Saturday, February 25, 2012
The proximity of Gaelic
Speaking to a teacher recently who had worked for a year or two in New Zealand, I found out that all primary children there learn not only some basic Maori but learn about the place of Maori in the history and culture of the country. Maori itself though is a relative newcomer to the islands - it is thought that Maori speaking people settled there around 1000 years ago. To compare to Scotland, our last indigenous people have been here for twice that or more.
Because of this, Scottish/ Gaelic is all around us in Scotland. Though if we don't speak Gaelic or learn it to some extent and aren't told about it, we don't know. The obvious step for Gaelic activists and for a Scottish government should be to make people aware of their history and environment. This should be fundamental to anyone who calls themselves an internationalist - if you don't have a nation and culture of your own, then what are you going to take to the international stage?
The Scottish Government recently announced that Scottish Studies would be mandatory at some stages of a child's education. This frightened some of the usual naysayers who see anything Scottish as being inherently inferior. To most of us, a journey into Scotland's past and present history and culture is a fascinating one. We could go back to the days when lynx and wolves were plentiful. Or examine the reasons for the building of the various monuments at Calanais or the settlement at Skara Brae. We could study the composition of Y Gododdin and the real meaning of the term 'British'. There is the Celtic knotwork and the thesis, from musicologist John Purser, that instead of being just a pretty pattern it was actually an early method of transcribing music. There are also the Picts who may have died out as a separate grouping of tribes but whose DNA lives on in many of today's Gaelic speaking population. And, of course, there's the role and place of Gaelic.
Recent evidence would suggest that the Gaels were not invaders from Ireland 1500 years ago but that they'd lived in Argyll for as long as the Picts had lived in other parts of our landmass. Sadly, Pictish is no longer with us though it is likely that some of it entered the Gaelic language.
Finally, we have a campaign to make people aware of the Gaelic that they already have on their lips in everyday Scottish language. The posters which highlight well kent words in Scotland come courtesy of Ulpan - a group that facilitates the 'ulpan' method of language teaching for the Scottish tongue. Maybe the next step is to make people aware of the Gaelic on their doorsteps? In and around Edinburgh, this could include Calton Hill as Cnoc Challtainn - Hill of the Hazel Trees or Craigentinny as Creag an t-Sionnaich or Rock of the Fox.
After all, knowledge is power and many in our society - such as racists, Unionists and religious extremists - garner their strength through ignorance and fear.
Gaelic/ Scottish then is our present and living connection to our distant past.
Further reading/ listening:
A New History of the Picts, Stuart McHardy
Scotland's Music, John Purser
Scottish Place-name Society/ Comann Ainmean-aite na h-Alba