Tongue Lashing With Friends


Wings Over Scotland published a really stupid article today, and a really good article. Well, technically it was the same article, but both halves of the article were very interesting for different reasons. So, while I’ll only discuss the disagreements briefly, I’ve been percolating a post about Scottish Gaelic for a while, and this provides an excellent prompt.

From the outset, I disagree entirely with the Reverend’s opinion on Scottish Gaelic. We’ll put aside the bizarre equivalence of a language to some of the most appalling events in Scottish history – that’s the Unionists’ job. The Rev appears to judge a language by its usefulness as a communication method, which makes language into a sort of league table based on which is most commonly spoken. This appears very much in line with David Mitchell’s* thoughts (aside from the “spending public money” comment, which the Reverend addresses):

Now, neither the Reverend or Mr Mitchell are anti-Gaelic like, say, Ian Jack, Hugh Reilly or Alan Massie. I can’t see a raging Gaelophobe deigning to present a book they wrote translated into Gaelic. And I think the Reverend has more than proven his active and effective opposition to British imperial ventures. Nonetheless, I think it’s easy to see how some of the words and phrases used in the article (comparing a language to historical atrocities, promotion of Scottish Gaelic leads to “exclusion of outsiders,” “blood and soil nationalism,” “barrier to communication,” and make Scots “feel like uncultured aliens in their own lands”) might strike some in the Scottish Gaelic lobby as not being too far away from the histrionic Unionist polemics he so frequently – and rightly – skewers. That’s the insidiousness of cultural imperialism, and what it does to language.

It is indeed technically true that you would be better served learning Chinese or Spanish if your goal is to learn only the language that you deem will help you speak to the largest number of undefined future strangers. It is also technically true that the Highland Clearances and Witch Trials make up our cultural heritage as much as Scottish Gaelic has. The thing is, things being technically true only tell part of the story. As far as I’m aware – and I will cheerfully retract this if it is untrue – it is technically true that Stuart Campbell and Ian Smart are Homo sapiens: being technically true is only paramount if you’re an evil robot or, worse, a bureaucrat. Language is a tool of communication, yes, but equally importantly, language is a conduit of culture. Each language in the world has its own quirks, facets, and intricacies which mark them as unique, and can reveal an entirely different way of looking at the world.

Nonetheless, the Rev’s intent is clear from the rest of the post: basically it seems to be “I have no investment in Scottish Gaelic or vested interests whatsoever, in fact I think putting Gaelic names on road signs is stupid and useless – so I can say with no bias whatsoever that Jackson Carlaw is a great galloping galloot.” What follows is a defence of the promotion of Scottish Gaelic, stupid as he thinks it is, against the mendacious obfuscation of the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives. He correctly points out that not only the SNP, but New Labour and the Conservatives supported the Gaelic Language Act; he cites studies that show any costs incurred are more than made up (though even that’s just scratching the surface); he points out Mr Carlaw is in absolutely no position to call anything offensive. Skip the first four paragraphs, and you have a fantastic and valuable resource for anyone engaging with those who delight in this sort of nakedly anti-Scottish propaganda.

The Herald wasn’t that wrong: the independence debate has radicalised me something fierce. I started out mildly pro-Monarchy (come on, I was in the Scouts!), but after two years of royal browbeating and the queen’s illegal intervention, I now consider the SSP’s republicanism positively mild. Similarly, I started off rather centrist and didn’t want to rock the boat: now I’m definitely on the Loony Left Fringe of the SNP. And I started off being rather apathetic towards the promotion of Gaelic, thinking it a nice little cultural artefact – but the same research, reading and analysis which led to my denial of the monarchy and leftward lurch bred the fanaticism of the convert for a vital facet of our country’s culture.

