Latha na #Gàidhlig sona dhaibh uile!

Bidh mi ag innsidh dhaibh cùplan rud mu dheidhinn Gàidhlig agus mise an-diugh.

Is mise Raghnaid NicGaraidh. Tha mi aon bliadhn’ ‘us fichead d’ aois agus tha mi às Astràilia-a-Deas. Agus – mar tha fios agaibh an-nis, tha mi cinnteach – tha Gàidhlig agam.

Chan eil Gàidhlig aig mo mhathair agus chan eil ach cùplan facal aig m’ athair. Tha sinn a’ smaoineachadh gun robh Gàidhlig aig mo sheanmhair, ach thàinig mo phàrantan air ais a dh’Astràilia an-uair a bha mi dà bhliadhn’ d’ aois, agus bha mo sheanmhair a’ fuireach ann an Sassainn.

An-uair a bha mi aig àrd-sgoil tromh meadhan Gearmailtis, bha mi airson Gàidhlig a dh’ionnsachadh. Chan eil ach còig no sia daoine le Gàidhlig ann an Astràilia-a-Deas agus rinn mi cùrsa le SMO. Ach cha robh àm no airgead gu leòr agam airson an cùrsa an-uair a thòisich mi aig an oilthigh.

‘S ann bho chionn tri bliadhna an-nis agus tha mi a’ fuireach ann am Meall Bùirn an-nis. Tha mòran Gàidhlig an-seo! Tha mi a’ seinn leis a’ Choisir Ghàidhlig Bhioctoiria gach seachdain agus, ged nach fhaod mi do ‘m Baile Mòr a dhol airson clàsaichean Gàidhlig, tha cùplan daoine eile an-seo le Gàidhlig agus faodaidh mi riutha a bhridhinn an-nis ‘s a-rithist.

Tha daoine le ùidh air Gàidhlig ann an Adelaide cuideachd, agus an-uair a tha mi an-siud, tha mi a’ teagasg clàsaichean na Gàidhlig. Bha barrachd air fichead daoine ‘s a chlàs an-uiridh! Tha aiteas agam gu bheil Gaidhlig cho mòr-chordte an-nis. An-uair a thòisich mi Gàidhlig a dh’ionnsachadh, dh’innis h-uile duine dhomh, “Don’t do that. It’s a dead language and it’s too difficult anyway.”

Chan eil sin ceart! ‘S e beò-cànan a th’ innte agus ‘s caomh leam i. ‘S Beurla mo chiad chànan ach is Gàidhlig cànan mo chridh’. Ach ‘s e cànan glè bheag a th’ innte cuideachd. Tha nas lugha na millean daoine le Gàidhlig anns an saoghal mòr. Seo comas: tha ceithir millean daoine is leth ann am Meall Bùirn fhèin.

Mur a tha sibh ann am Meall Bùirn, nise, tha Gàidhlig an-seo bho chionn fhada. Bidh sinn a’ seinn an 7mh Giblean aig eaglais far an robh daoine le Gàidhlig bho chionn ceud bliadhna ‘us leth!

Agus carson a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh sin an-nis?

Latha na #Gàidhlig sona dhaibh uile!

Here’s Something Infuriating…

Our lovely local member Rebekha Sharkie asked a question at Question Time yesterday. That’s not the infuriating thing. Enough nice things cannot be said about Rebekha, who lives just a few towns over from me and who attended every single one of the community meetings we had in January about the blackout in December. In fact, those community meetings are where she was “commissioned” to ask this very question.

Here’s her question:

And here’s the PM’s… well, I’m not going to call it an “answer”:

Okay, so

(a) the question wasn’t even about the blackout, let alone the renewable power problem about which the blackout had nothing to do. The one in September, perhaps, but the December one was entirely down to trees (and Stobie poles!) falling on the lines, and repair crews taking up to five days to respond. (Which also meant that the CFS couldn’t clear the trees, which they’re capable of, because they hadn’t been told if there was a current in the lines or not, but that’s another matter). Yes, the PM makes a reasonable point about there maybe being some hypocrisy in drawing increasing non-renewable power from Victoria while saying that we’re entirely “green”, but if he knew even Thing One about either of the blackouts, he would know that wasn’t even relevant.

(b) who cares about what Labour did several years ago? The question is what are you, the current national leader, going to do to make things better now? How are you going to safeguard our telecommunications during bushfire season? Don’t deflect the blame. We’re not looking to place blame. We’re looking to fix it, but apparently you’re not willing to help with that.

