You know you’re an expat Gael if…

[Yes, yes, I know people get annoyed when I write in Gaelic and don’t provide a translation. That should be on the list, actually. But never mind, here’s the translation. New things I just thought of, and the odd translator’s note, are written like this].

… if Jamie MacCrimmon is your favourite Doctor Who character, but you’re a bit confused as to why he doesn’t speak Gaelic (and isn’t part of Clan Leod).

… if your accent is messed up. You can go from Lewis to Argyle to Canada in but one sentence.

… if you’ve waulked a bed-sheet. On stage.

… if someone’s accused you of speaking “Elvish” after hearing you speak Gaelic on the phone.

… if you’ve been invited to join the nearest Còisir Gàidhlig… and it’s only ten hours’ drive away.

… if you’re fed up with explaining that no, you don’t speak “Celtic”, you speak “Gaelic”.

… if you’re not quite sure about this whole “Clan” business… because your “clan” isn’t so important as being a Gael.

… if you’re fiercely proud of your language, but you only speak it when you’re around other Gaels.

… if you’ve only been to Scotland but once, and most of your knowledge of its geography is from classes at the Sgoilean Nàiseanta of the local Commun Gàidhlig or from classes by telephone with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

… if you can’t convince people that there are but seventeen (or eighteen) letters in your language, after they’ve seen it written down.

… if you’ve never visited Stornoway, but from what you’ve heard, it’s a massive cultural centre and metropolis.

… if you’ve heard the “garlic” jokes too many times.

… if you’ve heard and read every possible surprised reaction from Scottish Gaels on finding that you’re in Australia… where you were born and raised.

… [if you don’t care about your Clan but at the Highland Gathering, when you set up a tent to promote it].

… if a lot of your friends have the surname “MacLeod”, but at the Gathering, you hate them… because they’re tartan is so ghastly bright yellow.

… if you’ve punched the computer screen for telling you (again) that BBC Alba i-Player doesn’t play on your continent.

… if you’re annoyed by the assumption that you’re part of the English-speaking cultural majority… just because you’re white.

… [if you’re annoyed by the term “Anglo-Celtic”, because you’re not Anglo but just Celtic].

… [if you can properly use the Gaelic Gasp/ Swedish Schwoop… and know that what Stephen Fry did and said about it on QI was wrong].

… [if you get annoyed by the neopagans. Gaels are Christians, didn’t you know?]

… if you’re a Christian, but you’re not quite sure what to make of the Free Church.

… if you wish Clan Donald would shut up about Clencoe already!

… if you understand every word in “Outlander”.

… if you’re teaching Gaelic at the community centre, and more than half of the students are there only because they watched “Outlander”.

… if you suspect that Adhamh’s dialect is influencing all the actors on Outlander.

… if you still write fadas in both directions.

… if you write every letter in “am màireach”, “an uair”, “an nis”, and “an nochd”.

… if you write “cèilidh” with a “dh”, and you’re against any other spelling (such as “céili”).

… if you sometimes feel that you’re more Scottish that 99% of Scotland… just because you speak the language.

… if you yourself make up the entire youth section of your local Comunn Gàidhlig.

… if you can read Manx… but only with your eyes closed.

… if you are against tartans on principle (because they’re a product of English imperialism)… but sometimes the “Scottish Expat” part of you is stronger, and then you wear yours anyway.

… [if you know what Hogmanay is, but you still call it “New Year’s”, because that’s the literal translation from Gaelic].

… [if you avoid saying “glè mhath” because you know someone will make a whiskey joke if you do].

… if you didn’t watch “Outlander” for two years because the title of the first episode was spelt wrong.

… if you put “Scottish” on your high school application where it asked if you were part of another culture… and you were very annoyed when the school told you that “Scottish” wasn’t a different culture to “Australian”, and they wouldn’t believe you when you said that it meant you spoke another language.

… if you play fiddle at cèilidhs, bush dances, and on stage… but you are annoyed when Australians play “nighean donn bhòidheach” so fast. It’s a broken-hearted air, not a jig.

… if you only met your grandparents but once or twice, but you had “grandmothers” and “grandfathers” in many elderly Gaels.

… if you argued with a high school teacher over “indigenous” people. You’re indigenous, but you just don’t live in the place you’re indigenous to. Yes, you have white skin, but the English conquered and suppressed your ancestors, too.

… if you know the names of individual fruits and vegetables, but you didn’t understand the phrase “glasraichean ‘us measan” the first time your teacher said it to you.

… if you know the English equivalent of every Gaelic name, but you can’t always explain the connection between he two.

… if you know the difference between a “surname” and a “sloinneadh”.

… if you know the difference between a “native speaker”, a “lapsed native speaker”, a “background speaker”, a “background learner”, and a “raised background speaker”.

