Gaelic needs the Gaels

haddockI can’t help but think about a comment I read on the Edinburgh Evening News platform.

I thought it was the ill-informed comment of someone who hasn’t got a clue about languages but it wasn’t.

That was a week ago and I’m still boiling.

The article was about Edinburgh Council’s Gaelic language plan consultation.

This person was questioning the rational of GME, arguing that it is wrong ‘to make Gaelic the primary language for children who will go out into the world and discover that they are at a disadvantage for not having studied in English’.

I automatically discarded his view, thinking “clearly, that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about” (you know… the usual), but it turned out that this person was a senior lecturer in classics at a prestigious Scottish university.

It made me wonder, why on Earth someone who had a reasonable knowledge of the ancient Greeks, of Rome, or classical literature, rhetorics or philosophy – someone who is supposed to have been ‘enlightened’ can hold such an ill-informed discourse about GME?

And then, I read his background.

Now I don’t like stereotypes, but I have to admit that I was not surprised to read that he was from the Borders and had studied classics in well respected English universities.

He reminded me of French people I grew up with who had studied in well-known French universities and genuinely believed that Greek and Latin were superior languages, just like French is today (er… was?). Since then, I’ve heard the same discourses among British friends.

For some odd reason, many of my own friends think that English is the most ‘useful’ language of them all and that so-called ‘regional’ or ‘vernacular’ languages can neither express all the nuances of their dominant counterparts, nor be as precise in scientific contexts such as medicine or engineering. In short, that minority languages are a waste of time – and therefore of money.

Yet none of the ‘educated’, ‘cultivated’, ‘enlightened’ people who preach the universality of English (or of any another dominant language for that matter) seem to have ever experienced full immersion into a minority language.

The French pride themselves in learning the poetry of Joachim du Bellay, the author of Défense et illustration de la langue française, a manifesto which promotes the superiority of the French language, as opposed to that of Latin.

Here’s a wee secret – don’t tell the French – du Bellay plagiarised Sperone Speroni’s Dialogo delle lingue, published in Italy a few years earlier to promote… yes, you guessed it, the superiority of the Italian language.

Gaelic will be labelled as useless until the Gaels say otherwise.

(Louder, I can’t hear you).

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