of Poland which has a population of 38.5 million. In order to ensure that Polish is passed on to future generations of Polish-Scots, Polish speakers in Scotland can and should make use of the vast quantity of linguistic output produced in Polish by speakers of Polish elsewhere. Thousands of books are published in Polish annually, including the works of winners of the Nobel Prize for literature. There’s a vast output of TV and film in Polish, which can be accessed in Scotland online. All these resources can and should be used by the Polish community in Scotland in order to help maintain fluency in Polish amongst younger generations.

However Gaelic and Scots stand or fall depending on what resources we produce for them here in Scotland. There is no huge body of speakers of these languages elsewhere in the world producing a vast output of literature, linguistic material, TV, or movies, that speakers in Scotland can piggy back upon in order to maintain fluency in the language. All that Gaelic has is what people in Scotland produce for it. We have a responsibilty in Scotland to produce and make accessible literature and film and TV in Gaelic which we don’t have with respect to Polish, Chinese, Urdu, or any other community language used in Scotland.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage say, the publication of a novel written in Polish about the experiences of Polish-Scots. Such a development would be hugely welcome. But it is definitely true to say that the survival of Polish in Scotland does not depend upon such a development. The survival of Gaelic and Scots most definitely does.

We do not object to the Scottish Government spending money on the protection of the tangible aspects of Scottish history or culture. There would be outrage if the Scottish Government were to permit Edinburgh Castle to fall into ruin and then allow the building of a shopping centre on the site. Gaelic and Scots are a vitally important part of the intangible heritage of Scotland. Yet many in Scotland are quite sanguine about seeing them fall into decay and an English language development being constructed on their ruins.

In terms of intangible aspects of Scottish culture and heritage, the Gaelic and Scots languages enjoy a role every bit as vital and important as some of the most iconic Scottish buildings do in terms of our built heritage. And this is another important distinction between Gaelic and Polish. The vast literature which is composed in the Polish language is not about Scotland. It is not primarily concerned with speaking to and from the Scottish experience. Literature in Gaelic is primarily about Scotland and the Scottish experience. It does tell us about ourselves and our country in a way that literature written in other languages does not and cannot.

Gaelic is at the very root of what it means to be Scottish. Originally to be a Scot meant to be a Gaelic speaker. That was the original meaning of the Latin term Scoti. It was the use of the Gaelic language which created Scotland, and the use of the Gaelic language which brought Scotland into being. It was only later that the term Scot became extended to those who lived in Scotland and identified with Scotland but who were not themselves Gaelic speakers.

If you want to study the early history of Scotland, you can only do so by reference to documents created and written by Gaelic speakers. Many of these documents are in Latin, but others are written in an early form of Gaelic. You cannot understand early Scottish history or the formation of the Kingdom of Scotland without understanding the role that Gaelic language and culture played. The tree of Scotland grew from a Gaelic seed.

Gaelic was never spoken in the Lowlands

Unlike Polish or other community languages used in Scotland, Gaelic is quite literally written into the Scottish landscape. All across Scotland, there are Gaelic placenames. Even the words we use in Scots and English to describe and talk about the Scottish landscape are frequently words which were borrowed from Gaelic, words like loch, ben, glen, bog. You can’t talk about the landscape of Scotland without having reference to Gaelic, and that applies as much to the Lowlands as it does to the Highlands.

Even in Glasgow, the location of this year’s Mòd, the place names of the districts where events are being held were often created in the Gaelic language by Gaelic speakers and date from a time when Gaelic was spoken natively in the city by established communities of speakers. In fact during the 11th and 12th centuries Gaelic was the dominant language in the Glasgow area and the language used by the majority of the residents of the area which was to become the city. The Gaelic place names of largely date from that time.