… if you know the date of the Battle of Culloden. It wasn’t in 1745.

… if you know that your language was once the third-most-spoken language in Australia, after English and Irish.

… if you know that Gaels are Gaels. But you can’t understand why the Irish won’t speak to you if you’re not Irish.

… if you know that there was once a bill taken to the Canadian parliament to make Gaelic the third official language.

… if you know someone who can only swear and pray in Gaelic (and you know that the two things are basically one and the same).

… if you know exactly how many Australian words are actually Gaelic.

… if you get really angry when someone says to you that Gaelic is a dead (or dying) language.

… if you get frustrated when a fellow Gael (or aspiring Gael) has an untranslatably English name, because you never know how to address them. Just how does the vocative case work with a name beginning with “J”?

… if you didn’t put the newly-translated “Sòisgeul Eòin” (Gospel of John) down for a week after it arrived. (You had no idea Scripture could be that gripping).

… if your version of the Irish national anthem goes: “Sinne fianna fail… a tha faoi gheall ag Èirinn… chan eil fìos agam… mu dheidhinn na faclan!” [“We are the brave heroes… that are fighting for Ireland… I don’t know… the words!”]

… if you’ve ever travelled to another city for a weekend Irish-language school… just because you’re curious.

… if you use the word “Gàidhealtachd” to mean “Highlands”, even though you know that the real Gaeltachd is in na h-Eileanan Siar.

… if you speak German… only because so many Gaelic-learners are from Germany. Why is that, anyway?

… if you prefer Am Briathrachas over Dwelly’s, but to be honest, that new dictionary with sound files on trumps both!

… if you play Rùnrig on the radio just to prove that all Gaelic music isn’t boring, traditional, slow sean-nòs (which you love).

… if you know what shinty is.

… if you know the difference between “walking” and “waulking”.

… if you follow the caman scores.

… if you find it amusing that Seumaidh Friseal calls Clare “mo nighean donn”, and you sing “ho-rò mo nighean donn bhòidheachd” every time he does.

… if you’ve loved the song “Is Gàidheil Mi-i-i-i-i” from the first time you heard it, and you vowed to learn it.

… if you can understand Irish, but Irish-speakers say that they can’t understand you.

… if you know when fiddlers know the words of the tunes they’re playing.

… if you can remember the time when there was no Gaelic on the internet.

… if you can pronounce “a dh’fhaithgheàrr”, but no-one believes you when you do.

… if you call shinty “caman(achd)”.

… if you’re afraid you’ll forget your own language.

… if the thing you want most in the world to do is go to the Royal National Mòd.

… if one of your parents (and all her side of the family) don’t understand Gaelic. And most of the other side of your family doesn’t speak Gaelic either.

… if more than half the songs you know are about how evil the English are.

… if there are towns in Scotland whose names you only know in Gaelic.

… [if you always need a moment to connect “Fort William” to “Gearasdan” and vice-versa].

… if a Lewis accent is the most amusing thing you can hear.

… if you’re a subscriber to several FaceBook groups consisting entirely of pictures of signage misprints in Scotland.

… if you can sing three verses of “O Fhlùir na h-Alba”, but you don’t know the words in English!

… if you wanted to learn the bagpipes when you were small.

… if you resent being called a “Scot”, because you’re not; you’re a Gael!

… if you became a radio presenter just because the newest presenter on Scottish Radio Hour was anti-Gaelic.

… if the history of your people begins and ends with the Clearances.

… if you watched dodgily-taped episodes of Dòtaman, even though it hasn’t shown on television since years before you were born.

… if you call television “taidhsearachd”.

… if you call Bob the Builder “Calum Chlachair”.

… [if you can sing the Postman Pat theme song, but only in Gaelic (it’s Pàdraig Post)].

… if “the Koala Brothers” dubbed into Gaelic is the best thing you’ve ever seen on television!

… if you understand the spoilers on “Outlander”, because they’re in Gaelic.

… [if you were the only one in the cinema getting the joke about the name of the bear in “Brave”].

… if you wrote in Gaelic online for Gaelic Twitter Day.

… if you’re sure “Suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig” is the national anthem of Scotland (because it’s more stirring than “O Flower of Scotland”).

… if you’re forty years younger than every other Gael in your state.

… if you did a Welsh-language short course, but you got annoyed with the other students for being so slow… initial consonant mutations aren’t such a difficult concept to grasp! [translator’s note: this one worked better in Gaelic, because the entire phrase “initial consonant mutations” is one word, “sèimheachadh”].

… if you did Scottish Country Dancing when you were younger.

… if you’ve dropped in on the Cornish-language class at the Celtic festival… just out of interest.

