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!

A Brief Look at Pre-Clearances Clothes for Women

Recently, I’ve started going along to SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) events. You might say, “But Rachel, of course! You are both creative and an anachronism! Why haven’t you gone before?”

Well, to be honest, I always thought it was a little weird. And in Adelaide, most of the things they were at were things I was also at, but in another capacity (fiddler, Scottish radio presenter, member of a Clan, and so on). But then I found a SCA College listed on the uni website and thought, “Well, when I move away, I’ll join.”

It’s been good, so far, too. I mean, people in my res House have gone out a couple of nights and got drunk, which really isn’t my scene… Sitting on the lawn in period dress, sewing while a bunch of men in armour whack the living daylights out of each other with sticks is definitely more my scene. And there’s less alcohol, too.


I started researched pre-Clearances Highland clothing long before I ever considered joining the SCA. I suspect it might have been in relation to a Doctor Who fanfic (I’m a fan of Jamie McCrimmon), but that’s really how I do fanfics – copious research with little to no actual story produced. Anyway, since the Highland dress has now become my SCA garb, purely by virtue of it being the only suitable clothing I have, I thought I’d explain it a little.

Pre-Clearances includes the 18th century, so it’s a little later than the SCA period, but Highland life had changed relatively little in the preceding thousand years or so, so it stands to reason that women’s clothes hadn’t changed much, either.

In the initial research, I disregarded SCA sources as much as possible. And there was a reason for that. A lot of the SCA-based information on Highland dress came along with phrasebooks for Gaelic, and those were… not the most accurate, shall we say. I mean, not bad, but not accurate either, considering how much Gaelic there is available on line these days. And a lot of the same mistakes crept into a lot of the lists, so I suspected that the SCA lore on Highland dress, like their Gaelic phrasebooks, were based more on hear-say than on actual research.


There are two or three items of clothing which are essential to making the Highland woman’s outfit, as far as I’m concerned: the earrasaid, the headcovering, and possibly the shawl (but only if you want there to be no mistake about where you’re from).

 

The Earrasaid

The earrasaid is essentially the girly version of the fèileadh-mòr (known in English as the “great-kilt”). Both are giant rectangles, like bedsheets, of traditionally wool (but I live in Australia, so I’m not using wool), belted at the waist. There are a few differences: men’s are checked, and women’s are striped; men’s are in darker colours, women’s have a lot of white and yellow; men’s are pleated at the waist and fall to the knee, women’s are gathered and fall a few inches above the hem of the dress.

Point 2 on colour is actually very interesting. Modern “dress tartans” are variations on the standard tartan with a lot of white in it. The common assumption is that a “dress tartan” is more formal than the standard, ancient or hunting tartans, but actually “dress” means “dress”, rather than “formal” – it’s the girl’s tartan.

M. Martin, Gent., wrote in 1791 describing how women dress in the Western Isles:

“The antient Drefs wore by the Women, and which is yet wore by fome of the Vulgar, called Ariʃad, is a white Plad, having a few fmall Stripes of black, blue, and red; it reach’d from the Neck to the Heels, and was tied before on the Breaft with a Buckle of Silver, or Brafs, according to the Quality of the Perfon. I have feen fome of the former of a hundred Marks value; it was broad as any ordinary Pewter Plate, the whole curioufly engraven with various Animals, &c. There was a leffer Buckle, which was wore in the middle of the larger, and above two Ounces weight; it had in the Centre a large piece of Chryftal, or fome finer Stone, and this was fet all round with feveral finger Stones of a leffer fize.

“The Plad being pleated all round, was tied with a Belt below the Breaft; the Belt was of Leather, and feveral Pieces of Silver intermix’d with the Leather like a Chain. The lower end of the Belt has a Piece of Plate about eight Inches long, and three in breadth, curioufly engraven; the end of which was adorned with fine Stones, or Pieces of Red Coral. They wore Sleeves of Scarlet Cloth, clos’d at the end as Mens Vefts, with God Lace round ‘em, having Plate Buttons fet with fine Stones. The Head-drefs was a fine Kerchief of Linen ftrait about the Head, hanging down the Back taper-wife; a large Lock of Hair hangs down their Cheeks above their Breaft, the lower end tied with a Knot of Ribbands.”

I definitely need a better belt and a buckle. Actually, I really need a buckle or a broach for under my chin. But overall, the earrasaid is really comfortable and cozy. And practical. If you tuck it right, there is so much pocket storage space you don’t even notice the drink bottle and purse. If it didn’t look so weird, I would wear it a lot more. Possibly all the time. I’m a massave fan of the earrasaid.

R. R. McIan’s Tartans provides useful colour pictures of highland dress, including two of earrasaidean worn by the Urquhart and Matheson ladies:

urquhartmatheson

 

The Shawl

If there was any tartan involved at all in the Highland woman’s dress, this is where it is. The Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland describes the tartan shawl:

“The plaid is the undress of the ladies; and to a genteel woman, who adjusts it with a good air, is a becoming veil. But as I am pretty sure you never saw one of them in England, I shall employ a few words to describe it to you. It is made of silk or fine worsted, chequered with various lively colours, two breadths wide, and three yards in length; it is brought over the head, and may high or discover the face according to the wearer’s fancy or occasion: it reaches to the waist behind; one corner falls as low as the ankle on one side; and the other part, in folds, hangs down from the opposite arm.”