(c) the question wasn’t about mobile phone black-spots, although that’s closer than his first reply. The fact is, most of the Hills does have mobile phone access. A little dodgy at times in valleys, but it’s there. Just, you know, not when the power’s been out for several days and the relay towers only have battery back-up for between four and eight hours. Something Rebekha was cut off from saying was that, when the NBN rolls out (and supercedes the current coverage, becoming the only telecommunications network in the area), their back-up lasts for only three hours. What we need is LONGER battery back-up, perhaps even generators on the relay towers, not SHORTER.

(d) it’s not a matter of “the lights going out in Mayo”. As I’ve said, we don’t care if the lights go out. Not in summer, when we have sixteen or more hours of really quite decent light every day. What we do care about is not having any water or sewage. And what we really, really worry about is not having any contact with the outside world at a time of year when a bushfire could run through the area and burn everything to the ground – including us, if we don’t have any way of knowing that it’s there and we have to evacuate.

So, what can I say? Not much more, really, except “poor Rebekha”. I wish there was some way of posting over all the comforting hugs her constituents want to give her right now.

Also… I didn’t mind the PM, inasmuch as I didn’t really think he was either good or bad, just as ineffective as the last dozen we’ve had since I finished primary school. But now… now I really don’t like him.


I’ve used the Middle Irish name for the language for a reason. Is it called “Gaeilge” or “Gaidhlig” or “Gaelg” or “Gaoileann”? Let’s settle for this instead.

Well, last weekend, I went to Canberra (and yes, it’s taken me a week to blog about it).

In fact, I should say, Aig deireadh an t-seachdain seo falbh, chaidh mi gu Chanberra.

Or, perhaps, Ag an deireadh seachtaine seo caite, chuaigh mé go dtí Canberra.

I went to Canberra for the Scoil Teanga, or Irish Language School. And I sang at a reception held by the Irish Ambassador to Australia. With no preparation whatsoever. But no-one believed that.

Seo ceist: Cén fáth a bhfuil tú ag an Scoil Teanga?

Deagh chèist. Uill… níl mi ag labhairt móran Gaeilge Albainn i Adelaide agus bha doigh liom nach bhfuill Gaeilge Éireann chomh difriúil.

Speaking Irish is… How to find an analogy?

Speaking Irish as a Gaelic-speaker is like visiting Christchurch as someone from Adelaide. It’s all very familiar, and you can mostly find your way around, but it’s just enough different to get you lost, even though when you look at a map you recognise everything.

And most of it’s missing.

Seriously, where are all the letters in Irish?

Here are some things I learnt:

“ao” = /ə:/ “ao” = /e:/
“aoi” = /aɪ/ “aoi” = /wi:/
“à” = /ɑ:/ “á” – /ɔ:/
emphasis = air a’ chiad syllable emphasis = far a bheil an fada
N às deidh T, M, C = /r/ N às deidh T, M, C = /n/
“sibh” do mòran daoine AGUS do gach duine nas sine “sibh” NI ACH do mòran daoine
“tha” “tá”
“chan eil” “níl”
riaghaltan “BUMP”, m.e.:

“dùthaich nam bò”

úrú, m.e.:

“duthaich na mbó”

“chd” = /xk/ “cht” = /xt/
“bha” agus “mha” = /v/ aig tòiseach ‘us dèireadh, /w/ ‘s a mheadhan “bha” agus “mha” = /w/ gach uair
“oidhche” = /ɤɪxɛ/ “oíche” = /i:hɛ/
“bruidhinn” “labhairt”
“ionnsachadh” “foghlam”
“tha mi a’ smaoineachadh” “is doigh liom”
“is toigh leam” “is maith liom”
“tha mi a’ fuireach ann…” “tá mi i mo chónaí i…”
“chì” “feicfidh”
“ithidh” “iscfidh”

Honestly, having completely understood the first three things on that list beforehand would have fixed about a day of confusion and not understanding anything. Never underestimate just how much three little sound shifts can impede meaning.

Here are some grammar things to prove they’re really the same language, though:









Irish is a confusing mixture of “sounds the same but looks different” and “sounds different but looks the same”. In spelling, a lot of words seem to be missing half or more of their letters, but in other places it seems to have retained letters that Gaelic hasn’t (for example, dhéanfainn for Irish “I would do”, but dhèanainn for Gaelic “I would do”, although they’re pronounced exactly the same; or chomh for “so” instead of cho in Gaelic).

Raghnaid’s hot tip for the Irish language: Find someone from Donegal. If people aren’t understanding you, tell it to someone from Donegal and get them to translate it. If you can’t understand other people, find someone from Donegal and get them to repeat it.

