"Gaelic? Or Irish, Scottish and Manx?" : Your Comments

Go raibh maith agaibh :: Tapadh leibh :: Thank you all for sharing your views. I’m creating a collection here of all your comments, from the blog page itself, the Facebook page and Twitter. If people add more, I’ll be sure to update this post with them.

Comments on the blog:

Seán Ó Hóireabhard: Well a chara, I come in on the opposite side of this debate. The term Gaelic is not offensive in of itself - one is proud to consider oneself a “Gael”, to support a Gaelic Ireland and to support Gaeilge na hAlban whatsoever it calls itself, Gaelic included. However, the history of the term is negative - the Anglo Irish used it and despised the language, and The Gaelic League changed its name partly because of the effect the word “Gaelic” was creating in the public image. Reference is made to this in Proinsias Mac Aonghusa’s “Ar Son na Gaeilge”, a history of Conradh na Gaeilge. Not only is the history of the term one of abuse - (much like “Fenian” which has suffered a similar fate) its connotations are ones of backwardness and poverty. The term itself reminds Irish people of their inferiority under colonial rule and I believe that Irish people (sub-consciously) run a mile when they hear it. I don’t think it does anything for Scottish either, and I advocate a re-branding for our cousins.

Irish, Scottish, Welsh.

Ian MacDonald: In Scotland, the term Gaelic, used on its own (as it generally is), simply means Scottish Gaelic - for the majority of the population this is the language, in isolation from any culture or people, which is barely recognised, though those with a connection have a wider understanding.

The possible emotive responses linked to this word are probably more significant to all Scots than any potential use outside of Scotland. The range is from utter contempt to soaring pride, with the weight of numbers in the somewhat favourable but rather bemused camp (to the extent that a large number of Scots will opt to pronounce it ‘Gay-lick’ because that’s sort of how it looks like it should be pronounced in English).

The term Gael has never been widely used. One difficulty is that in Gaelic, the term is ambiguous, principally meaning highlander (regardless of language), as well as signifying someone with Gaelic origins. The Gaelic movement has now taken it as its own, to some effect.

Rebranding in Scotland is not needed to overcome any massive negative perception, or for any other reason. There is some anti-Gaelic reporting in the press, mainly, but it is increasingly isolated. Our problem has for at least 40 years been apathy, not antipathy.

Recently, things genuinely appear to be moving toward enlightenment and even a degree of pride in Gaelic. Calling it Scottish would be wholly strange and confusing to Scots, and counterproductive.

We Scots view the Celtic language spoken in Ireland as Irish, though we would also recognise the term Irish Gaelic. Gaelic speakers would of course recognise Gaeilge, and realise its closeness linguistically and in terms of shared need.

As for Manx Gaelic, those that are aware of it are generally approving of its closeness to our own variety of Gaelic, and of the success of Manx people in achieving revival and recognition for their language.

Joint Gaelic/Irish broadcasts such as Sruth na Maoile and Taigh Ciùil can only have a positive effect on mutual recognition and understanding, and ultimately progress for our languages. I would also imagine there is a role for Welsh and other southern Celtic languages as these are not as distant linguistically or politically, as all that.

Brian Ó Maoldúin: "Your language is a major factor in how you view the world"
How true. I would go as far as to say that the grammar and nuances of any nations’ language is a great indicator of that nation’s character. The Gaelic languages demonstrate that the Gaelic peoples were very respectful and law abiding. Our ancestors were not the uncivilised warring people portrayed by the Norman/Vatican or Elizabethian invaders. A small example , When addressing someone by name in Gaelic, the name is aspirated and put in the genitive case. This has the effect of softening the pronunciation thereby showing respect to the individual. Another is that there are no verbs “to have or “to own”. This would indicate that they believed their possessions ,land or wealth were a gift or blessing but could be taken away from them at any time should they not care for them or use them fittingly.
Gaelic languages and the Brehon laws paint a picture of a caring secular society very different from the uncivilised indisciplined warring people I was taught about at school.
It is time the Dept. of Education revised their History curriculum and scrap the “Celtic” rubbish written by English, victorian (so called) historians. It is time for our children to be taught the TRUE history of this nation and our ancestors.