One of the first people I began following in the independence debate was Paul Kavanagh, aka Wee Ginger Dug. The first I read of him was, fortuitously, his brilliant ten part history on Scottish Languages on Newsnet Scotland. And interestingly, he pre-empts the Rev’s post with thoughts more in line with my thinking from a post a few days ago:

The purpose of Gaelic signage is to give the language a public presence. Gaelic was once the dominant language of all of Scotland north and west of a line drawn roughly from Gretna to Musselburgh, and was even found in the far south east as well. Gaelic signs remind us all that the English language has never been the only language of Scotland, and make a public statement that the language enjoys respect and support. That’s why they’re there, to remind English speaking Scots that their lazy assumption of English language dominance can and should be challenged, and that’s why members of the Scottish political and cultural establishment object to them.

But more than that, Gaelic and Scots have been marginalised because of the actions of the state, so the state has a duty to ensure that the languages survive. That’s moral restitution, it’s the repayment of a debt. We owe it to our languages, we owe it to ourselves.

English is by no means the ultimate language despite all the borrowing it does: there are many things there is no word for even after centuries. Schadenfreude is most famous, the German term for deriving enjoyment from another’s misfortunes. English has no word for the simple action of going outside to check if anyone is coming in; in Inuit, they have the single word – iktsuarpok. A parent who relentlessly pushes their child towards academic excellence may not have any single word in English, but in Japanese, such a mother is a Kyoikumama. The deep, almost spiritual power of art to move you? The Spanish call it duende. There’s even a great Scots word that has no immediate English equivalent: you know when you’re introducing someone to a friend, then you suddenly forget their name, and pause dumbfounded? That’s a tartle.**

So to Gaelic. Much as many mock Gaelic’s dearth of translations for “English” words like television, there are some terms that elude a direct English equivalent. Sgimilearachd: the act of rudely interrupting someone while they’re eating. Allabhuadhach: someone who is victorious, but in disgrace. Claidean: an absurd hammering at anything. Nigead: those little sobs or sighs you make before or after weeping. Atamaich: to fondle an unreasonable person.

But it goes deeper than that. Different languages can formulate not just different methods of communicating, but altering the very way you perceive the world. In many languages, inanimate objects are referred to with gender prefixes, whereas English has “it.” Other languages can be far more specific in fewer syllables. Syntax and grammar, emphasis and focus, the very order of nouns and verbs, can alter a meaning in profound ways. In Gaelic, there is no “Yes” or “No” – a predicament shared by Yes Scotland and Better Together, who settled on Bu Chòir and Cha Bu Chòir respectively. So how do Gaelic speakers answer questions?***

Gaelic shares a considerable amount of vocabulary and grammar with other Indo-European languages, such as the Germanic or Latinate language families, but differs significantly in a number of respects. Some of these are as follows:

  1. The usual word order in Gaelic is Verb, Subject, Object, unlike the typical English word order of Subject, Verb, Object. (Gaelic word order is occasionally altered to Subject, Verb, Object, for purposes of emphasis or identity.)
  1. Gaelic has no indefinite particle “a” or “an” as in “a house”, which would simply be “taigh”. “The house” would be “an taigh.” “The house is small” is “tha an taigh beag.” (However, “caite a’bheil an taigh beag?” would be understood as “where is the toilet?” – a useful phrase in any language, although not one of ritual character.)
  1. Gaelic lacks the equivalent of the verb “to have,” using a construction such as, “tha taigh agam” – literally “[a] house is at me”, rather than “I have a house.” This form is consistent for most things one “has”; a house, a cat, a spouse; an illness, however, is “on” the individual. Other things, such as hunger or thirst, are also “on” or “in” the person (or thing.) One says, “tha an padagh orm” – “the thirst is on me”, rather than “I am thirsty.” [See Appendix A for the different forms of the prepositions aig (at), air (on), le (with, by), ann (in), and do (to).]
  1. Gaelic has no exact equivalent to “yes” or “no”; instead, most questions are answered by repeating the verb in the appropriate manner. “A bheil thu a’dol anise?” (“are you going now?”) would be answered with “tha” (literally “am”) or “chan eil” (“am not”).
  1. In common with other modern Celtic languages, Gaelic words often have initial mutations, called lenitions, which depend on the preceding word or on their syntax. The two most common of these are caused by the possessives mo (my), do (your) or a (his), and the vocative case. As an example of lenition, Talamh-Màthair, (Earth Mother) becomes Thalamh-Màthair when addressed; the initial T is then silent, shifting the pronunciation from TA-lahv to HA-lahv. If one were simply addressing “Màthair”, the word would mutate as “a Mhàthair”, and the pronunciation would change from MAH-hair to VAH-hair. (A full survey of lenitions would be too extensive to attempt here.)
  1. In common with many other Indo-European languages, although not English, Gaelic nouns have gender, and there is no neutral gender or “it” in the language. The gender of inanimate objects must be learned by experience, as there seems to be no particular order, and unlike the Latinate languages, the gender is not indicated by the orthography.
  1. Most Gaelic adjectives, like those of many European languages (although again, not English) follow the noun they modify. Thus, “an cù dubh” literally, “the dog black.”
  1. There are two forms of the verb “to be”, the more common being “tha”, and the other “is”, which is used for persons or other animate things, as in “is mise Rowen”, “I am Rowen”, or “is an athro a tha ann”, “it is the teacher that is in him”, i.e. “he is a teacher.”- A Focus on Scots Gaelic