Barrachnie in the city’s east end is from the Gaelic Bàrr Fhraoichnidh, the heathery hill. Barlinnie is Blàr Leanaidh, the marshy plain. Garscadden is Gart nan Sgadan, the farm or yard of the herring. Garscube is Gart nan Sguab, the farm of the sheafs. The Calton is A’ Challtainn, the hazel trees. Bellahouston is Baile Ùisdeain, Hugh’s farm. Blochairn is Blàr a’ Chàirn, the plain of the cairn. Killermont is a much corrupted form of Ceann Tearmainn, the head or height of the sanctuary. Dalmarnock is Dail Mheàrnaig, the meadow or haugh of St Marnock. Drumchapel is Druim a’ Chapaill, the horse’s ridge. Garrioch, the older name of what is now called Ruchill is from An Garbhach, the rough hilly area. Ruchill is a Scots translation of the original Gaelic name. Everywhere you turn in Glasgow, you are confronted by Gaelic.

It’s a similar story in all of Scotland’s cities, and all across the Lowlands with the exception of the far south east of Scotland. Even in Edinburgh you will encounter place names created in Gaelic, dating from a time when there were large and politically important and influential communities of Gaelic speaking people in the Edinburgh area. Names like Craigentinny, Craig an t-Sionnaich, the rock of the fox, Corstorphine, Crois Thoirfinn Thorfinn’s cross, Craiglockart Craig Luchairt the rock of the palace, date from this time.

The extent of these place names proves that the Gaelic language was at one time the dominant or sole language everywhere in mainland Scotland north and west of a line drawn very approximately from Gretna to Musselburgh. Gaelic wasn’t merely once spoken in the Lowlands, it survived in the Lowland until surprisingly recent times. Gaelic remained especially strong in South Ayrshire and Galloway right into early modern times. There are reports from the 1500s which inform us that the people of Carrick and Galloway were for the most part Gaelic speaking. The last known speaker of Galloway Gaelic was a woman called Margaret McMurray who died in the Ayrshire town of Maybole in 1760, although it is thought by some that the educator and minister Alexander Murray, who was the professor of Hebrew at Edinburgh University, acquired Galloway Gaelic from his father. Murray died in 1813.

Kids would be better learning a more “useful” language

People who make this remark are thinking about time spent in school learning French and Spanish. They assume that time spent learning Gaelic is time that could be spent on learning some other language. However this is a fundamental misunderstanding of modern Gaelic education. The rise of Gaelic medium schools is the main way in which fluency in Gaelic is being spread amongst younger generations. When a child is taught through the medium of Gaelic, not only does that child end up speaking the language with far greater fluency than those of us who struggle with O Grade French, it is also possible for the child to be taught French, Spanish, or German through the medium of Gaelic.

Indeed, and speaking as a person who has studied many languages, including Gaelic and Spanish, I can assure you that the more languages you learn the easier it becomes to acquire others. An early grounding in Gaelic makes it easier for a child to later acquire French or Spanish or some other language, because that child has received an early education in the mental flexibility that is necessary in order to achieve fluency in a second or third language.

Children who acquire a second language early in life, and who are educated partly through the medium of that language, acquire a fluency in it which is out of reach to those of us who never experienced another language until one hour a week of French or German in secondary school. The benefits of bilingualism are well known to educationalists. Children who acquire another language early in life are better at dealing with abstract concepts, because the have, if you like, two mental coathooks upon which they can hang their thoughts. They have an advantage when it comes to learning a third or fourth language, because they have acquired the mental flexibility that comes from bilingualism. So for example they are going to be unsurprised that the values of letters in the written form of the new language will often be different from those of English.

The benefit of bilingualism last a lifetime. There was even a recent study which showed that bilingual people have some protection against the onset of dementia because they have two mental pathways for forming thoughts as opposed to the single pathway which monoglots have. When we teach our kids Gaelic, we are not only ensuring that they are in contact with Scotland’s past and present, we are also facilitating their contact with an international future.

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60 thoughts on “Gaelic bingo

  1. Hi Paul. As an example of what could happen in an independent Scotland, do you know how many Gaelic speakers there were in Ireland when it was still a British possession and how many there are now?