… if you know that Gaelic and Scots aren’t related. Your language is just called “Gaelic”… isn’t not “Scots Gaelic” at all. [Google Translate, take note].

… [if you’ve ever spent ten minutes explaining the difference between Scots and Gaelic].

… if you’ve seen every Gaelic-language video on YouTube… and you’ve seen every Irish-language video on YouTube… and you’re thinking of watching the Welsh-language videos just for fun.

… if you are translating silly “You Know You’re If” memes into and from Gaelic.

… if everyone knows your clan from your name, but no-one cares one white about it so long as you speak Gaelic!

… if you’re not sure you’re writing proper Gaelic, and you’re afraid someone will call you “àmadan” and tell you “your Gaelic is like a small child or a Gall”.

Tha fios agad gu bheil Gàidheal às-dhùthchach a th’ annad ma…

… ma tha Seumaidh MacRuimein an caractar Doctor Who as fheàrr leat, ach is ann brochan a tha do cheann oir chan eil Gàidhlig aige (agus chan ann Leòd).

… ma tha do blas-cainnte tro chèile. Faodaidh tu bho Leòdhas do dh’Earra Ghàidheal do Chanada anns ach aon seantains.

… ma luaidh thu lion-anart. Air àrd-ùrlar.

… ma do thog duine ‘s am bith ort gu bheil “Elvish” agad às dèidh a chuala e tu a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig air an fhòn.


is Astrailianach mi

… ma do dh’iàrr iad thu anns an Còisir Gàidhlig as fhaisge… agus chan eil i ach deich uairean ‘s a’ char bhuad.

… ma tha thu air do shàrachadh leis bitheadh a’ lèirigeadh nach eil, chan eil “Celtic” agad, tha “Gàidhlig” agad.

… man bheil thu cinnteach mu dheidhinn na rudan “Clan” seo… oir chan eil do “chlan” cho cudthromach ri mur a bheil Gàidheal annad.

… ma tha uaill mhòr mhòr agaibh ann do chànan, ach cha bruidhinidh thu i ach an uair a tha Gàidheil eile ann.

… man tug thu tadhal a dh’Alba ach aon uair, agus tha an mòr-chuid nan fìos cruinn-eòlas Albannach agad às clàsaichean aig na Sgoilean Nàiseanta nan Comunn Gàidhlig ionadail no clàsaichean teleafòn le Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

… man faod thu air daoine nach bheil ach seachd (no ochd) litrichean ‘us deag aig do chànan às deidh a chunnaic iad air a dhearbh.

… man tug thu tadhal dhan Steòrnobhaigh, ach air tàilleibh na rudan a chuala tu, is ionad-cultar mòr agus àrd-bhaile e.


… ma chuala tu na gòthaidhean “garlic” iomadh turas.

… ma chuala tu ‘us ma do leugh thu gach freagairt annasach bho Gàidheil Albannach air am fìos gu bheil thu ann an Astràilia… far an rugadh agus thògadh thu.

… ma tha ‘n sloinneadh “Leòd” aig mòran nan càirdean agad, ach futhaichidh tui ad aig an Cruinneachadh… oir is cho geal-bhuidhe a th’ anns an t-aodach breacanach aca.

… ma do bhuail thu idir an sgàil-inneal-sgrìobhaidh oir thuirt e dhuit (a’ rithist) nach bheil i-Player BBC Alba a’ dol anns do mhòr-thir.

… ma tha thu diombach ris am fiacham gu bheil thu pàirt de ‘n mòr-chuid chultarach Bheurla-bhuidhinneach… oir is geal thu.

… ma tha thu ‘n ad Crìostail, ach chan eil thu cinnteach mu dheidhinn an t-Eaglais Saor.

… ma tha àill agad gun dùn an clapan Clann ‘icDhòmhnaill mu dheidhinn Gleann Comhann!

… ma tha thu a’ tuigsinn gach facal ann “Outlander”.

… ma tha thu a’ teagasg Gàidhlig aig an t-ionad-cultar, agus tha barrachd air leth na oileanach an-siud oir a chunnaic iad air “Outlander”.

… ma tha umhail agad gu bheil blas-cainnte Adhamh aig gach cleasaiche air Outlander.

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu fhathast na dhà stràc (throm augs gheur).

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu h-uile litir ann “am màireach”, “an uair”, “an nis”, agus “an nochd”.

… ma sgrìobhaidh tu “cèilidh” le “dh”, agus ma tha thu an aghaidh air gach litreachaidh eile. (“céili”, mar eisempleir).

… ma tha faireachdainn agad, an nis ‘us a’ rithist, gu bheil thu nas Albannach na 99% nan daoine anns an Alba… oir tha ‘n cànan agad.

