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”.

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.

5-EBI Now Streaming

5-EBI is now streaming online in up to 65 languages.

5-EBI (which stands for “Ethnic Broadcasters Incorporated”) is Adelaide’s multi-ethnic and multi-lingual radio station and has been broadcasting from 103.1FM since 1979, having been broadcasting five programmes a week since 1975.

Monday
1130-0600: music only: “World Trax”
0600-0630: English: Deutsche Welle “World in Progress”
0630-0730: Deutsch: “Hamburger Hafenkonzert”
0730-0800: English: Cook Island programme
0800-0900: Malti: Maltese programme
0900-1100: English: “A Foreign Affair” with David Sabine
1100-1200: English: “Today with You” with Ewart Shaw
1200-1300: English: “The Three Amigos”
1300-1400: English: “Football Plus” with Peter and Dieter
1400-1600: Deutsch: German programme “Deutschland Aktuell”
1600-1630: English: “Arts on Air” with Ewart Shaw
1630-1700: English: Ukrainian programme “Pioneer”
1700-1800: Polski: Polish programme
1800-1900: Malti: Maltese programme
1900-1930: English: Russian youth programme “Let’s get together”
1930-2030: music only: “EBI Music”
2030-2130: Kurdi: Kurdish programme
2130-2200: music only: “EBI Music”
2200-2300: Deutsch: “Hamburger Hafenkonzert”
2300-0000: English “Rhythm Nations” with Don Ellis

Tuesday
0000-0600:
music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: Ellhnika: Greek programme “Minima Agapis”
0700-0800: Italiano: Italian programme
0800-0900: Khmer: Cambodian programme
0900-1100: English: “A Foreign Affair” with David Sabine
1100-1200: English: “Today with You” with Ewart Shaw
1200-1230: English: Deutsche Welle “The Journal”
1230-1330: English, Gaidhlig: Scottish programme
1330-1430: English, Gaeilge: Irish programme
1430-1500: Portugues: Portuguese programme
1500-1600: Ellhnika: Greek programme “Hmerologion Zohs”
1600-1700: Deutsch: German programme
1700-1730: Russkiy: Russian programme
1730-1800: English: Deutsche Welle “Pulse”
1800-1900: English: “Planet Sound”
1900-2000: Dansk: Danish programme
2000-2100: Khmer: Cambodian programme
2100-2300: Vosa Vakaviti, English: Fijian programme
2300-0000: English: “FM Nightcap” with Malcolm MacKellar

Wednesday
0000-0600:
music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: Masri Arabic: Egyptian programme
0700-0900: music only: “EBI Music”
0900-1100: English: “A Foreign Affair” with David Sabine
1100-1200: English: “Today with You” with Ewart Shaw
1200-1230: English: Deutsche Welle “The Journal”
1230-1300: Myanma Bhasa: Burmese programme
1300-1400: Tieng Viet: Vietnamese programme
1400-1500: Deutsch: German programme
1500-1600: Ukrayinska: Ukrainian programme
1600-1700: English: Greek programme “History & Culture”
1700-1800: Bahasa: Indonesian programme “RISA”
1800-1900: Russkiy: Russian programme
1900-1930: Slovenscina: Slovenian programme
1930-2030: music only: “EBI Music”
2030-2130: Deutsch: Austrian programme “Musikalisches Kaleidoscop”
2130-2230: Bengali: Bangladesh programme
2230-0000: English: “Folk Till Midnight” with Eric Ford

Thursday
0000-0600:
music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: English: “Good Morning Folk”
0700-0800: Italiano: Italian programme
0800-0900: Ellhnika: Greek programme “Xenimma Esiodoxias”
0900-1100: English: “A Foreign Affair” with David Sabine
1100-1200: English: “Today with You” with Ewart Shaw
1200-1230: English: Deutsche Welle “The Journal”
1230-1330: Tagalog: Filipino programme “Hal0-Halo Espesyal”
1330-1400: Italiano: Italian programme
1400-1500: Ellhnika: Greek programme
1500-1600: Deutsch: German programme “Buntes Allerlei”
1600-1700: Polszczyzna: Polish programme
1700-1900: Hrvatski: Croatian programme
1900-2000: Latviesu: Latvian programme “Latvju Balss”
2000-0000: Nederlands, English: Dutch programme “Dutch Family Programme”

Friday
0000-0600
: music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: English: “Hear the World”
0700-0800: Italiano: Italian programme
0800-0900: Ellhnika, English: Greek Orthodox Community programme
0900-1100: English: “A Foreign Affair” with David Sabine
1100-1200: English: “Today with You” with Ewart Shaw
1200-1230: English: Deutsche Welle “The Journal”
1230-1300: English: “Science Fiction Review” with Malcolm MacKellar
1300-1330: music only: “EBI Music”
1330-1400: Italiano: Italian programme
1400-1430: English: Cook Islands programme
1430-1530: English: Greek programme “I Listen and Learn”
1530-1600: English: Tongan youth programme
1600-1700: Lea Fakatonga, English: Tongan programme
1700-1800: Nederlands: Dutch programme “De week die was, de week die komt”
1800-2000: Srpski, English: Serbian youth programme
2000-2100: Makedonskh: Macedonian programme
2100-2130: Tagalog: Filipino programme “Harana”
2130-2230: Af-Soomaali: Somali programme
2230-2330: English: Deutsche Welle “Inside Europe”
2330-0000: music only: “EBI Music”