Bu Chòir, as the answer to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is, effectively, “should.” Not an impersonal statement that could be read as fact, but a statement of will, of intent. We can, we could, we should.

When you go to live or visit in Kenya, people very gently and enthusiastically inform you that “we don’t say hello, we say Jambo!” It’s such an exciting word that you can’t wait to copy it: it’s more like an exclaimation. The next thing you hear after Jambo is “habari,” or “habari-yako,” to which the answer will be “Mzuri sana.” Kenyans encourage people to learn this quickly, and even add to the small, repetitive conversation (“unatoka wapi,” “twende,” “asante sana,” etc). It’s a comfort zone for greeting people, the same way as people say “good morning, it’s a lovely day today,” someone else will say back “good morning, yes it’s a lovely day,” they talk about the weather or enquire how we feel, to which the answer should always, politely, be… “fine.” It’s a brush with the culture: you are in Kenya, there is no doubt about it, this is the language they speak… even back when it was a British colony, and everyone spoke perfect English.


But Scottish Gaelic, according to many of its critics, doesn’t count – not really. “It isn’t indigenous to Scotland, it came over from Ireland, so if anything we should be speaking Pictish,” or some variation thereof, blissfully ignoring that this argument only makes English even less legitimate as non-indigenous. “It’s a waste of money” – except, as the Rev pointed out, it pays for itself and then some. “It was only ever spoken in the Highlands & Islands, certainly not most of the country.” I’ve heard this with my own birth town, Greenock. The revisionist etymology is that the name derives from “Green Oak,” a folk etymology that flourished from the 1700s onward: apparently, nobody spoke Gaelic in Greenock until the influx of Irish in the 18th century. Yet there had been human habitation in the Greenock area for centuries beforehand, to the point where the Brittonic Graenag (“gravelly/sandy place”) is a strong contender, as what is now Greenock was in the heartlands of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Gaelic is unusual even among other Indo-European languages, and represents one of the last branches of a tree all but lost with the passage of time – exacerbated by larger languages of one type or another. There is nothing natural about the death of a language, for a language has no life of its own save that of its own speakers: those raised and steeped in the language. It’s more than an indulgence for a minority – it’s a vital link to other humans across space and time. People are willing to die to preserve these precious connections to those lives that came before.


This is Khaled al-Asaad, director of antiquities and museums in Palmyra, Syria. He spent his life studying, curating, and restoring artifacts of the ancient Roman city. He named his daughter after Zenobia, ancient Palmyra’s most famous daughter, who led a rival to the Roman Empire at the arguable height of Rome’s power. When forces dedicated to the eradication of history and culture came to Palmyra with accusations of idolatry and apostasy, he transferred the portable antiquities to safety. He remained behind to protect the site from its would-be destroyers. He was tortured, bombarded with demands to reveal the locations of artefacts. He refused to betray Palmyra. His silence led to his murder.