Seán De Búrca: I have a lot I want to say, and I’ll write up a more engaged post on the Irish/Gaelic later, but first I feel a desperate need to address one claim, and the comment which picks up on it: linguistic relativism, or the idea that language influences cognition. I’m currently a near-graduated student of linguistics at university, planning on going on to graduate school when I finish. I am not focusing on sociolinguistics, but nonetheless these are claims that come up very frequently, and are very familiar.

The idea that language determines thought processes and cognitive categories is called the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and is, among linguists, almost universally considered false. The weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which says that language can affect cognition in a limited way, has more general acceptance. I would like to emphasise the word ‘limited’. Experiments have to be cleverly designed to demonstrate differences in cognition between speakers of two different languages. I therefore disagree with the statement that it is a major factor in one’s view of the world. Instead, culture (which is generally closely tied with language) is a more likely culprit. Language communities of course have their own idiosyncratic contributions to subculture.

Brian, it isn’t my desire to refute your statements about Gaelic culture, but I do want to add a linguist’s view of the particular phenomena you mentioned. When addressing someone, the lenition of the name is due to regular sound changes in the history of the Celtic languages. Respect does not play into it. If it did, would that mean I respected Tadhg more than Ruairí? Extending it, do I have more respect for the window than the doctor? Perhaps the Gaels were more respectful toward others than surrounding groups, but that has nothing to do with leniting forms of address.

Second, the lack of ‘to have’ or ‘to own’ is a red herring. The structures still exist in the language, and have since the earliest written records of Old Irish. In fact, parallel structures exist in at least Welsh, suggesting it goes back to a time when people spoke the language that later became Old Irish and British. The same meaning can be expressed. The same concepts of ownership and possession existed. The linguistic structure is all that differs.

Again, this isn’t an attack on perceptions of the Gaels. My only desire is to stamp out a long-running linguistic myth that never ceases to rankle.

barnai (Brian Ó Maoldúin?): Many thanks for your reply. Please keep on refuting any thoughts I post otherwise I’ll learn nothing.
Just to put you in the picture. I’m not a scholar of linguistics, sociology or indeed Irish history. I do however have an insatiable love of reading books, dissertations,theories etc on these subjects. Just occasionally, this can be an advantage because I have no preconceptions nor do I accept any unproven theories to be true no matter how convincing the arguments.
I believe that the history I was taught at school, though in the main factually correct in terms of dates & events, was thoroughly sanitized and censored by the church and state. The alleged Celtic invasions being a case in point. My son had to do an essay on this for his exams recently, even though no such invasion ever took place. Recent advances in mapping our genetic composition has confirmed this.
In terms of our language I agree with you that language does not determine thought processes I do however think that collective thought processes and collective behaviors are reflected in the language. In short the character of the language reflects the disposition of the people.
With regard to “Is liom” & “Tá agam”. To own can just as easily be translated as to have stewardship over. It was only with the coming of the Vikings and later the Normans that Gaelic perspectives ownership began to change. Even so only the South & East were effected. In fact the entire Brehon law system with regard to ownership is based on the fact that each of us is here for a short period of time therefore ownership is temporary even during ones lifetime. It is an accurate reflection of a peoples core beliefs.
I am also struggling with the “P-Celt” “Q-Celt” theory. Given that we are not and never were Celts. Welsh Cornish and Breton neither look or sound like Gaelic. One look at their respective dictionaries is enough to show that. I reminds me of the Paleontologist who, based on current evolutionary theories concluded that the mammoth was the ancestor of the rhinoceros. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see it’s an ancient elephant.
Anyway that’s enough of my amateurish ranting. I look forward to hearing from ye.
Le Gach Dea Ghuidhe.

