Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Crabbit Cancerians

The BBC reports that the Scottish Government is to contribute £2 million to an ongoing Gaelic dictionary project equivalent in ambition to the two historical multi-volume dictionaries of Scots, DOST and the SND.

Judging by the large number of comments appended to the article, it seems that not everyone is happy with a few bawbees being slung the way of something cultural, despite the fact that, at a language promotion level, the project in question hardly goes much further than a "glass case" approach. One person eager to vent his spleen even contrasted the supposed pointlessness of spending money on Gaelic with his own favoured alternative, spending on cancer.

The Blether Region is no expert on such matters, but it seems unlikely that assigning the paltry sum of £2 million to a health initiative would extend the average person's existence by more than a few days or weeks at most — days or weeks that might be spent in agony or even unconscious. Modest spending money on Gaelic, on the other hand, provides benefit to all generations.

Of course, one is not advocating the diversion of the entirety of the current health budget to Gaelic, or even 1% for that matter, just suggesting that folk keep the heid and avoid an excessive — and, frankly, diseased — focus on what is viewed by many Lowlanders as the culture of a peripheral ethnic minority.

On the other hand, the jargon of those kilted Mohammedans up north might even be positively flattered by a comparison with other elements of Government spending. How many people would choose a Trident submarine in place of a Gaelic-medium school, for example — or, indeed, enough of them for the entire population?

In which context another BBC report, regarding the opening of a new school in Thurso, is particularly welcome.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Mind Goggles

The Herald reports that only 48% of Scots feel that the BBC represents their lives.

While that is unfortunate, it is hardly surprising, since the corporation's news coverage has failed comprehensively to meet the challenge of devolution. Some years ago, presumably for reasons of Unionist paranoia, a very reasonable call for a Scots version of the Six O'Clock News was rejected in favour of a midnight opt-out from Newsnight — with the result that a single, monolithic news programme continues to carry a host of stories about health and education in England that are of little or no relevance to licence-payers in Scotland. Where such reports do not merely serve to confuse, they become a sort of soap opera whereby viewers are invited to form an opinion of what they might do in similar circumstances and vicariously cheer on their favoured (English) side. That inadequate service may only get worse, since it is likely that more powers will be devolved to Scotland if voters reject independence next year — if not immediately, then as a result of the inevitable backlash, since, whatever the referendum's outcome, the desire for independence is a fox that will need constant shooting.

Of course, people in Northern Ireland, a territory whose political culture differs even more, have experienced a parallel situation since time immemorial, with or without devolution. Yet Northern Unionists would be quick to complain about any homegrown flagship news programme on the grounds that it was a dilution of their Britishness; for allied reasons, Nationalists often follow Southern politics on RTE.

Linguistically, the BBC's Scottish offering is considerably less deficient, since Gaelic now has a dedicated station on both radio and television. Indeed, even before their advent BBC Scotland insiders were on occasion heard to complain of a "Gaelic mafia" able to access funding from Auntie Beeb in London that was unavailable to what they would have seen as more mainstream projects north of the border.

The real hole now is obviously with regard to Scots. Surely, since Scots has been recognised as a language, it is not too much to expect the BBC to provide a service in it. Yet that same language is often used (in a watered-down form) only in comedy, and often not very sophisticated comedy at that.

In the week the BBC announced plans to devote a large chunk of Freeview bandwidth to broadcasting two children's channels in HD — one for those aged six and under — that is obviously not good enough.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cothrom Eile

The Herald reports that efforts to double the intake to Gaelic-medium education in Scotland have met with a shaky start, with only 6% of the six-year target for pupils entering the first year of primary schools achieved in the first year.

The figures underline the scale of the task ahead if Gaelic — in the Middle Ages the first language of the nation — is not to vanish altogether. Scotland, of course, with its long history of multilingualism and utilitarian thinking based first on Protestantism and later on the real or supposed economic benefits of Union, has never shown the enthusiasm for cultural nationalism of Ireland, let alone Wales.

With luck, that is now slowly changing. Whether the turnaround will come soon enough to save Gaelic as a traditional community language, however, is by no means certain.