Nobody has to die to protect Scottish Gaelic from eradication, and thank all that is good for that. But unlike ancient Palmyra, Scottish Gaelic is still alive, with native speakers of a thousand generations of native speakers still living. It doesn’t have to become an artefact, bones that can only be restored, or reconstructed – never brought back. It doesn’t have to join Pictish, Cumbric, Brittonic or Norn: it can persist. We can keep that part of us alive.

Road signs may seem small. Some may even find them irritating. But that’s what change is all about. Changing from imperial to metric was an inconvenience to begin with, but we got over it. Switching from Farenheit to Celsius was a bother at first, but we managed. And the presence of Gaelic road signs is naturally going to be a bit rough to begin with – but we’re the frontiersmen. We’re building a new Scotland, one that seeks to redress centuries of marginalisation and ridicule and neglect. Nobody said it would be an easy ride, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We can do this. Should we?

Bu Choir

*I love Mr Mitchell dearly as a comedian and think he speaks great sense on a good number of subjects, but if he actually did say ” You may be happily in cahoots with the morris-dancing English and the Eisteddfod-organising Welsh, but my country, the Britain of London where I now live, of Swansea, my mother’s home town where I spent a lot of time as a child, and of Galloway, where my paternal grandparents lived, is something you want to destroy” to Nicola Sturgeon as he wanted to, at least we’d lose ambiguity about his British nationalism and the sense of entitlement that sometimes manifests. It’s a bit like men who respond to discussions about feminism with “but what about us poor men?”

**This is not to imply that languages are nothing more than great big grab-bags of words: languages reflect cultures in their different priorities. Hence why some cultures will have more words for some things and not for others, while others see no need to use a single word for some abstract concepts at all. It’s all about what’s important to their culture, and how their language serves them. Many thanks to Sandy Nicholson in the comments for pointing this out.

***An earlier version of this post rather clumsily used a quote regarding Irish, since both Irish and Scottish Gaelic have a similar convention regarding the affirmative. Unfortunately, it gives the impression the two languages are interchangeable at best, and “just the same language” at worst, which was absolutely not my intention. I’ve done some more work, and found a more suitable quotation. Thanks to Sandy Nicholson and Anna in the comments.

… I really, really should have thought that title through, shouldn’t I?


52 thoughts on “Tongue Lashing With Friends

  1. Paula Rose says:

    Honey – you are in your element with this one xx

  2. […] Source: Tongue Lashing With Friends […]

  3. Peter Clive says:

    An excellent article … directly approaches a subject I was prompted by yesterday’s stushie to approach, somewhat more indirectly (to avoid being overtly confrontational) here:

  4. Oneironaut says:

    Actually not the first time the Rev has gone poking a wasp’s nest.
    It’s probably a good thing that someone in his position can stir up a bit of controversy from time to time to get a discussion going. But recently he seems to be confusing “stirring up controversy” with “deliberately winding people up”.
    They are two different things…

    I agree that he does an essential job with Wings, but he’s also in a position where remarks like that will be noticed and twisted to be used against everyone.

  5. Nana Smith says:

    Tha seo math alharron, tapadh leat.

  6. Anna says:

    A good article – thank you.
    However, “craic” is not a Scottish Gaelic word, or even an Irish word. It was borrowed from English into Irish, given an Irish-ish spelling, and then borrowed back into English again.
    Also, “Bu chòir” translates as an affirmative “Should” rather than “We should”. “We should” would be “Bu chòir dhuinn”.
    I’m also not sure why you answer the question, “So how do Gaelic speakers answer questions?” with an explanation of how Irish speakers answer questions – Irish is a different language. While it’s true that neither language has the straightforward yes/no and form affirmative or negative responses in a similar way, the two languages are not the same and the examples cited here for Irish would be quite different in Gaelic.
    But on the whole I agree with everything you say!