    • According to the census of 1901, there were 640,000 speakers of Irish in Ireland (north and south). The most recent census of the Republic of Ireland shows that approximately 1.7 million people claim to be Irish speakers, although many – indeed most – of these are very far from being fluent speakers.

      Personally I am not in favour of the Irish model of education, where Irish was a compulsory subject in schools. That just makes people resent the language. I’d far rather teach kids in Scotland about the history of languages in Scotland, and to try to give them reasons for wanting to learn Gaelic.

    • We could spend all money on the science of trying to cure cancer
      Cancer research has so much money , far more than any other healthcare charity that they hoard it
      Cancer research is happening in countries all over the world
      Shall we get them to spend all their money on it too ?

      Sorry but what you say does not make sense
      Diverting the money spent on languages to cancer research would just increase their stockpile of cash

  2. Very well said – and support always from Welsh speakers and activists in Cymru.

    I am a professional trilingual working in Welsh, English and French on a daily basis. Coupled with that, I and many of my countrymen and women have to fight daily to maintain our language (me in Middle England) and also ensure it retains its vivacity and vigour.

    You might have heard the stooshie recently about our new Parliament and how thanks to the cringeworthy actions of a previous First Minister (and his Party – Labour, naturally), he persuaded a majority of AMs that it would have a bilingual name. Yet the argument that no-one knows what ‘Senedd’ means (they full well what Dail and Knesset and Bundesrat and Assemblee Nationale etc mean), surely does not wash. People can learn what Senedd means – especially if it’s before them on a daily basis.

    Again, ‘Llywydd’ (for ‘Presiding Officer’) and ‘Siambr’ (for the debating cghamber) have easily been identified and recognised by others – why the blood and stomach pills can not ‘Senedd’, likewise? Again, it’s not as is if it’s particularly difficult to say the -dd at the end is merely the ”th’ sound of English ‘with’ or ‘the’. The Irish know full well who the Taoseaich and Tanaste are. (Apologies if incorrect spelling – I’m doing it from memory. And those who do not, but follow Iriah politics are quickly up to speed on this. Why is Welsh ‘so difficult’ and ‘so different’ in this respect it *needs* to have an English explanation?

    If we are to have bilingualism – then let’s have true bilingualism – and respect for both (and other) language communities. Too often, bilingualism is seen in Wales to mean a dilution of Welsh speakers rights so that English has equality with the native language and thereafter pushes Cymraeg to one side. Again, like the Gaels, we have no other place to go to (outside perhaps a small community in Patagonia and a few exiles like me, worldwide). We are constantly besieged by English – I type to you in my first foreign language – as I can not do so in any other (P or Q ) Celtic Language. This, I regret.

    However, let me finish on a less serious note – and to promote the worth of true, equal, bilingualism. (Apologies if you’ve heard this before.

    A mother cat is tending a kittens when a fierce dog approaches barking his head off. The mother cat looks the dog straight in the eye and … begins to bark. The dog runs away. “There you go, children,” says the mother cart. “I told you that being bilingual was useful.”

    Yours in the spirit of good wishes to this year’s Mod from a qualified Linguist of the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol / National Eisteddfod and freelance translator, editor, teacher and language activist with an MA in Celtic Studies out of the Uni of Cymru.

  3. Such a pleasure to read an article on Gaelic by someone who has a deep knowledge of the subject. If only Muriel Gray would pay a visit to your site or get stuck on the platform at Dalmarnock or Cambuslang, with their evil, expensive bilingual signs.

    Gaelic should be dead: since 1746, it has been bayoneted, shot, buried, dug up and hung again on the British gallows-tree and yet it persists, thank God. It’s one half of Scotland’s linguistic story since Welsh and Pictish died out here.

    Margaret McMurray died around the time when Robert Burns was born, and his recollection of his mother singing “Leiger m’ chose, my bonie wee lass” is probably a lullaby version of “Leig Air Mo Chois”, but coming from a native Carrick Gaelic tradition rather than a learned fragment of an old Highland song.

    Two of my London-based great-nieces are tri-lingual in English, French and Cantonese and they just accept it as their normal. Cue exploding gammons everywhere.