… ma tha thu-fhèin a h-uile roinn nan òig nan Comunn Gàidhlig as fhaisge.


Gaidhlig Mhannainn. Chan eil Gaidhlig a th’ ann gu dearbh… a bheil? A bheil thu cinnteach? Uill, tha mi a’ tuigsinn na faidhlean-fuaim, co-dhiugh…

… man fhaod thu Gàidhlig Mhannainn a’ leughadh… ‘us do shùilean dùinte.


… ma tha thu an aghaidh aodachach breacanach (oir is toradh nan impireileas Shasannaich iad)… ach tha am part “Scottish Expat” agad an nis ‘us a’ rithist nas làidire, agus an uair sin cuiridh ort tu d’ aodach breacanach co-dhiùgh.

… man fhaca thu air “Outlander” air son dà bhliadhna oir is litricheadh mearachdach a th’ anns ainm nan chiad eadar-sgeul.

… man do sgrìobh tu “Albannach” air do bhileag-iarrtais àrd-sgoil far a cuir e cèist ort man robh thu pàrt de ‘n cultar eile… agus bha thu glè gruamach riutha an uair a thuirt an sgoil dhuit nach robh “Albannach” cultar dìofraich nan “Astràilianach”, agus cha robh iad a’ creidsinn an uair a thuirt thu dhuibh gun robh cànan eile agad.

… ma chluichidh tu fidheal aig cèilidhean, dannsaichean bush, agus air àrd-urlar… ach bidh thu gruamach an uair a chluicheas Astràilianaich “nighean donn bhòidheach” cho luath. ‘S e ceòlan nan cridhe briste a th’ air. Chan air port-cruinn.

… man do choinnich tu pàrantain do phàrantain ach aon no dà uair, ach bha do “sheanmhairean” agus do “sheanairean” air mòran Gàidheil seann.

… ma bha thu ag deasbaireachd ri do thìdsear àrd-sgoile mu dheidhinn daoine “indigenous”. ‘S e tè dùthchasail a th’ annad, ach chan eil thu a’ fuireach anns do dùthchas. Seash, tha craicinn geal ort, ach bha na Sasannaich a’ ceannsachadh do shinnsirean cuideachd.

… ma tha fìos agad ri na h-ainmean nan glasraichean-fhèin agus nan measan-fhèin, ach cha robh thu a’ tuigsinn am fràs “glasraichean ‘us measan” a’ chiad uair an tuirt do thìdsear dhuit e.

… ma tha fìos agad ri na h-ainmean Beurla nan gach ainm Gàidhlig, ach chan fhaod thu an ceangal a mhinich gach uair.

… ma tha fìos agad ri an diùbhras eadar “surname” agus “sloinneadh”.

… ma tha fios agad ri an diùbhras eadar “labhraiche dùtchasach”, “labhraiche dùthchasach sleamhnaichte”, “labhraiche dualchasach”, “ionnsaiche dualchasach”, agus “thogte ionnsaiche dualchasach”.

… ma tha fìos agad ri ceann-latha nan Blàr Chùil Lodair. Cha robh e ann 1745.

… ma tha fìos agad gun robh do chànan an cànan trì-gu-mòr as motha ann Astràilia. Bha Beurla agus Gàidhlig Èireannach na dà chànan as motha.

… ma tha fìos agad gu bheil Ghàidheil a th’ ann Gàidheil. Ach chan fhaod thu a’ tuigsinn car son nach bruidhinn na Èireannaich riut man bheil Èireannach a th’ annad.

… ma tha fìos agad gun robh bile air parlamaid Cànadach aon uair airson Gàidhlig mar treasa cànan oifigeul.

… ma tha fear ann do theaghlach le speurachd agus urnaighean ann an Gàidhlig (ach chan eile Gàidhlig eile aige idir).

… ma tha fios agaibh co mheud faclan Astràilian a tha Gàidhlig.

… ma tha thu uabhasach samhnach an uair a tha duine ‘s am bith ag ràdh riubh gum bi cànan marbh (no bàsachadh) a th’ ann Gàidhlig.


abhachd Criostalach

… ma bhitheas milileadh dùil ort an uair a tha ainm Beurla gan eadar-theangachadh aig Gàidheal eile, oir cha bhith fios agaibh mu ‘n tuiseal gairmeach air an ainm.


… man do chuir sios “Sòisgeul Eòin” thu car seachdan as dèidh a thàinig e.

… ma tha an t-òran nàiseanta Èireannach agad a’ dol: “Sinne fianna fàila… a tha faoi gheall ag Èirinn… chan eil fìos agam… mu dheidhinn na faclan!”