    • alharron says:

      Thanks very much, Anna. I apologise for my inadvertent conflation of Irish and Scottish Gaelic: it was indeed because *both* happen to agree on the broad strokes, in the same way that, say, French and Spanish both
      use gendered nouns – it certainly was not my intention to treat the two as interchangeable. I shall amend the article forthwith

  7. A good post in defence of Gaelic – against the Reverend’s somewhat surprising outburst. Just a couple of things, though. First, it’s a shame that you resort to the ‘no word for X’ meme, which suggests that languages are just more-or-less-rich bags of words. If that were the case, they’d be far less worthy of protection. Second, perhaps the bit of text about how yes/no questions are answered just happened to be convenient, but it does give the impression that you are confusing Gaelic and Irish. They are of course closely related languages (with a common ancestor), but probably no more mutually intelligible today than Spanish and Italian, say.

    • alharron says:

      Sandy, thanks very much for the comments.

      Regarding the “no word for X” meme, I certainly did not mean to imply that language was nothing more than vocabulary – what I was trying to say was that because languages prioritise different things. The “no word for X” meme is, as you say, reductive and can be misleading.

      As for the Irish bit, well, that’s what I get for using shorthand! Irish and Gaelic are indeed as separate as any of the romance languages, but it was the “affirmative/negative answer” aspect shared by both I was focusing on.

      I’ll amend the post accordingly. Thanks again!

      • Thanks for taking my comments on board. The new source you‘ve chosen seems sound on the whole, though I was particularly bemused by the last example: Is an athro a tha ann for ‘He is a teacher’. For one thing, the word athro is actually the Welsh word for ‘teacher’ (!). In Gaelic, we’d usually say tìdsear (pronounced much like ‘teacher’, so no surprises where that came from) or neach-teagaisg (lit. ‘teaching-person’). The construction is also a little confused. The most common translation would probably be: ’S e tìdsear a th’ ann.

      • alharron says:

        I think it’s because the site it’s on has a lot of Welsh on it, which might lead to a bit of crossed wires. Once again, thanks for the comment, keeps me right.

  8. Ghillie says:

    Taranaigh, thankyou = )

    Gentle and reasoned as always but firm and hard hitting too. Clever.

    Feel better now having read your timely contribution. And will follow up Wee Ginger Dug too.

    What a brave and dedicated man, Khaled al-Asaad. I will remember his name.

  9. Rev. Stu says:

    “The Rev appears to judge a language by its usefulness as a communication method”

    Yes, that’s precisely what I do, because that’s what a language is. And yes, I also agree almost entirely with that David Mitchell clip, except for the bit about funding, because the Wings article establishes that the funding is self-financing. Which, as you note, was the point:

    “Nonetheless, the Rev’s intent is clear from the rest of the post: basically it seems to be “I have no investment in Scottish Gaelic or vested interests whatsoever, in fact I think putting Gaelic names on road signs is stupid and useless – so I can say with no bias whatsoever that Jackson Carlaw is a great galloping galloot.” What follows is a defence of the promotion of Scottish Gaelic, stupid as he thinks it is, against the mendacious obfuscation of the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives.”

    Exactly correct. I wish I was more surprised and less depressed that a large number of people were too dim to spot that.

    • alharron says:

      I wish I was more surprised and less depressed that a large number of people were too dim to spot that.

      Ach, come on Rev, you said yourself you were going to lose friends over the post, and you had to know some of the language used would get people’s heckles up. In any case, it’s led to some great discussion, and I’m sure you’re positively crying yourself to sleep over the 500+ comments and presumably thousands upon thousands of clicks, views, shares and discussions in an otherwise quiet time for politics (though Nicola’s latest statements are proving very interesting).

