Scottish Gaelic: Heritage Language Development

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Transcript Scottish Gaelic: Heritage Language Development

Scottish Gaelic: Heritage Language
Development – Revival, Maintenance
& Continuance
Prepared for presentation at
International Heritage Language Conference, June 21,
By Michael McIntyre
The borders of the Scottish Gaelic world have shrunk before
the continually erosive power of the “killer language” English.
The Gaelic language now faces the possibility of language
death. With a movement that has gathered momentum since
the recent opening of the Scottish parliament for the first
time in more than 300 years, Scottish Gaels have begun to
build an educational system to revive and maintain Scottish
Gaelic, as well as loosely coordinate activities outside of
formal educational institutions. Several organizations
contribute to the governance of Gaelic education, with the
Bòrd na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic Board) taking the lead as an
advisory, if not a supervisory, body.
– Celtic language – “c-celtic”
– Co-dialectal with Irish / Irish Gaelic
– Once dominant language in Scotland
– gradually marginalized & stigmatized over
centuries (starting officially, perhaps, with
Statutes of Iona, 1609)
Current Situation
• 60,000 speakers
• 1.2% of Scottish
population (which totals
about 5 million)
• Devolution – process by
which Scottish Parliament
enjoys greater powers
within United Kingdom in
regards to “internal”
• Present Scottish
government ‘Gaelic
Gaelic Act
• Passed 2005
• Establishes Bòrd na Gàidhlig
• Provides for Funding for formal education first
time in 400 yrs
• Mandates regional “plans”
Gaelic Medium Schools
• 60 schools (or units)
• 2,200 students
• Full immersion > dual language immersion
Gaelic efforts related to world-wide movement of
indigenous language revival and maintenance
Native American
Native Hawaiian
Population: heritage language
• Native speakers
– literate
– non-literate
– “Courses for Native speakers will promote oral fluency
and literacy in Gaelic as one of their two major
• Learners
– “Courses for learners will provide opportunities to
acquire oral fluency and literacy in Gaelic as a second
language” (Scottish Qualifications Authority, 1988)
• Possessors of heritage but not native speakers
– within Scotland (primarily - In the environment of
the heritage)
1. Children & grandchildren of speakers;
2. descendents further removed
• Location
– outwith Scotland
1. descendents further removed
2. Children & grandchildren of speakers
Formal Educational programs
• bun sgoil – elementary school (dual immersion)
• àrd sgoil – high school level (dual immersion)
• Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – Gaelic college on the Isle of
Skye (pictured above)
– Degrees in Gaelic language, culture, education, media &
environmental studies
• Other Gaelic programs - various colleges &
universities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen)
– sometimes more 'about' the language than
learning/acquiring the language
Non-formal educational venues
• TIP (Total Immersion Plus) – intensive, 6 week long immersion
course oriented towards oral competency
• Gaelic in the Family – program aimed at teaching domain of
domestic Gaelic (language of the home, childcare, language of
affection, etc)
• Ulpan – immersion program adopted from Hebrew language
program in Israel
• Sabhal Mòr Ostaig short courses – summer and other holidays
(Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye)
• Atlantic Gaelic Academy (Nova Scotia online and on-ground adult
education courses)
• Immersion weekends / weeks (either through above venues or
organized separately)
• Private tutors
Artistic expression
– An Leabhar Mòr - panGaelic collaboration
– Taigh ùr (poem)
– Reframing: what it
means to be “Gaelic” –
once geographically
based; increasingly
language based
(Caimbeul, 2004)
– A.P. Caimbeul - primacy
to language rather than
• media –
– Film
– Bbc alba
– Radio nan gaidheal
• literary arts
– Poetry
– novels
• music
TV: Luch is Famh
(Mouse and Mole)
Purposes of heritage language
– Continuation - intergenerational transmission the
'problem' with which they are wrestling
– Building a Gaelic friendly environment
adult education
road signs
propagandizing re:
increasing visibility of gaelic
Orthographic conventions
• Regularize written form of language (old variants to
single contemporary)
Old spelling
Air a son (because)
maduinn (morning)
• Establish
(reason) for borrowed
– Zoo > sutha (no z in Gaelic)
– Taxi > tacsaidh (no x in Gaelic)
– Ham > hama (no h except for phono-syntactical signal &
borrowed words)
• Establish & regularize rules for accented vowels (à, è, ì,
ò, ù), which indicates the “length” of the vowel -which affects meaning, e.g.