    Languages can be slippery eels and that is their greatest strength.

    I trust independence will strengthen the roots of our surviving native languages.

    • Actually the persecution of Gaelic stretches back welk beyond 1746. The infamous Statute of Iona, the first case I know of (there may be earlier exampkes) dares to 1610, just seven years after we effectively lost our king to the fleshpots of London.

  4. Up at the north end of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a few years back I felt a bit foolish for not being able to converse in Gaelic, despite being Scottish.
    Gaelic is a beautiful language.
    Buachaille Etive Mor & Stob Coir’ an Albannaich.
    Does that that no have a certain ring tae it? (Even to a Doric teuchter like myself).
    Generations of hill-goers in Scotland soak up Gaelic words. We may not know much, but it is in us.
    (And never mess with the Creag Dubh, Not unless you want a stramash…?)

    Caol Ila, Lagangarbh and Laphroaig.
    sometimes i just say these words to keep myself grounded.
    Happy memories. Good times.

    Of course language is good for the mind. Good for the old mind, and good for the young mind.
    Culture, language and vibrancy.

    An excellent article, Paul. Thank you.

  5. Wholeheartedly agree Bob Lamont – su-bloody-perb…thank you Paul.
    Mentioned to my elderly (93 grand years) aunt the other day that I was teaching myself Gaelic – her reply – ‘you’re too old to learn Gaelic’ – I’m but in my mere late fifties – nope dear auntie, never too old to learn. My dissertation of breathing life into the Gaelic Legacy of but a wee section of what was once a Gaelic speaking life on the cusp of the Highlands is on the horizon…

  6. Thanks Paul,a very instructive article.All my grand children taught through Gaelic medium;I wish I had that opportunity in my schooling too.I’m the typical
    monoglot!!It can’t be said often enough the deep rooted institutional prejeudice against the language/culture(including Scots) has left a destructive political culture we’re still working our way through.

  7. Excellent article.
    Our Church Choir gave a concert in Oban in 1891 leading to the establishment of the National Mod
    The details can be found on our website
    Duncan Mitchell
    Session Clerk
    St. Columba Gaelic Church, Glasgow

  8. The four founders of Rangers were all Shinty playing Gaels indeed Ibrox comes from The Gaelic for Badgers Den now there’s irony

    • Your comment is profoundly ill informed. Scottish Gaelic evolved as a distinct language within Scotland. The speech variety traditionally held to have been brought to Scotland by the founders of the Kingdom of Dalriada would not be recognisable or intelligible to speakers of modern Scottish Gaelic. Scottish Gaelic evolved into its modern form here in Scotland. That makes Scottish Gaelic “indigenous”. Scots is likewise indigenous, so is Scottish Standard English. So was the extinct Norn.

      All modern human languages without exception descend from a linguistic variety that was originally spoken somewhere else. The only languages that could be said to be truly “indigenous” are those languages spoken on Pacific islands which were uninhabited before the Polynesians got there. And even they are descended from Polynesian varieties which were originally spoken somewhere else before the island was discovered.

      Pictish doesn’t count as a national language of modern Scotland because before a language can be a “national language”, it first of all has to capable of being used as a language. Pictish survives in a few scraps of information – some place names, a handful of inscriptions no one can understand, and some personal names. We don’t even know the most basic things about Pictish phonology or grammar. We don’t know the pronouns, the verb endings, the numerals. But even Pictish was descended from a Celtic speech variety originally spoken elsewhere.

      Although even if Gaelic wasn’t “indigenous” – so what? That doesn’t negate the central role that it played in the formation of the Scottish identity and nation. It doesn’t negate the fact that it is literally written into the Scottish landscape. It doesn’t negate the fact that a wealth of Scottish literature and cultural output was produced in it.

      Actually, many modern linguists believe that the Celtic dialects of Argyll participated in the sound changes which gave rise to the Goidelic group of insular Celtic languages. So Gaelic arose in Scotland as much as it did in Ireland.