… ma thug thu idir tadhal air bàile eile airson Sgoil-Cànan Èireannach aig direadh seachdaine… oir bha feòrachas agad.

… ma their thu “Gàidhealtachd” air “Highlands”, a dh’aindeoin fìos gu bheil na h-Eileanan Siar an Gàidhealtachd ceart.

… ma tha Gearmailtis agad… oir tha co mheud ionnsaichean à Gearmailt. Carson a tha iad, co-dhiùgh?

… ma tha Am Briathrachas nas fheàrr leat na Dwelly’s, ach gun bhreug, tha an faclair ùr sin air le faidhle-fuaim am faclair as fheàrr gu dearbh gu cinnteach!

… ma cluicheas tu Rùnrig air an rèidio a chum a bhith a’ dearbhadh nach bheil ceòl Gàidhlig ràsanach, tradaiseanta, mall seann-nòs (mar ‘s breagha leat).

… ma tha fìos agad dè tha camanachd.

… ma tha fìos agad ri an diùbhras eadar “walking” agus “waulking”.

… ma leanas thu na sgòran camanachd.

… ma tha e neònach gun cuir Seumaidh Friseal bho Outlander “mo nighean donn” air Clare, agus seinneas thu “ho-rò, mo nighean donn bhòidheach” gach uair…

… ma bha do ghràdh air an t-òran “Is Gàidheal Mi-i-i-i-i” bho ‘n chiad uair a chuala tu e, agus tha thu airson a dh’ionnsaich.

… ma thuigeas tu Gàidhlig Èireannach, ach tha Gàidheil Èireannach ag ràdh nach faod iad gad thuigsinn.

… ma tha fìos agad an uair a tha fìos aig fidhlearan mu dheidhinn nan faclan nan t-òrain.

… ma tha cuimhne agad bho ‘n uair cuin’ nach robh Gàidhlig air an eadar-lìon.

… man fhaod thu “a dh’fhaithgheàrr” a chanas, ach chan eil duine ‘s am bith a’ creidsinn an uair a can thu e.

… ma their thu “camanachd” air “shinty”.

… ma tha eagal ort gun dìochùimhnichidh tu do chànan-fhèin.

… ma tha thu airson do ‘m Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail a dhol.

… man bheil do mhàthair (agus a h-uile teaghlach aice) a’ tuigsinn Gàidhlig. Agus chan eil Gàidhlig air mòran do teaghlach eile cuideachd.

… ma tha barrachd air leth nan t-òrain agad mu dheidhinn na Shasannaich olc.

… ma tha bàiltean anns an Alba le ainmean nach eil fios agaibh ri ach anns a’ Ghàidhlig.


grupan FaceBook

… ma tha blasan-cainnte Leòdhasach as èibhinne.


… ma tha fo-sgrìobhadair annad air grùpan FaceBook mu dheidhinn ceàrr Gàidhlig air soidhnean anns an Alba.

… man fhaod thu trì rannan nan “O Fhlùir na h-Alba” a sheinneas, ach chan eil fìos agad mu dheidhinn na faclan ‘s a Bheurla!

… ma bha thu airson pìob a chluiche an uair a bha thu òg.

… man e “Scot” a th’ annad; ‘s e Gàidheal a th’ annad!

… man e liubhraiche rèidio annad ach oir bha an liubhraiche ùr eile air Uair Rèidio Albannach an aghaidh Gàidhlig.

… man e eachdraidh air do shluaigh ach Na Fuadaichean.

… ma chunnaic thu air eadaran-sgeul Dòtamain teipte gu bochd, a dh’ aindeoin nach do chraol e air taidhsearachd bho chionn fada mus d’ rug thu.

… ma tha thu ag ràdh “taidhsearachd” air “telebhisean”.

… man e “Calum Chlachair” a th’ air “Bob the Builder”.

… ma tha “Na Braithrean Cuideachail” anns a’ Ghàidhlig an rud as fheàrr leat air taidhsearachd!

… ma tha thu a’ tuigsinn na pìosan-millidh ann an Outlander oir tha iad anns a’ Ghàidhlig.

Latha na Gaidhlig… ma do sgrìobh thu air Gàidhlig air an loidhne airson Latha Twitter Gàidhlig.

… ma tha thu cinnteach gu bheil “Suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig” an t-òrain nàiseanta nan Alba.

… ma tha thu dà-fhichead bliadhnaichean nas òige na h-uile Gàidheal eile anns do stàta.

… ma d’ rinn thu cùrsa beag Cuimris, ach bha milleadh dùil agad ri na oileanaich eile oir bha iad cho gleòmach… chan eil sèimheachadh cho doirbh!

…. ma d’ rinn thu Dannsa Dùthchas Albannach an uair a bha thu nas òige nan nis.