Facebook comments:

Aonghus Dwane: Gle mhath!

Isaac M. Davis: Iontach maith!

Kevin J. McLauchlin: 's fheàrr leam 'Gàidhlig, Gaeilge, agus Gaelg.' Nì gach uile fhacail cùisean troimh-a-chèile. Cleachdaidh an t-uabhas a dhaoine ann an Alba (gu h-àraid air a' Ghalltachd) Gaelic a chum brìgh a dhèanamh nan uile chànan. Is coma leam gach dòigh eile a bhith a' cur an cèill an diofair.

Xaviar Cava: In my opinion, although nowadays are regarded as separate languages, they are all forming a dialect continuum with different standards (with ‘An Caighdeán’ and ‘Gàidhlig meadhan na mara’ as clearly cases of diglossia).

…so, I think that Gaelic is an appropiate term.

Isaac M. Davis: I think that Gaelic is a useful term, and if the speakers of all the varieties thought of themselves as speakers of one big transnational language, then I’d be happy to speak of it thus. However, since they don’t, so much, I go with the flow and tell people that I speak Irish, and talk about them as different languages. When I was at a conference on the Isle of Man, back in May, though, there were many inter-Gaelic conversations, once the Irish-speakers had learnt a bit of Manx and were able to modify their utterances accordingly so that they were more likely to be understood.

John O’Brien: Gaelic is a handy term cos when ever someone says to me, do you speak Gaelic, I immediately know that they aren’t from Ireland.

Phil Busby: Yes that’s right

Xavier Cava: It is important to state too that gaeilge, gàidhlig, gaelg and even gaelic, are cognates. The first three are autonyms and the last one is an exonym.

Phil Busby: its great that its still popular

Edoardo McKenna (Éamonn MacCionaith): Apologies for barging in in this fashion, but by a fortunate coincidence I was discussing the topic this very morning with my uni supervisors.
The point of contention was the classification of Gàidhlig within the context of its historical evolution, particularly against the backdrop of the unified literary language known to this day as “Classical Irish”. A few eyebrows were raised when in one of my submissions I opted for “Classical Gaelic” instead (I’ll explain in a sec).
To simplify things somewhat, over the past two centuries there have been two main tendencies among scholars: on the one hand those who consider Gàidhlig a mere off-shot of Irish (not to say a dialect), who are essentially Irish or Continental researchers (most notably Germans), and on the other a not negligible group of Scots who consider it completely independent of it, with some debatable theories involving both Pictish (see Diack, for example) as well as ‘nativisation’ (see Campbell’ the Sea kingdom of the Scots, as well as Colm O’Baoill in Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig).
My point was that in a diachronic context the language had always been known (at least in records) as Gaeilge, Geulach, Gàidhlig, Gaelg, or a variant thereof (as you correctly pointed out), and the only way to mirror this fact nowadays was to adopt the orthographically uniform term “Gaelic”. My point was taken, albeit somewhat willy-nilly. Having said this, your post made me think of another aspect: in dealing with language standardisation there is the accepted consesus based on Kloss’ definition that a dialect or a speech variant may become a language by means of Ausbau, or the engineered development usually promoted by a state. That seems to fit the Irish scenario fairly well: a variant of the Gaelic language, in itself genetically related to the other two (therefore no Abstand, or genetic distance, in Kloss’ terms), becomes “Irish” with its adoption by the Irish State; a similar case could well be Luxembourgish, in itself a peculiar Central German dialect elevated to the role of national language with a different name. So the two definitions are not necessarily at odds.

Finally, concerning your question on self identity for non-Gàidhlig Gaels: yes, they are still largely considered part of the Gaels’ community by virtue of ancestry and family ties, especially if they are only 2nd or 3rd generation on the mainland and have kept their ties to the original island (I think I read something in this sense in A companion to the gaelic language, mcleod and macleod, but don’t take my word for it-it’s been a while) Apologies for the long post, but keep your blog going, it’s an excellent idea and good food for thought. Le meas, Ed.

