Supporting Scottish Gaelic

Jul 12, 2010 by

In a recent posting I noted that “perhaps the importance of the proverbial army and navy (and national flag and other trappings of a nation-state) for the survival of this or that language should not be discounted too easily”. And now the Scottish government agrees.

At least, they are now dedicating funds (£25 million, according to The Herald report) to support the Scottish Gaelic language, a Celtic tongue spoken by some 58,000 people (estimated number of speakers varies from source to source, and one of the newly adopted measures is to make a headcount of Scottish Gaelic speakers). The highest proportion of Gaelic speakers is to be found in the Hebrides, but the highest number live in Glasgow, where train station “welcome” signs greet passengers in both English and Scottish Gaelic.

Other measures in the newly adopted Gaelic Plan include teaching the front-of-house staff in Scottish government offices –- various receptionists and commissionaires –- a smattering of Gaelic. Also, bilingual “welcome” signs will be put up in governmental office foyers by August this year and a Gaelic-language logo will be included on governmental emails, business cards and letterheads by June of next year. They even promise to reply in Gaelic to letters and emails sent to them in the language (government bureaucracy answering citizens’ letters and emails in whatever the language — wow!).

All of this is meant to provide a psychological boost for the Scottish Gaelic speakers, and to increase the prestige of the language. A noble goal for sure. But while some, such as the Conservative Ted Brocklebank, think that “we should be trying to do all we can to promote Gaelic. I don’t believe trying to save one of our native languages from extinction is a waste of money” — money is a problem as the public-sector braces itself for historic cuts. So creative measures that do not require much money but raise the awareness about the language are especially sought out.

And another problem: these measure of support for Scottish Gaelic come at a time when English is giving ground in some communities in the UK and is being replaced by “Multicultural English” (see this recent posting). This sort of development, no doubt, prompted the following cautionary note from Mr.Brocklebank:

“We are going to have to be careful about how we fund the language at a time when there are children in our schools from abroad who don’t even speak English.”

But all in all, Scottish Government, including Culture and External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop, are enthusiastic about “increasing the visibility of the language in everyday life and motivating people to learn and use it”. Time will tell whether these govermental support measures are successful.

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