      I think a lot of people who read the post were personally hurt because you have done, and continue to do, so much for them, that they feel it a personal betrayal for you to be using those words and phrases. Even if the intent was indeed in favour of promoting Gaelic, denigration of the language has gone on so long and is so wearying that people naturally have extremely short fuses, especially people who speak it and already feel threatened by genuine hostility from other sources. Thus they regard an article that’s a defence of Gaelic as another attack, because – again – it’s all about the language used.

      It isn’t strange for people to go from strong advocates to savage critics. I’m not averse to it: I used to love George Galloway for his courage, now I can’t stand the sight of him. Why else do so marriages end up in divorce? Love can turn to hate pretty quickly, and that even extends to popular websites. People love you, Rev, because of all the work you’ve done, because you’re really good at what you do – and that’s why they react so strongly when you write something they disagree with so strongly. (Pretty sure this is what’s going on with you and certain people who shall remain nameless!)

      • RevStu says:

        “Ach, come on Rev, you said yourself you were going to lose friends over the post, and you had to know some of the language used would get people’s heckles up.”

        Indeed. Because I know that a lot of people are really stupid, and much as I’d wish it, that isn’t confined to Unionists.

      • alharron says:

        Well, people are responsible for their own emotions. 🙂

    • Define useful. Gaelic is a useful language for those who will gain employment through it and that requires the same investment that English has received in being imposed on Gaelic communities.

    • “Let’s start off by losing some more friends. This site has no time for the Gaelic lobby. The obsolete language spoken by just 0.9% of Scotland’s population might be part of the nation’s “cultural heritage”, but so were burning witches and replacing Highlanders with sheep and we don’t do those any more either”

      Both of these events were carried out by English speaking rulers against Gaelic speaking communities.

  10. Labhrainn says:

    I must say I was disappointed with Stu. I do not know the man at all, but given his background he might be one of those who are more orientated towards figures and techy things than languages. I am quite the opposite, numbers confuse me but languages come easily. It is possible that we have different brains. This may be the reason that some people simply do not see, understand, or appreciate that while language is primarily a tool for communication it also has other functions.

    Norway is a country with a population about the same size as Scotland’s, ca 5 million. The majority speak Norwegian. There are 3 versions of Norwegian, bokmål, nynorsk and riksmål. In addition there are the languages of the Sámi. The Sámi are not one people but several, all with their own language. Norway’s primary foreign language is English. English is taught from Kindergarten and onwards. Most Norwegians are fluent in English. This is also the case in Sweden and Denmark.
    According to Stu (and others like him), then of course Norway should abandon it’s own languages in favour of English. That is not happening. Nor are the Swedes or the Danes abandoning their languages, strange as it may seem.The reason for that is that the languages are more than mere tools of communication.

    Stu also seems to forget that languages are often deliberately targeted by an invader, or other dominant groups. Sámi was fiercely attacked by the Norwegians. It was banned and people were punished for speaking it. Gaelic, both in Ireland and Scotland, was also persecuted. The same thing happened to the languages of the Native Americans in the US and the Aborigines in Australia. The Soviets also persecuted the languages of many of the ethnic minorities in the USSR. Sometimes languages are not persecuted as such, but are simply denigrated, ridiculed, or ignored. This is the case with Scots.

  11. […] Wings Over Scotland published a really stupid article today, and a really good article. Well, technically it was the same article, but both halves of the article were very interesting for different…  […]

  12. alharron says:

    Hello son,
    In the land of three towns & two villages, Inverclyde, there are vast differences in language.
    This includes all language. #winks#
    Especially how we get people’s attention.
    In some areas, a #nod# is as good as that #wink#.
    There is much more than words. That’s why #clapping hands# is so dangerous.
    Your words on this subject are lovely to read. #smiles#.

  13. mealer says:

    Spot on.That really makes me feel so much better.Thankyou.

  14. K1 says:

    Excellent alharron, You’ve put Rev’s article into its correct context. I read all the comments on the Wings article and was richly rewarded with a deeper understanding of the history of the Gaelic language in Scotland, and of the passion this subject engenders. Your article above has further elucidated my understanding.