      Here’s a wee helpful hint for you. Don’t try and debate the history of Scottish languages with someone who has been studying it for the past 45 years.

      • Every you say here Paul I agree with. I have been reading about our early history for years.

        Prior to the Irish Gaelic coming into what is now Argyll most of the Highland area and the SW spoke an early form of Welsh. This was Pictish.

        As the Irish Gaelic moved eastward with settlement we had the conflict between these two linguistic speaking people’s. Irish Gaelic evolved to Scots Gaelic in time incorporating some early Welsh.

        Today Irish and Scots Gaelic differ by about 25%. An Irish and Scots Gaelic can converse.

        Where I live the early kingdom of Alba had its main head of Government (Now Forteviot) with the first dynasty following on Fergus and MacAlpine. Constantine lived here.

        Place names here are a right mixture of Pictish names and Gaelic. Many place names starting with Col, Pit, Dol are mainly of Pict origin. As we know Aber as a prefix and Inver mean the same, a confluence of water.

        Interesting stuff.

        • Nor is English the de jure language of England. (The legal, official language of Westminster is Norman French. When the sovereign gives Royal Assent to a law ‘down there’ it is said ‘la reyne le veult’ – ‘the Queen wishes it’.)

          It is only *legally* official in the National Assembly of Wales – co-equally with my own language of Cymraeg.

      • Scots Gallic is derived from Irish Gaeilge or Gaelic. The language was brought over by Irish Invaders who set up the Kingdom of Dail Riada and then conquered all of Scotland. As a Gaelic speaking Irishman I have little difficulty understanding my Scottish brothers when they speak Gallic. Alban Abu!! CRIOSTOIR O MATHGHAMHNA.

  9. Roll on Independence Day and with it the enhanced opportunity to promote our own language.

    One little “Gaelic language” incident that sticks in my mind relates to a visit, as a youngster, to a small Island in the Outer Hebrides. I was walking from one village to another in the dark. No lights, not even moonlight. Pitch black. No one else was on the road, no passing cars and no houses along the way. All of a sudden a large, black, raggedy (vicious looking) dog appeared, creeping along behind me and I tried valiantly, to no avail, to shake off that scared stiff feeling and the vampire, etc, thoughts. I tried to shoo it away constantly. Told it to go home, but no it kept on coming. It took me ages to get to my destination due to walking backwards most of the way, lol, but I eventually arrived at the village hall, phew, with the dog still in tow. I explained how I’d tried to get rid of the dog and they all fell about laughing. They said he doesn’t understand English. Tell him to go home in Gaelic (sounds like go lackey, lol). They did and off he went like a wee, docile lamb. The moral of the story is that if dogs can learn and understand Gaelic, we can too. And, eh, don’t wander about in the dark, alone in Scotland, if you can’t speak Gaelic, as you never know when you might bump into a Scottish werewolf.

  10. Tourism loves Gaelic. Worth it’s weight in gold. £Billions back. In music, literature, history, historical fact. There is nothing that could replace it. It is a vibrant language. Part of the culture just like the scenery. Some of the best in the world, it is being retained and expanded through Gaelic schools,

    Watching some of the excellent dramas on Alba. It would be great to understand without the sub titles but they make everything clearer.

    Gaelic is an expanding language still prominent part of the culture, music, song. Really smart people. The language school is a centre of world excellent. People come to study from all over the world. There is interest and it is part of the culture. Part of the history. Really interesting. The few £Millions spend is pay back time for the funds raised by tourism. £Billions. A total investment. In culture and history. Well may it continue.

    It could be further introduce into the curriculum. Children who learn language develop other skills. History, culture and music tradition define a nation. Fabulous traditions. It defines a place in the world. Acknowledged worldwide. A 40million diaspora. Many always want to visit their ancestral origins.