– bata (stick) > bàta (boat)
Modernizing the language
• Stor-data – online database of contemporary
• Cothrom (“Opportunity”) Magazine
• Contemporary dictionaries
• Examples of new constructions:
– Keyboard > meur-chlàr (finger board)
– Computer > compiutar
– Downloading -- luchdachadh-a-nuas; (sometimes,
• Swamped in English language environment,
including media - decline of Gaelic became
precipitous w/ modern media
• Entrenched views that Gaelic is not to be taught
in schools (high regard for education - just not
Gaelic ed.)
• View that Gaelic is spoken language/not written
(English is for writing; writing is done in English)
• “Courtesy” of Gaelic culture – disinclination to
speak Gaelic in presence of non-Gaelic speakers
• What is the 'use' of Gaelic?
• Tug and pull of identities – British? Scottish? Gaelic?
Fully participating in English-language culture, European
& world social and economic communities but wanting
to maintain self of cultural self.
• Non-Gaelic residents in Islands & Highlands /
newcomers ("white settlers“ / “incomers”)
• Original 'natives'
• - some Gaelic speaking
• -- some not, even of Gaelic speaking parents
• Gaelic speakers in non-Gaelic regions > cities / overseas
• Gaelic learners w/ various levels of proficiency
Gaelic - the language and the culture
• Revitalizing the language involves more than
instruction in the language, qua language.
• Instruction in the language encompasses a
broad array of measures aimed at
• Reconnecting to "our language as an
uninterrupted link to our histories, to the
ownership of our lands, to our abilities to
create and control our own life and death to
our sense of balance, among ourselves and
with the environment, to our authentic selves
as a people" (Smith, 1999, p. 73).
• Becoming part of the conversation re: Gaelic
language & culture
Methods of Decolonizing
• Claiming
• Testimonies /
– Gaelic writing
• story telling
• History
• Reading
• Reframing –
positioning within
North Atlantic &
European communities
• Envisioning the future
• Democratizing,
• (Smith, 1999)
Decolonizing within Gaelic context:
• Claiming - in the current context, 'claiming'
government funding for Gaelic programs
• Environmental:
– Think Gaelic – cultural aspects of relationship with
– Sabhal Mòr North Atlantic Environmental Program
Gaelic - building a “new house”
Gàidhlig (Gaelic language) - maintaining and reviving the language itself, fostered through
education, media, community outreach, and public exposure.
foghlam (education) – formal, non-formal, informal
togail an taigh' ùr – (building a "new house“) - the reconstruction of social arrangements,
values, and orientations and relationships between humanity and the natural world
coimhearsnachd -(community) the Gaelic communities 'went out' together when they
emigrated; set up their villages in the new world in the same order they had been in the old;
re-orienting cultural valuations towards the community and away from the individual
cèilidh – traditional “get together” or “visit” but also involving participatory sharing stories,
reciting poems, singing songs (old and new), and dancing. A bonding and a remembering.
craic - rousing, heartfelt conversation in groups of various sizes; a bonding performance;
often engaged in at a ceilidh.
an ceòl (music) - music is integral to the culture in accordance with the Gaelic proverb, Thig
crìoch an t-saoghal, mairidh ceòl 's a' ghaol (come the end of the world, love and music will
bàrdachd – poetry. Central to Gaelic culture. The traditional reverence for am bàrd (the poet)
as “truth teller,” keeper of the “story” of the community, cannot be underestimated
tilleadh dhachaigh - returning home; which involves
– the figurative -- remembering and reconstructing an dùthchas, (the culture) in the form
of stories, histories, songs, music; and
– the literal -- actually physically visiting an dùthaich (the "homeland"). (Note that the two
words dùthchas and dùthaich are mutual cognates.)