… ma thug thu idir tadhal air an clàs Còrnais aig am fèis Cèilteach… oir bha ùidh agad.

… ma tha fìos agad nach eil Gàidhlig agus Scots dàimheachte. ‘S e “Gàidhlig”-fhèin air – chan e “Scots Gaelic” a th’ air do chànan.

… ma chunnaic thu air h-uile bhideo anns a’ Ghàidhlig air YouTube… agus chunnaic thu air h-uile bhideo anns a’ Ghàidhlig Èireannach… agus tha thu airson na bhideodhain anns a’ Chuimris a’ sealltainn.

… ma tha thu ag eadar-theangachadh mìmean faoin “Tha Fios Agad Ma…” do Ghàidhlig.

… ma tha fìos aig h-uile duine mu dheidhinn do cinneadh bho do shloinneadh, ach chan eil duine sam bith suaraich mu dheidhonn cho fàd’ ‘s a tha Gàidhlig agad!

… man bheil thu cinnteach gu bheil thu a’ sgrìobhadh Gàidhlig ceart, agus tha sgàth ort gum bith duine sam bith a’ cuireach “àmadan” ort agus gum bith iad ag ràdh “tha do Ghàidhlig coltach ri Gàidhlig nan leanaibh beag no gall”.

Me, Languages, Colonialism, Community and Identity

I’ve probably talked about being a TCK before on here, in an “oh, by the way” sort of way (actually, I’m not convinced I am a TCK, but I read a statistic a few years ago that something like 80% of TCKs doubt their TCK-ness, and most of the time it seems like a better explanation for some of my weirdness than me simply being weird, even though I was born and raised in my mother’s home country). Even though I’m Australian, I went to the German Ethnic School, and I spend a lot of time on the internet claiming to be a Scottish Gael. I’ve never really felt the need to explain why all this is, really.

But recently, there’s been a bit of kerfuffle in the language-learning community over “eco-linguism” vs. “linguo-tourism”. Insults have been slung about selfishness and about thoughtless name-calling. You’re colonialistic, or you’re ignorant, and so on. If you really want to know what’s going down, go and read about it for yourself. This post is based on a comment I made over on Loving Language.


The picture.

It was probably the picture at the top of the screen that set off that rant-like comment. I’d been mostly ignoring the whole debacle, but a single picture turned “linguistic colonialism” from an abstract concept to something that hit a little too close to home. Other things seem to have worked their way into the rant, too. Things which have been simmering for probably a long while. Conversations I’ve had, articles I’ve read and written. Things not worth commenting on individually, but which all contribute to the whole which resulted in this reaction I had to a simple picture.

The thing is, colonialism is something close to me. Close to my family. And not in the best way. It’s something I’ve learnt to ignore and not talk about, particularly since I’m working in an ethnic radio station side-by-side Indians and Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and Malaysians.

It’s not just because I live in Australia, and I have relatives who will happily refer to my family as “living in the colonies”. It’s because both of my father’s grandfathers served in the Indian Army. It’s because my grandmother was born in British-occupied Lahore and my grandfather spent his youth in British-occupied Malaya. It’s because my great-grandparents knew each other in India long before my grandparents met and married in the UK. It’s because my grandfather taught me to count the chickens in Bahasa, and because I’ve been known to say “jaldee, jaldee” to little kids to get them to move along.

And it’s because all this is shameful. “Colonialism” is such a bad word, particularly in Australia, where it means “white invaders killing the locals”. Home Rule is a good thing, and it didn’t dispossess hundreds and thousands of Anglo-Indians who had never known a home other than Lahore or Lucknow, Culcutta or Bombay. My grandmother was stopped in the customs queue every time because her paperwork said she was born in Pakistan, but I didn’t even realise until I was a teenager that my family had spent two generations in India, or that Urdu (“Hindustani”) was part of my vocabulary.

Colonialism isn’t a clear-cut thing. I’ve known Aboriginal people to get stuck into me – and any white person – for maliciously coming over here and invading. It’s a major point of debate, argument, name-throwing and campaigning here at the moment. I don’t speak back against it, because my family was literally in the army that did it – if not here, then in other countries like here.

And you know why that is? Because after the English invaded our land, my clan had the good sense to be traitorous and swear allegiance to the English (well, German) king. That’s the only reason we’re one of the largest and most powerful clans today, and why we weren’t killed and scattered across the globe like so many of our brother and sister Gaels, most of whom won’t recognise us as Gaels because we were Anglicised so quickly. The colonised had become the colonisers. So many of those “white invaders” in the 18th and 19th centuries in Australia weren’t invaders at all, but refugees, looking for a new home after having lost theirs for one reason or another.