    • Watched that entire piece on YouTube, Tice got a roasting yet was unrepentant and slithered his way throughout… The host was a real terrier, a refreshing reminder of what journalists and interviewers once used to do, calling assertions to account…
      Unfortunately Tice is no different to the vast majority of our politicians in recent times, the welfare and well-being of the population is far down the list of priorities behind business and power etc…

  11. If Gaelic was dead, I’d try to resurrect it. If it’s spoken by too small a community, I’d support that community to keep it viable. If it’s already too small to be viable, I’d encourage it’s spread to new catchments. I’d have it taught in schools as Scotland’s first, second language.

    Ever watch Tony Robinson’s Time Team, where they use ground penetrating radar to find a Roman tessera, and from these fragments, the program brings to life an ancient settlement? Well just imagine Tony and the team didn’t find a ploughed-out mosaic, but instead found a complete and intact whole language and literary library, with access first hand to how the language was spoken, right down to its accents and dialects.

    In Scotland’s Gaelic, we have a spectacular “artefact” which thank goodness has never been lost to begin with. We even have tragic loss of Pictish culture and language not a stone throws distance away, and what would it be worth to modern Scotland to unearth a living, breathing Pict who might teach us his language and heritage?

    It feels like a great loss to me that I cannot speak Gaelic. I see no down side to having that capacity.

  12. It is very comforting to think of Scotland having its own languages that were used before English and are still being used now

  13. Many of the people who pretend that Gaelic is dead are those who believe in a homogonised British state where we all speak the “Queen’s English” and support the British ruling establishment.
    Gaelic represents a threat to their one nation view where no diversity from Britishness is permitted.

    • This is why the knuckle draggers in the NI assembly will not allow the formal introduction of Gaelic into the six counties of the north.

    • EXACTLY the same sentiments echoed by monoglot dinosaurs in my country towards Welsh, bringiton. It’s been centuries in the making.

      Cymraeg bingo is a familiar pastime for us activists, too. 🙁

      But to Andy Anderson, above, I don’t think that Pictish was a form of Welsh. There are those who try to argue that it was a form of P Celtic (like Welsh, Breton, Cornish and the dead Cumbric), but in essence it only exists in a few inscriptions and personal names, as yet undecipherable. The fact that ‘Perth’ means a bush in both Welsh and (allegedly) Pictish is not conclusive that my language and Pictish are so closely related. Not proven.

      • The Roman fort on the Tay just north of Perth where the River Almond meets the Tay was called Bertha by the Romans, built in 82AD. Not sure if this is a Latin tweak of a then local name. Anyway it is now the name of a new housing development near that fort.

  14. The ‘Gaelic was never spoke in the Lowlands’ trope is particularly interesting.

    The ‘Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy’ was a war of words held in front of the king between two poets: Dunbar, from SE Scotland, and Kennedy, from Ayrshire. One of the insults Dunbar hurls at Kennedy is that he speaks Gaelic. The flyting happened some time around 1500. Which is a wee indicator of two things. It shows that Gaelic was spoken in Ayrshire; it also shows that English-speaking Scots hating on Gaelic has a long history.

    • The Scots would be speaking Scots or possibly French. From around the 1420s Acts of the Scots Parliament were written in Scots and that, as well as Gaelic, with some French at the Royal Court would have been the languages in common usage

      If you want to see what Scots looked like written down then some of the old Acts are available on-line

  15. Ref the Picts. I just happen to be reading a book about the Picts at the moment. Much of what is ‘known’ about the Picts is taken from writings by others outwith the Pictish realm so a great deal is based on legend and speculation. One of those writers whose works are often quoted was the ‘Venerable’ Bede, a Benedictine monk based in Northumbria around 700 AD, and this is what the writer of the book had to say about his attitude to the Picts and others:

    Bede was not a historian in the modern sense, and for him the course of history was pre-determined by a divine scheme in which the English were a chosen people appointed by God to conquer the native Celtic inhabitants of Britain.

    It seems nothing much has changed over 1300 years.

    • Bede was the first Anglo-Saxon/English PR man who regularly performed hatchet jobs and prepared anti-Celtic ‘spin’. See his attempts to square the impossible circle regarding the Christian monks at Bangor-is-coed (Bangor on Dee) and the ‘pagan’ Saxons who massacred them, for instance.