    Och we’re a rich and diverse people, are we not?

    It’s all good…we are all still learning from and about one another. 🙂

    • alharron says:

      There’s always a silver lining. I’ve noticed a few lamenting that the analysis has been lost in among the Gaelic champions, but I look at it differently – I think it speaks wonders for the Rev’s standards of media analysis in that it’s just treated as a given.

      Basically, nobody’s talking about the analysis because they just *expect* it to be solid. A thousand paintings could be perfectly placed on a wall, but it’s the one that’s slightly skew you can’t help but notice.

  15. Sìle says:

    Reblogged this on Letters from a Briton and commented:
    Please, please read thsi.

  16. K1 says:

    Aye, much depends on the ‘angle’ of your view and the tilt of yer heid. 🙂

  17. ed says:

    Thanks for this article. I along with most of the Gaels I live amongst are some of the stupid ones according to the great egotist (arrogance and ignorance is not confined to unionists either). My 9 (chelsea born) and 7 (sheffield born) year olds were in their gaelic drama class tonight with 20 other kids on the Isle of Barra preparing for the local Mod. They all bounced out full of enthusiasm, absolutely beautiful. On the day they will be watched by 60, 70 and 80 year old Gaelic grandparents who speak the language everyday, even tho it was literally battered out of them in primary school. The notion that langauge is only useful as a means of communication is up there at the top of the idiot sclae with Thatchers no such thing as society garbage.

    • Nach mi tha toillichte sin a`leughadh is tha thu ceart gu leor.Channainsa gun robh e sporseil ruibh is gu bheil iad taingeil airson an cothrom ri canan a-mach air Beurla ag ionnsachadh.

  18. Good article but I would disagree with the argument that languages influence the way you think / perceive the world (I note you did reference a study but that is not exactly conclusive).

    I am firmly of the school of thought that language is a tool for communication and allows people to express their thoughts, desires, opinions etc. The *way* in which we can express ourselves will vary with language but the concepts are formed first then expressed linguistically.

    お疲れ様でした is a Japanese word which is pretty untranslatable. (I literally means “you are tired” but is used at the end of the working day – the implication is that the person is tired because they have worked so hard.)

    But the Japanese don’t say it because they have this nice word they want to use. The word exists *because* their culture demands something to express the concept. You said it earlier in the piece – language is a conduit of culture. We don’t have an equivalent word in English because our working culture does not require it.

    So, while I agree that language is a tool for communication, it is one that is intrinsically linked with its culture. I wouldn’t agree though that the language you speak influences how you think but rather how you express those thoughts.

    Other than that, I am inclined to agree with you more than Rev Stu (and David Mitchell) with his rather utilitarian attitude on this occasion. I would even it smacks somewhat of the typical arrogance of monolingual native English speakers. While language is a tool for communication, it is one born of, and representing, its native culture. We should celebrate that we have such a linguistic heritage in Scotland rather shrug our shoulders and think it doesn’t matter because hardly anyone speaks it these days. (And yes, I do fully get that the piece in question does defend Gaelic…)

    (Sorry, rambled a bit more than I intended – obviously not using my language skills well enough.)

    • alharron says:

      I see what you mean: perhaps “affects the way you perceive the world/think” is a clumsy and imprecise way of saying “different cultures see things differently.”

    • RevStu says:

      No issue with the majority of that, but I do find it immensely irritating that numerous people in the last few days have pejoratively and inaccurately used the words “monoglot” or “monolingual” to mean “non-Gaelic speaker”.

      Most people who speak more than one language (I have passable, if rather rusty from disuse, French) don’t speak Gaelic. Just because they don’t speak YOUR language doesn’t mean they’re insular bigots who don’t speak ANYONE else’s.

  19. Thepnr says:

    Whether another will agree with your point of view at the outset is never your choice, It is theirs. For unless you can read anothers mind then their is always the possibility that they will disagree.