So, do I do the same thing? Or would I, rather, given the money and half a chance? Yeah, sure, I’d travel to Scotland in a heartbeat to immerse myself in the language my ancestors lost. I’m getting more and more curiosity about Lahore, so I wouldn’t half mind visiting this place I’ve only just realised had such an impact on my family. I’d travel the world if I could, yeah. I’d see the sights and have delights on every foreign shore. I’d probably try and learn a bit of the language, and I would almost certainly come away with a few new dishes, just as those evil colonial ancestors of mine did.

I’m pragmatic enough to realise that there are languages I probably should be learning just to exist in my local community. Doing the hospital chaplain thing and realising that I can’t communicate with half the people in the ward. Finding three Italians but exhausting what little I know within a minute with each of them. Greek and Vietnamese and Serbian and Madi: there’s a long list of languages I should come to grips with to be useful in my community.

Is it “colonialism”, then, in this new and negative meaning of the term, to say that they’re not my language, and that frankly I don’t care about them as much as I should? It rankles at me that I’ve lived in Adelaide all my life, but don’t speak the local language, Kaurna, even though there are only a few dozen speakers of Kaurna in the world and all of them speak English first. I can learn community languages for their use, but it’s dying (and reviving) indigenous languages that really make me care.

Learning Gaelic is like discovering part of myself that’s been squashed over the centuries. It doesn’t make sense, here on the other side of the world, but it’s helped me build a community in both countries, and to see the colonial history of Australia in a whole different way. It used to be the third-most-spoken language here. There are now less than 1000 speakers in the whole country.

My family’s been on both sides of the colonialism thing, and it’s easy to emphasise the one side over the other. The Gaels, the indigenous people of Scotland, were invaded and brutalised and suppressed and brainwashed and poorly-treated and re-educated and bribed and helped just as much as the indigenous people of any other country the English invaded were. It’s just that, with our white skin, we blended in after we learnt the language, we joined the military and joined the occupying forces and became half of the “Britain” that formed the British Empire.

My family escaped the Clearances by assimilating, and so even though we lost our lands to the government, we didn’t suffer at English hands. We became part of the hierarchy, part of the establishment, part of the military. So many of the rulers and officials and land-owners and everyone else who made the Clearances happen weren’t English invaders at all, but Scottish landowners – Gaels themselves – who had to turn on their own people to survive.

And my family spent two hundred years on the other side. The British Empire learnt how to build empires on its own soil. Even into the last century, “England” could stand for the whole of the United Kingdom, even though that included Wales and Ireland and Scotland. Every trick that the British Empire ever used to subdue and assimilate and destroy local cultures was trialled and tested and perfected at home, and it was those people on whom it had been trialled and tested and perfected who then carried it out on the next generations.

You see, there, I’m emphasising the “victim” part of my ancestors’ colonialism saga. I shouldn’t do that, because it obscures the truth: my family, my own grandparents and great-grandparents served in the occupying force. There’s a lot of pride in that, pride in the Empire, pride in what was achieved and what it makes us. My cousins speak with posh Public School accents and plan to join the army. My grandmother – that same grandmother who used Scots and Gaelic and Urdu words in her speech, who was so down-to-earth and sensible, cooking in the kitchen and weeding in the garden and teaching me to sew – was one of the most ardent imperialists I’ve ever met. “The Crown can do no wrong”, regional accents have no place on television, and just why “the colonies” want to become republics is a complete mystery.

And that’s a part of me, too, probably more than singing in Gaelic about the Clearances can ever be. And sometimes I need a reality check to remind myself where I really come from.

So I’m a TCK. It’s something borne out of three centuries of colonialism and the resultant generational homelessness. There’s always going to be two warring parts of me, one saying “put down roots, form a community”, and the other one saying, “move already! your horizons are too narrow!” Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do both.

Until then, there’s no use in getting upset over a bunch of twenty-somethings travelling the world and learning languages. They’ll get older and wiser and more pragmatic. They’ll put down roots and get dug into their communities, and their youthful “linguistic tourism” experiences, however colonialistic they might have been, will give them a little more perspective than someone who’s just stayed cemented in the single community all their life, and an extra way of connecting to the others in the community, and of building it up for later generations.


George Campbell Hay in the 1970s. [Gordon Wright]

And as for me, I’ll continue speaking Gaelic, immersing myself in reclaiming that part of my heritage. I’m not the first of my clan – my family – to do so. One hundred and one years ago, George Campbell Hay (who looks scarily like so many male members of my more immediate extended family) was born – I’ve only just discovered that. Like me, he was born and raised English-speaking. Like so many of our clan, he served in the British Army and was an ardent Scottish nationalist. Like me, he was caught by a love of the Gaelic language as a teenager, and he persisted in learning it.