    • The Picts left little in the way of written sources, but their neighbours, whether Romans, Britons, Angles or Gaels, had plenty to say about them. Mainly uncomplimentary of course..

  16. Slightly OT, but many years ago I worked with a colleague who was ethnically Polish but had been brought up in London. Polish was the language spoken at home but her English was perfect. While Poland was still part of the Soviet Union, she and her mother went to visit relatives. On a train, they realised that the other passengers were taking an interest in their conversation. It turned out they were speaking Polish as it had been spoken before WWII. The language had changed but even though they were active in the Polish community in London their earlier version was preserved.

  17. This is nothing short of brilliant. Many people get disproportionately uptight about Gaelic which I have never been able to understand. The “English 0nly” brigade show disrespect for other cultures and at best I feel sorry for people who cannot enjoy human diversity. Beyond that they just annoy me. I speak two other languages and, as you will know, it completely enriches my experiences and friendships. It also gets us upgrades on holiday! Thanks Paul x

    • Oh, I read that as probably being correct, like two rivers crossing, or something like that…ie it crosses a certain land or river formation, possibly even religious.. Maybe I am wrong…

  18. Much to say on this. I so wish I had learned another language, just pronunciation is a huge problem, for me. French at school was abysmally dry and dull, so no one learned to speak French at school in North of Eng. Just geordie.

    My son is off to Japan tomorrow, yikes, to a polyglot conference, though he only has Japanese as his second language, ie not others as yet. His capacity for language in general is amazing, some are more attuned than others, and I wholly agree that mulitilingualism is absolutely to be embraced and encouraged and factored into funding in education! (son was home educated).

    Nasty little UK, insular and narrow and backward looking, just do not want people enjoying other cultures or languages, it’s pathetic and sinister.

    I tried learning Gaelic online, I love Gaelic singing, so I might try again. It’s a lovely language, much to be celebrated and encouraged. I heard many different languages spoken today in Edinburgh, music to my ears, I love it! The gestures, intonations, wonderful.

    Fabulous article, thanks.

    Wish my son luck, because his tickets are a bit of sham, sadly he could end up missing his flight but hopefully not. Never book unless you know you will not have to change to a connecting airport in London for your major flight with virtually no time to allow for it!

  19. When Gaelic language road signs began appearing I thought what a waste of money. Around the same time I was coming out of Homebase when I looked up and read ‘Thank you for visiting’, along side was a Gaelic translation. Whit! – this was Robroyston. Multi lingual texts of the new Scottish Parliament publications confirmed the lunacy.

    What changed for me was the aftermath of 18th September 2014. In search of comfort and in denial of ‘exceptionalism’ mockery I realised that this language held one of the keys to understanding our historic distinctiveness.

    Here was an ancient mother tongue from which unusual aspects of our culture sprung. Here was a language which embedded collective social values, formed a connected attitude toward the land and even gave speakers a kinder way of saying yes or no.

    Much later to my surprise and delight two of my grand children began attending a Gaelic medium school in Greenock. Since then I have been amazed at how many times they have met strangers who conversed with them in Gaelic. The most recent occurrence was during the glorious AUOB in Edinburgh. By the way, how could so many people create so much noise and yet remain completely kind and peaceful ?

  20. “Gaelic is a political project of the SNP”
    You weren’t quite exhaustive on that one.

    Not only was the ECRML ratified under a Labour Westminster government, but…

    1) Gaelic-medium education (GME) was provided for by a Conservative Westminster government
    2) The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed with cross-party support — in fact *unanimous* cross-party support — under a Lib-Lab coalition executive.
    3) BBC Alba was primarily negotiated between the BBC Trust, the Audience Council Scotland, and MG Alba, a quango formed in 2003 under the Lib-Lab executive, which replaced the previous public body dating back decades (“comataidh craoladh na Gàidhlig, I think?) that had been formed under Westminster.

    No major Gaelic initiatives have ever been announced by the SNP.

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