Tuesday, September 21, 2010


How does one go about saving a 2, 000 year old language?

I once tried to get an idea off the ground that would make it work. My idea was to help what were then called RMLs (Regional Minority Languages) prosper. How? The idea was based on the concept of 'language economies'. in Ireland the government spent huge enterprise budgets on attracting jobs to Gaelic speaking areas. It backfired as when Irish speakers returned to the Gaelic speaking area were they grew up and brought their English speaking family with them..

My idea then was create a RML support 'mark' across Europe so that minority language speakers could, in solidarity, buy products whereby the producing company's operations; administration, operating manuals and so on were all in and supportive of the minority language. This would create a boom in translating to and from Eurpean language straight into Gaelic which, if subsidised, would mean operating in the RMLs would be more cost-effective than English. It would mean you couldn't work in such a company unless you spoke the language. Success in your career then would mean literacy in Gaelic or Basque or Flemish was materially useful and so language learning was not just a bore that some 'cultural nationalists' forced you into but it paid the bills. Once the model is thus presented then there is no case for denying that 'enterprise grants' are not 'language neutral'. In Gaelic speaking areas hundreds of millions of pounds were being spent on enterprise schemes. Consequently, the £10 million a year that the government was giving to Gaelic would have been but a drop in the ocean. I took the idea to a Gaelic supporter and former merchant banker Sir Iain Noble who liked the idea. Unfortunately, at that point I had problems with my personal life. I wound up my own translation agency business and moved to Spain where I now teach English.

Many Scots are very dismissive of support to Gaelic and think that support is a waste of money. Ok, let's look at it one way - how much money has been spent on English in Gaelic speaking areas over the last few hundred years? In schools, libraries, post office stationary, official documents and so on? Incalcuable. Let's just say English owes a lot more money to Gaelic than it currently gets back by a long margin!

Such ignorance about a language which is a vital part of Scotland's heritage is angering to me, a lowland Scot, so imagine what it feels like for a Gael who's culture is continually denigrated by those they consider their 'fellow countrymen'?

Imagine then also that such an important media outlet as The Herald on Sunday indulges in such crass cultural vandalism?:

Leave endangered languages to die in peace

This article was brought to my attention by those who run the excellent Bella Caledonia blog. I would like to take the time to dismantle this Herald piece myself but I really couldn't do it better than their own blog entry which contains an article written by Alasdair Mac Gill-eain:

Bad Language & Dodo Journalism

In In 2006, the £4 million (equivalent to only one mile of two-lane road) Glasgow Gaelic School threw open its doors in the city’s west end to a mere 320 pupils. This was to meet enormous pent up demand (to which it is having to expand to meet). This, and simple initiatives to recognise our cultural heritage after decades of abuse and neglect is too much for the commentariat. The tired predictable argument is that the latest onslaught of cuts should be made to our culture and our language evoking the response: Cuimhnichibh air na daoine bho ‘n d’thainig sibh (Remember the people whom you come from).

Read on here.


Indy said...

We can all agree that speaking more than one language is A Good Thing. That is the case whether children speak Gaelic, Urdu, Polish, Chinese or anything other language in addition to English.

I am very much against the attitude of Glasgow City Council towards bi-lingual children. They seem to have bought into the idea that children with English as a second language are a problem. This is quite a wide-spread point of view in the press although it is not backed up by evidence – schools in Glasgow which have big multi-cultural populations like Holyrood, Shawlands and Hillhead are all in the top ten performing schools.

Rather than seeing bilingual children as a problem, the Council needs to see the huge opportunities that lie in having a bilingual workforce in waiting. It’s great if kids speak more than one language - but it’s great because of the opportunities that creates for those children, and for their potential employment. It shouldn’t really be about “preserving “ a heritage. You only have to preserve something if it is in danger of decomposing. If Gaelic has reached that stage it can’t be saved as a living language. It can only be preserved as a dead one.

PS: I am not saying Gaelic is a dead language by the way - I am saying that talking about preserving it gives that impression.

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...


I was talking to some east europeans
today(latvians, Estonians,slovak,polish)

there English is not great but they all speak Russian and thats how they communicate with each other.

I said to them since the fall of the soviet union do the children learn their native tongue or Russian.

They all said the younger generation are being brought up to speak their own native language(unlike them)

But as one said their main trading partner is Russia so they still need to learn Russian.

so the moral of the story is

perhaps in an Independent scotland
the people will choose to return to their native language.
and use the language of the English second

cum oan get aff said...

All Scots speak a second language unfortunately its their only language its called English.

Anyway Gaelic is not a highland language, its the only language that was used throughout the whole of Scotland. In the 1970s schools in the west highlands of Scotland were still forcing school children to wear wooden placards round their necks as a punishment for speaking their own language. Wonder where they got that idea from. !!!!!!!!!!

Alex Porter said...

@cum oan,

Wee disagree here. It is estimated that 1.5 million Scots speak Scots. I think the rest of us speak a combination of English and Scots. Certainly there's an element of bilingualism involved in that we speak more English in formal situations and to foreigners and more Scots in the playgrounds and pubs.. As the saying goes we think in English and feel in Scots. Scots was the official language of Scotland not that long ago and was the language of the court well after union.

I can remember the first time reading old Scots. For once I was more than intellectually engaged, I really felt that I belonged to it. Regardless of the fact that some vocab no longer exists, the feel of the language made me feel like I was really reading for the first time..

Anonymous said...

To claim to promote multiculturalism and then work to undermine the revival of Scottish Gaelic is hypocrisy of the highest order.