    That is human and normal, new ideas will rarely be formed without some disagreement, there is nothing wrong with changing your mind on any subject if somehow you have been convinced of the opposing argument. The opposite is also true of course,

    Progress is made through discovery, both of ideas and words, for that we need opposing views and debate. Not to be stifled or avoided, such as it was during the Referendum due to the fear of Independence by the UK government and its subservient media.

    Scotland has more than enough individuals who will fight against the lies, as you are doing with this blog alharron.

    Thank You.

  20. Interesting to find this reaction to the Wings article (via a FB post by Yes Kirriemuir). Whilst I’m no great fan of the Gaelic roadsigns (for rather obscure reasons I’ll come to below) I was surprised by his attitude to Gaelic. The point that he was trying to make could have been made just as well without it.

    However, and here’s where I’m not happy with the roadsigns initiative. If a thing like this is worth doing it should be done properly. I come from a place in Aberdeenshire (proper, not the current variant) the name of which has Gaelic origins. It’s Turriff, and it’s named in the Book of Deer, which is about as good as it gets for Gaelic in that part of the world. When the initiative was announced I remember going to the Scottish Parliament’s website and downloading the PDFs as I (a non Gaelic speaker, but a bit of a local historian) had a theory as to what the name meant, and I was keen to see if it was vindicated or poo-pooed by the experts who had compiled the place name list.

    Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was given as Baile Thurra. As I looked through I found that quite a few places that probably had Gaelic origins had succumbed to what I would call “shoving Baile on the front and adding some random h’s”.

    It’s not good enough. Gaelic deserves better than that. It seems to be a typical 21st century project where a deadline and keeping to a (probably minimal) budget trumped the chance to help revive culture by taking the time and effort to discover the original name.

    I see that Wikipedia claims “Torraibh, meaning “place of round hills”” but (and it’s the eternal problem of place name studies) that again doesn’t seem to follow back from the current name through all the manglings of charter scribes (who knew neither Gaelic nor how to spell in a consistent manner).

    My own theory, for any Gaelic speakers to shoot down, is as follows (going back in time)

    Turra (Doric contraction)
    Turriff (Current English/Sunday Doric)
    Torbruad (Book of Deer)

    So the original might have been Tor Bruidhe (or something like it).

  21. macart763 says:

    Enjoyed that Taranaich.

  22. Dave MacLeod says:

    Rev Stu has clearly made a mistake. ‘Obsolete’ ? Nonsense description on Stu’s part, if you look at reality. I’m younger than Stu (judging by his photo) and I use Gaelic with my family and friends and in my community every day. How is that ‘obsolete’? No matter how great his other arguments are, when he clearly misunderstands the reality, Rev Stu loses credibility. He might be accurate about signage costs, but he is simply not accurate at the start of his article.

  23. […] Gael was massively enamoured with this. I won’t address all those points here (but see this blog for a more detailed overall response than I can offer, this on why learning Gaelic instead of […]

  24. Steaphan MacRisnidh says:

    Great article. The linguistic map of Scotland is good too, but Scots was English (Inglis) when it first arrived in Scotland; it only became known as “Scots” later. I think around the 15-16th centuries. Would be good if that was reflected in the map. In English Gaelic was known as “Scottis” until that time.

    • alharron says:

      The map is an animated version of several maps published on Paul Kavanagh’s series on Scottish languages, I just put them together into a wee gif. Fascinating stuff, all this!

  25. […] is one of the interesting Scottish Gaelic words I learnt from this blog post. Others […]

  26. Matthew says:

    Al—“We can keep that part of us alive” Who is we and what do you mean by keeping that part of us alive? Are you contemplating learning Gaidhlig to fluency or are you posing?

  27. […] September: Tongue Lashing With Friends – In which I extol the virtue and value of Scottish Gaelic in the 21st […]

  28. […] just – just – missed out on gaining Eastwood to Jackson BLOODY Carlaw, and just typing that makes me feel […]

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