Ps. Another interesting point could be whether the modern varieties of gaeilge are linguistically one language: Donegal Gaeilge is very very similar to Gàidhlig, and the now defunct Tyrone and East Ulster ones were even more so. Connacht gaeilge is still approchable, from a Scottish perspective, while Munster’s is essentially a related but foreign language (the conjugations and the stress patterns being the main problem). From an historical perspective (see the Irish Dalriada in Scotland, which hailed essentially from Antrim and Down) Gàidhlig is an off-shot of Ulster gaeilge, and I suspect the discriminating line shoud be set somewhere along the Shannon, rather than in the Sruth na Maoile :-D Cheers!

Séamas Ó Sionnaigh: There are vociferous minorities of English speakers in Ireland and Scotland who determinedly use the terms Gaelic and Gaels to differentiate themselves from those they identify as having a different identity (ethnicity?) from their own. In Ireland it is not so bad, though you will see newspaper commentators who refuse to use the words “Irish language” and always couch it in the terms of “Gaelic” and “Gaelic speakers” (usually with half-a-dozen discriminatory or quasi-racists remarks). In Scotland it is far worse. If we drop terms like the “Irish language” or the “Scottish language” and embrace the “Gaelic language” we lose the essential connection between language, culture and nation in both countries. And we hand a victory to that small minority of militant Anglophones who wish to destroy the native languages and cultures of both nations.

Additionally, the Irish, Scottish and Manx languages, though very close cousins, are not the same. They may be dialectal versions of the same mother tongue (Gaelic!) but they have diverged enough to deserve their own identifying terms. That is not to deny a Pan-Gaelic identity (we are the “sea-divided Gaels”) or the necessity for keeping the term Gaelic as a useful identifier in the English language for that international ethnicity or for Irish, Scots and Manx people with a “native” identity, either through birth or adoption in later life (though in this I would be far more expansive in my definition of who qualifies as a Gael and would not restrict it to native speakers but to anyone who self-identifies with the term in its fullest extent).

I agree absolutely with the promotion of a Gaelic identity that embraces the Gaelic nations and peoples as a whole. I would see Ireland, Scotland and Mann in a Gaelic Council along the lines of the Scandinavian Council and closer co-operation between our respective governments. Especially if that would ease the old sectarian and ethnic tensions in both nations. If the British or Scots-Irish minority in Ireland could be accommodated and integrated via a Scottish Gaelic identity, while the Irish minority in Scotland could be accommodated or integrated via a Gaelic Irish identity, both nations would benefit hugely. Just a few thoughts.

Phil Busby: irish language tends to get labelled as a republican ideal when in my case i love the language although im really still school boy ish /holiday standard i embrace it as a cultural thing. thats why im commited to learn more of it by 2015.

Edoardo McKenna (Éamonn MacCionaith): @ Séamas: Just a few considerations on your comments, if I may. I agree completely with your observation that using “Irish” and “Scottish” in connection to the language does carry an emotive and affective connotation for many people; nonetheless, I am under the impression that the importance of the local label may be greater in Ireland (presumably for historical and political reasons) than it is in Scotland. Regardless of what attitude people have towards the language, both supporters and detractors usually call it simply Gàidhlig, and in their mind-set there is no question that it IS an integral part of Scottish culture (the days of yore when Highlanders were called “Erse”, or Irish, as if they were a separate body within the country, are luckily gone and forgotten). In other words, as John O’ brien pointed out above, the general pronunciation ‘Gah-lick’, even when spellt Gaelic, is enough to make it Scottish. And I doubt that detractors would change their mind simply because the language retains a national label.

You are also right in highlighting that in a synchronic context the 3 languages are different enough to be something more than variants: but would the retention of Gailge, Gàidhlig and Gaelg as denominations not be sufficient to designate both diversity and communality? Just a thought. The Pan-Gael council would be an excellent idea, but unfortunately I doubt it would be viable: since history and sectarianism still play a noticeable role in the social lives of both countries, it is often the case that speakers on both side of the Sruth (whether native or learners) do not wish to to be associated with one another, alas and alack.