I’ve learnt important world languages. Yes, they’re all European, and I can’t help that. Now, I think, it’s the time for me to learn those endangered languages I’ve mentioned earlier. Learning Gaelic has given me a deeper understanding of language loss. Yes, it’s sad when an immigrant community loses their language, but there’s always the lingering thought that “they still speak it in the homeland”. When indigenous languages die, that’s it. They’re gone.

I’ve been told by people that Gaelic is dying. I’ve been told by people that Gaelic is dead. It’s not, as far as I can see, and I don’t think it ever will die. The numbers of Gaelic-speakers are rising among the younger generations. There’s government support for it. No, the Celtic languages that are alive now aren’t going to die. Two of them already have, and they’ve come back to life.

What about Kaurna? It’s been revived, but it doesn’t have the sort of support of Cornish or Manx. What about Narungga or Pitjantjatjara or Barossadeitsch? Maybe if I took the time to learn them, to build up – even if it’s just with the addition of a single person – those communities, maybe they would start to stand a chance at surviving. Maybe I can begin to undo some of the destruction my ancestors (and all those like them) wrought.

I still get bitten occasionally by a love of some exotic foreign language. Okay, more than occasionally. I’ve been harbouring a secret desire to learn Maori for years. Russian’s been on my list for almost as long, and Arabic is also vying for attention. Would it be so bad, if I had the money, if I travelled to learn one of those languages?

Yes, maybe I wouldn’t stay there indefinitely. Maybe I would. I don’t know that. As I’ve said, I’m a TCK. I’ve a feeling my feet will keep me moving my whole life. Or perhaps I’ll find somewhere I can settle down and contribute. I really don’t know.

But all the while, I am building connections. Maybe not always in my local community. Gaelic is useless as far as the local community is concerned, although it has given me a small handful of people within the same city with whom I now socialise regularly. It’s also given me connections across Australia, connections in Scotland and the potential for connections in Canada and New Zealand and Ireland. Maybe they’re not building my local community. Maybe they are. Maybe they will one day.

Gaelic and German together have helped me understand the immigrant experience, such as it is. Being a white “Anglo-Celtic” immigrant – or the child of a white “Anglo-Celtic” immigrant – is not being an immigrant at all. But you don’t get to lecture me on not understanding what it’s like to have to study in my second language, because I’ve both studied and functioned day-to-day in my second and third and fourth languages. And you don’t get to lecture me on not understanding what it’s like to live in a foreign country, because I’ve been confused by foreign supermarkets and got lost in foreign towns and been unable to communicate with foreign authorities.

And maybe that’s what “linguo-tourism” does, in the end. Yes, maybe all those young twenty-somethings who are going off to spend two or three years splashing all their western money about in some other country can seem young and arrogant and naïve at the moment, and maybe it does seem a bit pointless to spend time in a city and not put down enough roots to stay there, but in the end, if they end up going back to wherever they came from, they’re going to better understand the people who don’t have that choice to go home, and they’re going to be better people, and better communicators, and better community members.

Young people don’t always have the same perspective as someone who’s “been there and done that”. And I say this as a young person. Even I think some of the “linguo-tourism” behaviour seems a little arrogant and spoiled at times, but I won’t judge it as wrong.

Community is important to me. I tried to pretend I didn’t need it for a lot of years. But not everyone’s community is the same, and not everyone’s way of relating to community is the same.

In Gaelic, the first thing one Gael asks when meeting another is not about the weather, it’s about the ceangal. It means “connection” or “link”. We’re all connected, we just need to work out how. Sometimes it’s as simple as speaking the same language (although in a language community that small, it’s rarely just the language, even for someone with no Gaelic-speaking family members like me). From those links, then, we can build our community and our future.

The first title I gave this rant was “Where are you from?” I can answer that, I suppose: “Not here. But also here.”

The second title I gave it was “Why I’m a TCK”. I suppose I’ve answered that one, too: “Colonialism.”

So I’m going to have to settle for giving it less a title and more a collection of nouns. Me, Languages, Colonialism, Community and Identity.

Hear Me On the Radio

Tune in to 5-EBI at 103.1FM, digital EBI-World, or via live-stream at 1230h (12:30pm) to hear me:

Tuesday the 18th of October (as a guest co-host with Jim and Des)

Tuesday the 25th of October (as a guest interviewee with Margot)

Tuesday the 29th of November (as host and operator)

Remember, 12:30 on Tuesdays is Reidio Albannach (Scottish Radio Hour). Don’t worry, it’s (almost entirely) in English. Stay tuned afterwards to listen to Raidio Eireannach (Irish Radio Hour) from 1:30 until 2:30, or listen on Saturdays at 5pm for Celtic Hour. All times are Central Australian time.