Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

"Bad Language" - or how Gaelic is used as a means to differentiate (pointlessly)

(See PS/ at end)

There is a really excellent editorial in this week's issue of the Nairnshire Telegraph (dated 4SEP2012), of which regrettably no on-line version is available, but as I do occasionally with articles from our 'local rag' I am going to reproduce verbatim the content for your delectation and indeed for your enlgihtenment about what rational people in this area think about the creeping (perhaps even 'creepy') attempt to 'Gaelic-icise' every aspect of life in this area:
The Nairnshire Telegraph
Editorial article - 4th Setpember 2012


The infiltration of Gaelic into local nomenclature has reached a new level in Nairn with bilingual street plates in one of the town's newest developments. It has angered at least one Nairnite but it is a reflection of Highland Council's policy of promoting the Gaelic language. The problem is that very few people in Nairn speak the language except enthusiasts and some incomers from Gaelic speaking areas. The question of relevancy is supreme.

The presence of Gaelic in heritage terms in Nairnshire is undeniable. Almost all the place-names of the old county are Gaelic in their form, if not their origin. The language lingers in the local accent and in the pronunciation of some local names. The Nairn area is the place where the historic Gaeltacht begins. There is no doubt that between Forres and Inverness there was a sharp linguistic divide roughly centred on Nairn. Nairn may have been beyond The Pale of a mediaeval ethnic cleansing of Gaelic (Irish) speakers from Moray. Gaelic was widely spoken in the area up to the middle of the 19th century and Gaelic fluency was a requirement in some ecclesiastical appointments upto the beginning of the 20th century. But use of Gaelic died out substantially after World War I and the last speaker of a local dialect died in the 1970s.

Whatever the wealth of evidence for its former presence, Gaelic has gone from present-day Nairn. However it is policy from Government to local authority that the language be nurtured and certainly be promoted in some areas. Because of its history, the use of Gaelic locally in this way is a moot point. It is certainly not justified by use. It is unfortunate however that as it moves from the Council's own signange to more general presence one of the first examples presents the more idiotic aspect of transliteration.

It may be that this is just an over-enthusiastic interpretation of council policy by a developer eager to please. But it's not the only one we have seen recently. We see the name of Edinburgh's Haymarket railway station has been rendered literally into Gaelic. What really is the purpose of this?

And what is the importance of language anyway? It is first of all about communication and yet, these days, it seems to be more and more about difference. Language as a definition of culture rapidly turns into politics. The patchwork of nationalities that is Europe is largely separated out by language and truly polyglot states are rare and often seriously divided. The future of the European Union may yet founder on this fact of linguistic diversity. Yet language is often transient and on a surprisingly short time scale. Gaelic was adopted by the Picts but its heyday of only a few centuries was overtaken by English which has at least a thousand years of currency in Scotland. If research into the genetic make-up of the population is anything to go by it appears to reveal some very old strains. What languages have come and gone since the ice melted and does it really matter anyway? We know who the people were. Us.

It is the political aspect that is eventually of concern. There is little doubt that Gaelic is on its death bed and being kept going by some hefty transfusions of money and political good will. There is no problem with giving it a chance to survive and preserving the culture that it represents. Outside some future apocalypse, modern media and archiving will ensure that Gaelic never becomes the dry soundless collection that Latin and Anglo-Saxon have become, or the near mystery that is the Pictish language.

But what worries us is the possibility that Gaelic will be used as a political tool. It is one thing to use signs to suggest that we are something we are not quite, it is quite another to use a language to separate people and to exclude. That is truly bad language.
Now, there are parts of that article that strike me as foolish, verging on the melodramatic and faintly ridiculous, but it nevertheless does try to address the linguistic origins of the peoples of this small part of Scotland in a realistic and honest way. But the importance of this minority language should not be exaggerated nor viewed romantically and certainly not as of equal importance to the principal language of most of the British Isles, English. It does of course have a place in our linguistic origins and in the daily lives of a [very] small number of people even today and that place should be respected, but the rest of the population should equally certainly not be held to 'ransom' by being required to adapt their lives to accommodate this minority language by accepting it as of almost greater importance than the language used by the bulk of the population in road signs and in other public signs.