Overall, I think if you’re thinking about learning a Goidelic language and can’t decide which one, go with the Scottish version. It’s not just because I’m biased, too. Here are my reasons:

  1. Gaelic grammar is simpler. That is to say, there are fewer tenses than in Irish. Plus the verbs don’t conjugate, which they do in Irish.
  2. Irish orthography has lost a lot of connections. For example, take the preposition “in”. In Gaelic, it’s ann, and “in the” is anns an, often shortened to ‘s an. In Irish, it’s í, and “in the” is san. As a learner of Gaelic, you can see the connection. As a learner of Irish, it’s just a strangely irregular grammar feature you’ve got to memorise.
  3. Irish has three dialects. Yes, Gaelic has dialects, too, but there’s nowhere near as much variation as there is between the Irish dialects. It did my head in, even as someone who already knew the grammar and could understand the Donegal dialect, to try to keep track of three different ways of pronouncing and phrasing things. It’d be really difficult if it were my first venture into Celtic languages.

On the other hand, here are a few plusses for the Irish dialects:

  1. Irish is much more flexible when it comes to sounds. Goidelic languages have a lot of sounds which are really difficult for English-speakers. Gaelic-speakers will correct you if you don’t manage to make them, but Irish has a larger percentage of learners, I think, so they’re a lot more accepting of not being able to differentiate, for example, between the final sounds of poc, feic, and each.
  2. I’ll concede that Irish spelling, with all its missing letters, probably does make more sense to someone new to the language.
  3. I think there might be fewer prepositions, but I’m not 100% sure on that one.

That first point tripped me up a few times, too. I found it much easier to understand the native speakers than the fluent learners (even the one Gaelscoil-educated woman) and I came to the conclusion by the end that it was probably the sounds. I thought on the first day that Irish simply had fewer sounds than Gaelic, but then I listened to a native speaker from the Conamara speaking and realised that all the sounds are still there.

Overall, it’s both more and less different than I was expecting. It was different in ways I didn’t expect, and the same in some ways I thought were different. Culturally – or, rather, I should clarify that I mean musically – it’s a little different. I sang Is Gàidheal Mi at the concert, and someone said to me afterwards, “That sounded so exotic!” It’s a sort of key that’s fairly familiar to people who know Gaelic music (although a bit more unusual than, for example, Òran na Maighdinn Mhara or Taladh ar Shlanuighear) but apparently something that isn’t there in Irish musical tradition.

There are very few words which are completely different between Ireland and Scotland. Most of the time, if it seems like a different word, it’s probably there, but just less-used or with a different meaning. For example, in Gaelic, “learning” is ag ionnsachadh. In Irish, that means “attacking” (one person said it was awfully poetic that in Gaelic, you “attacked” knowledge), while the Irish word for “learning”, foghlam, is used primarily for “education” in Scotland. Another example is teanga, the Irish word for “language”. Gaelic prefers canan,  but teanga exists, for example in the verb ag eadartheangachadh, or “translating” (literally “between-language-ing”). In Gaelic, “walking” is a’ coiseachd, a word which isn’t used in Irish but is understood, as it is literally “foot-ing”. In Ireland, it’s siul, which exists in Scotland as siubhail, but means something more like “stroll”.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve experienced some level of racism from Irish people, so I was a bit worried about that, but aside from one incident on the first night (who decided a political/historical lecture by a local university professor was a good idea? NEVER talk about politics and/or English people around someone from Ireland) I got on quite well with everyone and they accepted me well enough. A number of people were very interested in Gaelic –

I’ve never met a Scottish Gaelic speaker before! I’ve always wondered about the language.” (A few people said words to that effect, but seriously? There are about 75 000 of us in the world, 1500 in Australia, and I’ve seen TG4 documentaries on YouTube so why haven’t you seen something in Gaelic?)

And then, “It’s like looking into the history of Irish!” (Yup, that’s what happens when you put all the letters back in. That was said to me by someone looking at a song book I had with me. But that said, we did read a poem in class in “Ye Olde Irishe”, and that was much easier for me as it had most of the letters I expected… although no Hs, since it was from back when they were a dot on top of the letter).

I really don’t think it’s justified to call Irish and Gaelic separate languages, particularly after having met a few Donegal Irish speakers. It’s an accent and a few figures of speech, that’s all. Oh, and a couple of spelling reforms. As far as I’m concerned, if I can be an Australian and understand someone from Ireland speaking English, Irish-speakers should be able to understand me speaking Gaelic. That’s the level of difference there is.

Oh, and if anyone can fill in any of the gaps on those tables, it would be much appreciated.

