It's the language that dare not speak its name. Partly because its name - Scots/ Scottish - has been hijacked by another - Inglis/ Anglo-Saxon. There are those in the movement for Scottish self-determination who regularly, and quite rightly, draw attention to how Scotland and her culture, politics and weather even is overlooked by London based navel-gazers.
One also notices that independence movements in other small nations - thinking Basque Country, Wales, Catalunya and Quebec in particular - wear their languages as badges of pride. Here though, the 'Nats' have caught the Scots cringe. Instead of educating Scots about the place of Gaelic in their history and present, they've airbrushed it from their glossy campaign.
|A misty past, replete with totems...|
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gives Gaelic status as an 'official' language of Scotland that is entitled to 'equal respect' with the Queen's Engerlish. However, on top of Yes Scotland's stubborn refusal to countenance any Gàidhlig - or Scottish to be old-fashioned - the Scottish Government has also declined to put the language alongside English on the referendum ballot paper.
As Dr Wilson Macleod puts it in a recent paper:
Whatever the stated rationale for the Government’s position, it seems reasonably clear that political calculation plays a role. As part of its general strategy of endeavouring not to ‘frighten the horses’ in relation to the referendum vote, the Government may well fear that a bilingual English-Gaelic referendum paper could alienate some wavering voters who might (quite unrealistically) see Gaelic as some kind of nationalist totem. A number of Gaelic-speaking independence supporters have backed this view, arguing that the symbolic value of a bilingual ballot paper is outweighed by this political risk.
Some say that the 'Gaels need to do it for themselves'. Aye, we should and some of us are. However, a similar argument could also be made for the Lesbian/ Gay, Asian and 'business' communities who are well catered for by YesScotland. Not only that, but as a campaign - should you target your audience or should your intended audience 'do it for themselves'? What will YesScotland do then to convince the 'don't knows' in the Gàidhlig community?
To be crude, if the London establishment and media treat us like 'Porridge Wogs' then are the Gaels amongst us even less deserving of recognition and respect? The fact that some Gaels think this way is neither here nor there - every indigenous and once-repressed people has it's own doubters. Centuries of repression and decades of having the language beat out of you in school will leave some people's self-respect at a low ebb.
But is Gaelic a 'nationalist totem'?
No for fucks sake, it's a medium. I don't know any Gaelic speakers who wear the long plaid, cover themselves in woad or Celtic tattoos and who hanker for a life amonsgt the hills acting out epic lifestyles in the vein of Cù Chulainn, Sgàthach or Fionn MacCumhail.
|Will Gaelic speaking cartoon pigs threaten YesScotland's feart horses?|
On the other hand we use Gaelic in everday social media, at work and at home like anyone else. And while our classical Scottish literature from the 'Fenian cycle' is an amazing part of our heritage - my kids and those at school will digest it in glossy-covered text books or from animated cartoons. Older users of the language may upload Gaelic for Punks lessons to SoundCloud or play air-guitar to Oi Polloi.
As Nancy Dorian points out in an essay on the Gaelic dialects of the east coast of Sutherland, languages enjoy the perceived status of those who speak them by those who dominate/ rule them. So, in the eyes of YesScotland, we really are Porridge Wogs?
Now the important aspect of this background is the fact that languages -- anywhere, any time -- have no independent status of their own. Instead they have the status of the people who speak them. This explains why the prestige of languages can rise or fall so dramatically in a short time if the fortunes of their speakers undergo an abrupt change. If you look at Quechua, the language of the Incas, it was an imperial language, the dominant language of a large part of the Andean region before the Spanish arrived, and the Incas had in fact succeeded in imposing it on a number of the peoples whom they conquered. Then came the Spaniards, and before very long, Quechua was an insignificant Indian language, associated with backwardness and poverty. It wasn’t the language that changed, but the circumstances of its speakers. The same thing happened to Irish, which was a language of great learning at a time when the Germanic peoples, including the English, were still largely illiterate and were by comparison with the Irish very little acquainted with the learning of the Classical world. The Viking conquest, the Norman conquest, and most of all the Cromwellian conquest and the period of the Penal Laws broke the Irish, destroying the culture that had supported Irish learning. As the Irish lost their aristocracy and became a peasantry, their language was transmuted into a peasant language, too, in spite of its past glories.
Scottish Gaelic had claims to ancient learning and to literary respectability, too, at one point, as an offshoot of Irish with a subsequent literary tradition of its own, but the failure of the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1746 did to Gaelic roughly what Cromwell did to Irish, and the tradition was broken and submerged, if not entirely lost.
One worry, especially of 'radical' campaigners for self-determination, is that the SNP's vision of independence is too 'lite'. Is there any evidence of a different approach to Gaelic? We've had support from Thatcher's little puppet here, Michael Forsyth as well as from Labour's right-wing Unionist Brian Wilson. We've had a little from the 'Nats'.Nancy Dorian,Using a Private-sphere Language for a Public-sphere Purpose: Some Hard Lessons from Making a TV Documentaryin a Dying Dialect
In the SNP's latest dereliction of duty in relation to Gaelic, their councillors in Glasgow staged a walk-out of a meeting prior to voting through the local Gaelic Language Plan. Poor stuff.
YesScotland - get a grip. Do we want a new Scotland populated by feart horses ignorant of their own heritage and culture?
Send them a message here.
They have something whereof they are proud. What do they call it, that which maketh them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguisheth them from the goatherds. NietzscheMore here:
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