PS/ (Thursday 6SEP2012 17.45 BST) It is interesting to note that most of the comments on this tedious propaganda article in another local blog share my views on the unwanted, by the bulk of the local population, proliferation of street signs in our community with a [very] minority language given priority over the language spoken by the vast bulk of the population here. As for the blog-writer's comments about this linguistic-vandalism having 'cross-party' support this, if true, merely confirms just how sick and shallow politcs in this country has become - just as the major component in the current Coalition Government supported the idiotic economic policies of the last Government until the recession which began in 2007 took hold. The expression "flogging a dead horse" comes to mind! Short-termism and pandering to 'faddy' (and more importantly, malign) policies is NOT a way to run a country. Even Nicola Sturgeon is now forced to concede that Scots who do not support the 'separatist' policies she champions are not unpatriotic. The riposte in the comments thread by the blog owner that "the developer pays for new signs on housing schemes" is merely a reflection of the reality that developers must get their projects approved by Councillors and planners, and the fact that it would take a brave prospective Councillor in Scotland today to 'call out' the nonsense of Highland Council's engineered bilingual streetsigns policy. Doh! Finally, it is quite clear that the linked article was written only to try and rebut the recent editorial in The Nairnshire - the difference is that people PAY to read that publication, simply high-lighting the idiocy of the recent comment in another article in the sad blog in the link where the author writes of the 'prize' in a recent pseudo-quiz "A year's free subscription to the Gurn to anyone that does." - mildly amusing, I agree, but why waste energy writing such tedious nonsense? Rant over .... for now ;). I have refrained for far too long, recently, in drawing attention to the nonsense spewed out by that 'organ' (due respect to that other [much more] august 'organ', Private Eye, is hereby acknowledged). I don't expect I will gain many 'friends' locally for speaking out as I have just done, but who cares? I am WAY beyond caring about such trifles; my blog, in the 10+ years it has existed, has never been written with the aim of being populist, or nakedly partisan - and it never will. PPS/ I'm glad that my comment and link in that 'other' blog has now been published and resulted in two things - (1) a ridiculous comment by that fount of all knowledge 'Aye Right' who takes a swipe (perhaps deserved, ha ha - Ed) at me by name, but of course that 'esteemed' individual passes him-/her-self off using a pseudonym which epitomises the closed-minded attitudes of far too many in this community - (2) the owner of that blog announces that comments are 'closed', an all too frequent occurrence there when 'controversial' (i.e. rather too robustly challenging) views are aired there. Finally (for the afore-mentioned 'Aye Right'), of course I am an 'avid' reader, how else am I to get my laughs here - Go in Peace ....


  1. Hi Bill,

    Great post - I shall be referring people to it often.

    I've recently found myself under attack from fiercely pro-Gaelic individuals after I spoke out in the letters page of the Lochaber News voicing the opinion of myself and others - many working in education but "gagged" by the Highland Council - on the dedicated Gaelic school being planned for the area.

    Since then I've been called a racist, a waste of oxygen, a traitor, an idiot (both in English and Gaelic), and various other things. I'm apparently "more English than the English", and an affront to the people of Scotland.

    What really amuses me is when I get accused of being racist, and then a Gaelic supporter on Facebook sends me this:

    "Tell me Barry, are Sunday schools permitted? Do we pay for Islamic schools? Do we pay for art schools that churn out unproductive dreamers? Yes we do... but no-doubt you're too politically correct to complain about Islamic education in Scotland though... which concentrates on the language of the Q'ran?! Perhaps we should have our signs in English and Arabic?"

    Presumably he means the Qu'ran, although what connection this has with a Gaelic medium primary school in Fort William escapes me somewhat.

    Anyway, more power to your pen, sir. Or fingertips, at least.

  2. Hello Barry

    And thanks for your comments and support. I have written about the way the Gaelic language's importance in modern-day Scotland is inflated, with official support (and our taxes), for some years. I have always recognised that Gaelic does have a valuable, and valued, place as a part of our heritage and perhaps does need financial help to survive and remain viable, but I have too often been speeding along a highway in north or north-west Scotland, west and north (or indeed south) of Inverness and switched from thinking I knew where I was headed to confusion, because the road signs have the Gaelic version in bright-green above the English version - by all means put Gaelic on road signs, I'm relatively relaxed about it, but the language version of the vast bulk of the population, English, should be more prominent. I think part of the problem is that the name of the principal language of our country, English, is also the name of the peoples who live to the immediate south of Scotland - so we are not talking solely about culture and linguistics here, we are talking politics, and pretty brutal politics at times too.

    I too have been called a 'racist' for expressing my views, also a 'traitor' to Scotland and even told I should keep quiet and leave Scotland completely 'and go live with your friends the English' if I don't like the way Gaelic is being highly-artificially promoted, with my taxes. Obviously where I choose to live in the UK will not be dependent upon the exhortations of these extremist 'nutters' ;)

    Take care, Barry, and thanks for commenting.


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