The Australian and British Education Systems

Three or four years ago, I had a teenage rant in response to something on some expat forums, and it became my most successful post. I’m constantly getting comments and questions from people who, for some reason, think I’m an expert on education system comparison and want advice.

Some of the information on that post is now outdated, and most of it was unclear to begin with. It wasn’t meant to be an informative post, just a rant! The main point of the post was that the Australian and English systems are really very similar. One is not really better than the other (although a couple of rankings would say that the Australian system is actually better.

If you want to find out about the education systems or how the curriculum compares, the best thing to do would be to look at the curriculums for yourself.

If you want to compare a couple of schools, contact those schools directly.

Here is a table comparing the three systems (Australia, England/Wales/NI, and Scotland) in terms of school years, curriculum phases, certificates, and so on:


Click to enlarge, of course. And here are links for the curriculums themselves:

Australian National Curriculum

British National Curriculum

Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

Here are the links for the overseeing institutions:

Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

Here are some school comparison and finder sites:

The Good Schools Guide (UK)

The Good Schools Guide (Australia)

The Australian Schools Directory

My School (Australia)

And finally, here are the online educational games, support materials, and websites:

BBC Bitesize

Learning Scotland

ABC Splash

So, if you have a problem or a question:

Compare the curriculums, visit the school comparison sites, ask the schools.

If you really, for whatever strange reason, decide you want to ask my opinion on something I really have no right to have an opinion on, here’s what I’m going to say:

Australia, New Zealand, and all the UK are all well within the top 20 education systems in the world, and more than that, all the systems are fairly closely aligned from either years of contact or a similar origin.

In primary school, there’s really not going to be much difference between the countries – in fact, you’ll probably find more difference between two schools in the same country than between two schools in different countries. Your main problem’s probably going to be dealing with the different school years between the northern and southern hemispheres.

In high school or secondary school, it’s better to change sooner rather than later, so that you or your child can be settled into a school before beginning the leaving certificates, which do actually vary quite a bit in terms of composition and requirements between the three countries, and even within Australia.

In university, there’s more difference between Scotland and England than between either with Australia, but all three countries recognise high school qualifications from each of the others, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a year or two older when you start.

And again, do your own research. Don’t rely on the opinion of a random not-still-a-teenager expat kid. Check with the curriculum authorities. Take a look at the curriculums yourself. Visit or phone the schools in question to get accurate information about that school. And use your own common sense.

Also, if you want to read about the problems of a bunch of other people who have considered moving from one system to another, as well as my replies to them, check out the original post.



Clearing Misconceptions: Christmas (Carols) Edition

This is a new genre of post I’ve just decided I’m going to do which aims to dispel certain misconceptions. Not just any misconceptions, but the ones which are so particularly ignorant that a little thought immediately before saying them might have caused them to be a tad less offensive to the hearer (that would be me). On the other hand, they might not seem immediately ignorant, but were definitely offensive in the way they were conveyed. This one, for example, has been stewing for months, and is therefore about a month late to join that flurry of Christmas-themed posts which hit the blogosphere in early December. It’s possible that these posts won’t end up just being rants.

Picture, if you will, the scene almost three months ago, when myself and the chaplain with whom I work were sitting down to nut out the details of Term 4. Given that, after working around all the various activities the school was holding for the end of the year, we only had about six or seven weeks in total with the kids, the choice of theme was obvious: Christmas.

The chaplain had decided to take it upon herself to educate the children in Christmas carols. “Australians don’t know their Christmas carols,” she told me, “Not like we do in England.”

She’s English, by the way. I wonder if being from Yorkshire is a stereotype of brusqueness, or whether it’s just her? I haven’t met many people from Yorkshire.

“I know Christmas carols!” I protested. “I sang Christmas carols as a kid!”

“Yes, but your father’s English. It’s part of your heritage.”

I should probably make some comment about the majority of the school populace being white and it therefore being their heritage, too, but in this area, it’s just as likely that they’re of German extraction. Perhaps not at an Anglican school, though.

But that was where the conversation was left, because I couldn’t think quick enough to think up a comeback. But it was also the bit that particularly stung me.

Because, what made her think that two Christmasses (one that I can remember) with my tone-deaf father’s side of the family had more influence on my musical heritage than every day with my mother’s?

My mother’s Cornish-Australian side of the family, at that, and Cornish-Australians were the ones who invented Carols by Candlelight, a tradition which the ever-reliable Wikipedia assures me doesn’t occur outside Australia.