As for your suggestion of mutual cultural accommodation, the Protestant group in Ireland would hardly agree with a Scottish Gaelic identity, since Gàidhlig was historically the mother tongue of only a section of the settlers, and some of them were not even Scots at all.
Moreover, whenever their members have taken an interest in Celtic
things, it was usually the Gaeilge they turned to, for the simple fact that, well, they live in Ireland (there’s an excellent book on 18th century Gailge promoters and language users within Ulster’s Presbyterian community, the title fails me now). Conversely, the descendants of the Irish in Scotland seldom have an interest in the ancestral language beyond the few slogans and chants heard on football pitches; I suspect this may be largely due to the suppression of the collective memory linked to poverty and emigration (a cliché which dies hard in Scotland) as well as, presumably, the pressure towards integration.

I hope I have not been too polemic, just a few thoughts I wanted to share with you. :-)

Séamas Ó Sionnaigh: Lots of points to agree with there :-) I use “Scottish” for the same reasons I also use “Irish”: to tie nation and nationality and national language together. The very same reasons why the opponents of Irish and Scottish use Gaelic but with the opposite intent. In an ideal world, where the Gaelic languages and English were of equal validity in their respective countries, there would perhaps be no such need but unfortunately we live under a post-colonial paradigm with all that stems from it.

If you examine the general attitudes in Scotland towards the Scottish language, yes there is a rising tide of good will, but equally there is still (intense) hostility. Terms like “Erse” are still in use (look to the Comments sections of any Scottish newspaper site, such as the Scotsman) as well as arguments that Gaelic is not Scottish because it was imported from Ireland, and is therefore foreign to the Scottish nation (nonsense we know). Even more ridiculous (or desperate) are the arguments that the native language of north-eastern Scotland should be Norwegian or Icelandic because of the temporary Viking presence in those areas, which means there is no place for Gaelic in those regions (but none for Norwegian or Icelandic either!). On the North, I agree that most of the British minority in Ireland reject any form of Gaelic identity – even a Scottish one. But most is not all. Look at the work of An Droichead in this area.

http://ansionnachfionn.com /2011/08/23/the-irish-and- scottish-languages-a-union-of-hearts-and-minds/ Even if a minority of the minority were to embrace some form of Gaelicness, or see relations between Ireland and Scotland in the light of an ancient Gaelic milieu, it might build somewhat towards a shared future on this island.

Maybe I’m too hopeful? Or too much of a Pan-Gaelic nationalist? ;-)

Twitter comments:

@Goidheal (Brian Ó Maoldúin): Iontach maith.

@AnSionnachFionn (Séamas Ó Sionnaigh): But using “Gaelic” plays into the hands of some militant anglophones in Ireland who argue that Gaelic/Gaels are not “Irish”.

@leftmostcat: Here’s a vote for some sort of comment system. (Disqus on tumblr?) I have a lot to say, and 140 characters just isn’t enough!

@Goidheal (Brian Ó Maoldúin): In Ireland it’s “An Ghaeilge” In the north of the country Gaeilge is pronounced gaeilic. Older spelling An Ghoidhlige

@Goidheal (Brian Ó Maoldúin): Genetically 90% of people in Ireland with Gaelic surnames are Gaels.

@cumhnaint (Muiris): Thòisich Gaelige ann an Èirinn agus dh`fhàs Gàidhlig as Gaelige. ‘S ann gòrach a tha “militant anglophones”.

@AnSionnachFionn (Séamas Ó Sionnaigh): Gaelic = mother tongue. Irish, Scottish & Manx = daughter tongues. Gaelic identifies all 3 and individually. Will post to FB

@cumhnaint (Muiris): Uill, aontaichidh mi, ach na dìochuimhnichibh gum bruidhinn Gaidheal Gàidhlig/Gaelige cuideachd.

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