Thursday, 20 October 2016

In Defens

Last night one of the Blether Region's Northern Ireland Facebook pals linked to an article reporting John Swinney's defence of Scottish Gaelic. He invited his friends to "discuss" it. Though an uninformed NI Unionist reading the article (or, as one admitted, only the headline) might be forgiven for thinking that Scottish glotto-politics is a mirror of its Ulster counterpart, in reality that is far from the case. In fact, the comments rather underlined the gulf.

While Scots may be ambivalent about Gaelic, they do not generally hate it. Rather, the picture is mixed, among both Unionists and Nationalists. Attitudes dividing along neat constitutional or sectarian lines to the extent found here would be thought odd.

Although it would be logical to assume that Scottish Nationalists had more time for Gaelic than Unionists, the actual difference may be quite slight, and may not even be as relevant as family history or regional considerations. In particular, planned, co-ordinated attacks on Gaelic by elected Unionist politicians are a very recent phenomenon in Scotland, limited, more or less, to the last two years; the Blether Region suspects that they may lose them as many friends as they win.

While there may be few or no traditional native speakers being raised in Northern Ireland, in Scotland a majority of speakers may fall into that category (just to be clear, the Blether Region is not saying that non-traditional native speakers don't count; the actual structural difference in how they speak is not great).

It is simply not true to say that "nobody speaks Gaelic" (which, even in NI, could only ever refer to its use as a community language, anyway). In Scotland, most speakers are native (see above), and Gaelic is a community language in the Western Isles and elsewhere.

Neither is it true to say that Gaelic is being aggressively promoted by the SNP for political reasons. The most relevant Gaelic legislation was passed by Labour and the Lib-Dems, while BBC Alba came into being during a Labour Government (broadcasting is, of course, reserved to Westminster). Arguably the key move on broadcasting prior to that was negotiated by the Conservative Michael Forsyth when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. One prominent Labour supporter of Gaelic in the 1970s and '80s, Brian Wilson, is also a fervent opponent of devolution.

The above should at least enable NI Unionists to achieve a good grounding in the facts before they criticse one of their ancestral languages.

Oh, and one other thing before I forget: in Scotland we don't generally call it "Garlic".

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Crowd-source me this one

Last week's news that a Gaelic-speaker would be recruited to facilitate Wikipedia articles in the language was good news. A quick glance at the Uicipeid website shows that it has a mere 14,143 entries, meaning that many speakers will simply not bother consulting it, instead using the English version, whose article tally is an enormous 5,264,840. For Irish Gaelic, which of course enjoys a good deal of State support, if only for learning rather than in the form of vital services, the number is 38,586 — hardly a rival for English, yet more than twice the number for Gaelic, whose number of traditional native speakers is probably not actually that much lower.

Some of the reporting of the new post has mentioned the salary, £30,000 — less than the average wage but above the median. Is this an example of journalists graciously lending their newspapers to some free advertising in order to attract the right person and thus help save the language? Or is it just an example, conscious or unconscious, of the kind of pettifogging bean-counting that emerges as soon as someone has the idea of spending money on a minority language?

Answers on a postcard.

World Gone Wrong

An article on the BBC website about the Prince of Wales making a Gaelic learners' award to an Italian unintentionally sums up much that is wrong with modern Scotland.

A foreign citizen puts the natives to shame by learning the national language ignored by most, for no reason in particular a tartan-swathed prince gets to hand out his prize, and the president of An Comunn Gàidhealach switches to English to welcome said prince to the "Royal" National Mod.  What a country!