Saturday
0000-0600:
music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: Srpski: Serbian programme
0700-0800: English: Indian programme
0800-0900: Polszczyzna: Polish programme
0900-1000: Lietuviu Kalba: Lithuanian programme
1000-1100: Portugues: Portuguese programme
1100-1200: Espanol: Spanish programme
1200-1330: Castellano: Latin American programme
1330-1400: various: Eritrean programme
1400-1500: Masri Arabic: Egyptian programme
1500-1600: Srpski: Serbian programme
1600-1700: Ellhnika: Cypriot programme
1700-1800: English: Celtic programme
1800-1900: Schwyzertuutsch: Swiss programme “Schweizer Ecke”
1900-1930: Deutsch: Australian programme “Singendes Klingendes Oesterreich”
1930-2000: Deutsch: German programme
2000-2100: music only: “EBI Music”
2100-0100: English: “International Rendezvous”

Sunday
0100-0600
: music only: “World Trax”
0600-0700: English: “In His Name” with Cristina Descalzi
0700-0730: Gagana Samoa: Samoan programme
0730-0830: Malti: Maltese programme
0830-0900: Tagalog: Filipino programme “Radyo Pilipino”
0900-1000: Slovensky jazyk: Slovak programme
1000-1030: German: German programme “Bundesliga Results”
1030-1130: German: Austrian programme “Gruess Gott – Guten Morgan”
1130-1200: Makedonski: Macedonian programme
1200-1300: Hrvatski: Croatian programme
1300-1400: Magyar: Hungarian programme
1400-1430: Slovenscina: Slovenian programme
1430-1530: Ukrayinska: Ukrainian programme
1530-1600: English: Indian programme
1600-1700: Bulgarsky: Bulgarian programme
1700-1800: Ellhnika: Greek programme
1800-1900: various: Sudanese programme
1900-1930: Makedonski: Macedonian programme
1930-2030: Vosa Vakaviti, English: Fijian programme
2030-2130: Russkiy: Russian programme
2130-1015: Guanhua/Mandarin: Chinese programme
2015-2100: Gwongjau-Wah/Cantonese: Chinese programme
2100-2130: music only: “EBI Chinese Trax”

All times given are Central Australian Time (GMT+9.30 or GMT+10.30).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thought of the Day #9

A little less than 1600 years ago, a little Welsh PK was captured to be a slave by Irish pirates. He went on to found a missionary movement that would reach not just all of Ireland, but also Scotland and the Nordic countries.

Thursday

I can’t help but think he’d be appalled if he saw what people did in his name today.

Google Translate and Gaelic

Google Translate has expanded again! It now supports 103 languages, including, as of today, Amharic, Corsican, Hawaiian, Frisian, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Luxembourgish, Pashto, Samoan, Shona, Sindhi, Xhosa… and Gaelic!

That was a long time coming. Google Translate usually adds families in language families, because once they’ve got the software for one grammar it’s easier to transfer to similar languages. We’ve had Irish since 2009.

I’m a little concerned, as Loving Language was, with how they choose the languages. I’m not sure whether to be insulted that Gaelic’s now as much a regional “dialect” (no offence anyone, but you were until recently) as Corsican, Frisian, or Luxembourgish, or pleased that we’re as “exotic” (to Europeans) as Kyrgyz, Pashto, or Xhosa.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, to be honest. On one hand, you know, finally, but on the other, it’s fun to joke about how we might say anything on FaceBook and people can’t pretend to understand like they can with other languages. That’s gone now. The Scottish Gaelic FaceBook group is now no longer completely private.

Although, I did run a few phrases through it, and the results weren’t promising. I tried between Gaelic and Irish first, figuring it should come out pretty close.

tha gaidhlig agam

“tha Gàidhlig agam” should translate as “tá Gaeilge agam” or, at the very least, “tá Gaeilge na hAlban agam”

ciamar a tha sibh

I can almost let this one slide, because the translation is meant to be “conas atá sibh?”; “ciamar a tha thu?” should render this result. The meaning is mostly the same, they’ve got that right, but apparently we’re addressing everyone as a singular, informal being now.

's ann gle sgith a tha mi

I honestly have no idea.

Anyway, then I tried with English.