My mother’s side of the family, with whom I heard and sang “The North Wind” and “The Three Drovers” and “Six White Boomers” and “Christmas in the Scrub”, and who I watched sing “Orana” in four-part harmony. (Or do I just imagine I watched that because Mum talks so much about how it used to happen before my grandmother’s lungs packed up?)

Because Australians do sing Christmas carols. Or, at least, they have songs which they sing at Christmas, because “Six White Boomers” and “Santa Wear Your Shorts” mightn’t be about the Christmas story, but there are carols in the mix, too.

And yes, maybe it’s not “Little Donkey” and “We Saw Three Ships” (both of which, incidentally, I find insufferably annoying), and maybe pop artists over here don’t release a pop Christmas song every year like they do over there, but Christmas carols are sung.

It might be that they’re sung more by some segments of the population than others. I know, for example, that the chaplain in question spent most of her time in Australia before moving to this area two years ago in a part of the city that the rest of us think of as – how shall I put it? – a bit bogan. I also know that it’s the area where most of the Ten-Pound Poms ended up, so if the kids in schools up there didn’t know their Christmas carols, it’s their English immigrant parents who are at fault, not their Australian-born identity.

So, I have to agree. Singing Christmas carols is part of my heritage. But it’s almost laughable to imagine that it’s part of the heritage given to me by my father, whom I’ve only ever heard sing a carol occasionally at a carol services. No, it’s part of the heritage given to me by my mother, who sings at the drop of a hat (or the verbalisation of something that resembles a song lyrics), whose family have been in this country for six or seven generations, and whose ancestors were part of the culture which made Australia’s carol tradition what it is today.

It’s that part of my heritage that walked along the main street of the village singing “The north wind is tossing the leaves, the red dust is over the town” with my friends as we walked through the sweltering midsummer heat to a picnic.

It’s that part of my heritage that spent long summer evenings sitting on the local school oval, getting rashes from the grass and bites from the mosquitoes but watching small children dressed in tinsel singing “Deck the shed with bits of wattle! Stick some gum leaves in a bottle!”, joining in on the chorus of “Six white boomers, snow white boomers, racing Santa Clause through the blazing sun!”, and waving the glow sticks which at some point during my childhood replaced the tea-candle-in-a-jar arrangement I can remember.

It’s that part of my heritage which, several years ago, posted a post with YouTube clips of some of my favourite carols you won’t find in any other country in the world.

It’s that part of my heritage which, a hundred years ago, held up its Christmas carol tradition as a political battering ram and then, twenty years later, shared it with the nation.

And it’s that part of my heritage which was upset and offended at the suggestion that my knowledge of carols has nothing to do with this continent at all.


Or, as said ancestors might have at one point said,


I should stop it there, but there was a similar sort of ignorant and rude comment from the same person a few weeks later. Christmas Day, actually, as we discussed the meal awaiting for us after church. We both had hot meals (which is something I will blame on my British heritage), and she said, “Oh, yes, I’m doing the full English thing: turkey and lots of Brussels sprouts!”

Seriously, what is the English obsession with Brussels sprouts at Christmas? Dad says it’s because they’re in season, which is fair enough, I suppose, but… They’re not in season over here! I haven’t seen them in the shops for months! Where does she even get them?

“We’ve got a duck,” I said, by way of return, “We haven’t enough people for a turkey.”

“A duck!” she said scornfully. “That’s not British!”

Since we were on the receiving line after the service, we had to move on fairly quickly, and I managed to get in, “Well, we wanted a goose,” as my sister and I went on in something of a huff.

That’s true – we had wanted a goose, which is something which my grandfather – who lived in Hampshire by the time I knew him – had most Christmasses. But geese cost about $150 apiece here, so that wasn’t happening and it’s at Hills tradition to have duck instead (according to the local shops, anyway), which are much more reasonably-priced around the Christmas season.

“A duck’s more British than a turkey!” I said to my sister. “Turkeys are American!”

I won’t say people should forget their background, heritage, and traditions when they immigrate to a new country, but… they should at least shed the idea that theirs are superior.

Don’t interact with the traditions of the locals of your new country in an, “Oh, you do that, do you, you ignorant savage? Let me tell you how it’s really done,” sort of way.

Instead, when one of the locals presents you with something you think is a bit odd, approach it in a more, “Oh, that’s interesting, I hadn’t thought it could be done like that. Here’s how we do it,” sort of way.

Mind you, I can say from my own experience that if an Australian went to the UK with the same sorts of attitudes about Australian Christmas traditions as the woman in question has about “British” ones, the response from the locals there definitely would be, “Oh, you do that, do you, you ignorant savage?”


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”.

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.