The edition I read from also adds the clarification from Martyn’s Western Islands,

“The plaid is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind: it consists of divers colours; and there is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours, so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason, the women are at great pains, first, to give an exact pattern of the plaid upon a piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on it. The length of it is commonly seven double ells; the one end hands by the middle over the left arm, the other going round the body hangs by the end over the left arm also. The right-hand above it is to be at liberty to do any thing upon occasion.”

On the topic of tartans, it does bear adding this: there’s a common belief that clan tartans were invented by Victorian English nobility and aren’t a true Scottish thing really. So I was interested to read M. Martin’s description of men’s plaids:

“Every Ifle differs from each other in their Fancy of making Plads, as to the Stripes in Breadth and Colours. This Humour is as different thro the main Land of the Highlands, in-fo-far that they who have feen thofe Places, are able, at the firft View of a Man’s Plad, to guefs the Place of his Refidence.”

Bearing in mind that location is basically synonymous with clan, we can definitely see that regional clan tartans were well-established in the Highlands and islands by the end of the 18th century, and were foreign enough as a concept to an Englishman to be worth commenting on

R. R. McIan’s Tartans shows shawls worn by the Sinclair and Lamond ladies:

 

The Headcovering

People who know me will know I take headcoverings seriously. It’s not just some “oh, look at that interesting historical headgear” for me. I look at an historical headcovering through the eyes of someone who wears one all day, every day. I want something that’s comfortable, practical, and secure.

That has nothing to do with anything, really, but I felt like saying it before describing the Highland headcovering. In Gaelic, the word “brèid” can refer to many different squares of cloth, from tablecloths to sails and of course headcoverings. The LearnGaelic dictionary has a whole list of sayings involving the term, and most of them have to do with head-kerchiefs.

Brèidean are strictly for married woman, and “brèideach” means “married woman”, and there’s a waulking song I encountered in the EBI library which uses “put on the brèid early” as a synonym for “had an affair before she got married”. Despite that, I am wearing a headcovering with my outfit because I don’t like the hairstyle for unmarried women. I’ll cover that in a minute.

So my final plot of the brèid I have based largely on an air or love-song I know which is found in the Carmina Gadelica, as well as on a selection of other descriptive terms for the brèid which I’ve encountered. The two verses of the air with which I am concerned are:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

“Gur a math thig breid ban
That becomes well headcovering white,
Air a charamh beannach dhut
On the position pointed/horned to you
Agus staoise dh’ an t-sioda mhin
And cords to the silk soft
‘G a theannadh ort.
Approaching it on you.

There are no pictures of the headcovering, it having been long replaced with frilled bonnet-caps or babushka-style veils by the time people started painting pictures of Highlands women, so all I have to go on is that it’s somehow mountain-like (beannach), and it’s attached to the head with silk cords. It’s white (brèid ban) and looks a bit like a crown or three (brèid cuimir nan [tri] crun), with three corners (currachd tri-chearnach), possibly held up with some sort of support (brèid an crannaig).

So it’s certainly not a simple kerchief tied around the head! It’s quite elaborate, actually. I recall hearing or reading somewhere that gold and silver pins were used, although I can’t recall where – but based on Martin’s description of belts and broaches, it seems quite likely. From the evidence, the headcovering is done in some way in which the three points look like crowns or horns. One of the descriptions, “brèid an crannaig”, uses the same word that’s used for a pulpit or the base of a statue, so that provides some clue – there might be a wooden support inserted under.

This is the style I’ve settled on, which I think does justice to the evidence. It’s quite comfortable and reasonable secure, although it tends to pull back a little bit if I bring the earrasaid up over my head. I’ll take step-by-step pictures to put on my headcoverings blog sometime when I’m home.

Breid.png

 

Girls’ Hairstyles

Young unmarried women continued to wear their hair in a single ribbon near the hairline, binding the plaits or curls up, well into the 18th and 19th centuries, so we have pictures of that.

From R. R. McIan’s Tartans:

matheson

Two details from David Allan’s 1780 A Highland Wedding and Blair Atholl:

A headband is called a stiom, and has been transliterated as “stem” and translated as “fillet” by early English commentators.

That air I mentioned earlier describes the hairstyle:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

So it looks like it might be several plaits or two-strand ‘rope-plaits’ tied back off the face with a wide ribbon.

 

 

Gaoidhealg

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:

ALBAINN ÉIREANN
“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:

prepositional-pronouns

irregular-past

irregular-present

irregular-future

irregular-command

irregular-conditional

bi

dean

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.

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 learngaelic.net 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.

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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.

manx

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.

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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 learngaelic.net 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.

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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.

colonialism

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

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.