's ann gle sgith a tha mi eng

This is close. You understand the meaning, right? It’s “I’m very tired”. I chose this phrase because the grammar is very unusual. To emphasise something in Gaelic, rather than saying it louder or slower or whatever, you move what you emphasise to the beginning of the sentence at add “‘s ann…” (“it is in”). So “tha mi sgith” becomes “‘s ann gle sgith a tha mi” – literally “it is in very tired that I am”. So, basically, I’m not surprised Google Translate got that wrong.

tha gaidhlig agam eng

Not even close. It’s “I speak Gaelic”. Again with above, it’s being a bit too word-for-word, realising it’s wrong, and then changing the words so they don’t quite make sense. It’s literally “Gaelic is at me”.

Interestingly, the Irish translation used “mo” (“my”) for “agam” (“at me”) as well. In fairness, the “tha… agam” construction is used for possession of objects, as well, but it seems like the Irish is being run through an English translation first.

ciamar a tha sibh eng

Finally! Success!

Still no Australian languages, though.

Latha Fhèile Phàdraig

Or however they prefer to spell it, probably with most of the letters missing.

And yes, I know that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t technically until Thursday, but the parade was today, winding through Adelaide towards the Irish Club, where there was alternating music and dancing for several hours. The second dance school to perform had a fascinating mix of “traditional” Irish Dance with some contemporary bits, and I thought that was pretty cool. I’m a sucker for hard-shoe. I think it’s the rhythms. At Spring Fiddle, there’s usually a step-dance workshop (the Scottish and Canadian version of Irish hard-shoe) and it’s great fun, even if I can’t quite get it. Apparently in Canada, step-dance competitions are the judges seated underneath the floor so they can hear the rhythms better.

It was mostly green. I think I saw about three orange shirts / dresses. I will wear orange next year, I’m determined. “It’s all right if you have orange leanings,” I was told, “But they might make you walk.” The trick is, the Celtic Slow Music Band wears green as its colour, and mostly that’s fine by me (except at Mount Barker Gathering, where I’m turning up in my tartan clashing with a saltire no matter what). The problem is… green on St Patrick’s day? I’m not Catholic.

Anyway, the parade went well, and I didn’t even get burnt. Lots of construction crews turning out to watch (anything to avoid actually constructing something, of course), and we got lots of stares as we wound our way through Chinatown. Seriously, it’s Mad March and people should be used to strange things happening on the streets of Adelaide by now. They probably thought we were part of WomAd or the Fringe.

I don’t usually go to Monday Slow Music Night, mostly because it’s a Monday and it’s inconvenient, but I go a weekend event a couple of times a year. I got in with the Celtic Slow Music group because they started about half an hour before Irish Class finished, back when went to Irish Class for about a month.

Here’s a tip for you: the Irish are racist. Either you’re Irish, or you’re some sort of sub-human not worth mentioning. You can talk until you’re blue (or green) in the face about how you speak Gaelic, and ‘s e Gàidhealaich a th’ anns na Gàidhealaich, we’re all the same, really, I’m here because our languages are similar, it might be nice to talk to each other, widen the pool for conversational opportunities, but if you’re not Irish, they don’t want to know you. God forbid you have even the smallest skerrick of Irish blood in you (as I do), because then you’re a traitor for not acknowledging it. The worst part is, there are people at the Club – and were in the Class when I was – who had just as much Irish blood as I do (umpteen-great-grandparent on one side) but they identified as Irish, so they were in, and I was out.

Yeah, so I don’t go to the Irish club much. I just couldn’t deal with that every week, so I gave up on the whole Irish language idea and just sort of kept in loose touch with the Celtic Slow Music people.

Probably the only accurate descriptor in that title is ‘music’. In this case, ‘Celtic’ means ‘Irish’, and ‘slow’ means… Really quite fast, most of the time. It’s all in good fun, and it’s great craic, as they would say, for a jig or a reel, but I don’t want to hear Raglan Road played in happy jig time when it’s a slow, sad air. Or – even worse – Red Red Rose, on the rare occasion they venture out into other areas of Celtic. These ventures are usually Scottish, admittedly – I don’t know that there are any Welsh, Cornish, or Breton tunes in the repertoire, although there are a few Australian ones – but are still played in happy Irish jig style.

This sounds like I’m complaining, and I’m not. Today was great fun. I’d hoped to catch up with some of the people from the Irish class and chat for a bit, but I only saw one, and she hasn’t gone in about three years and could barely respond to “Dia dhuibh! Cónas atá sibh?” – which, admittedly, is about the extent of my Irish. Besides which, it was a bit noisy for conversation.

There was one set we played twice that I didn’t know, but I’m getting much better at harmonising each time I play, so I felt I did really well with that today. My main problem is with tunes that are in different sets with different groups. For example, the Slow Music people play Blackthorn Stick with Rakes of Kildare, but it’s with Tinpenny Money with the Hills Bush Dance people, and Rakes of Kildare comes after Mucking of Geordie’s Byre – which is slightly different in the second part at each place, but not enough that I can’t get away with playing the Hills version, which I learnt first, at both places.

DSCN2550

It’s like “Where’s Wally?” but it’s “Spot the Protestant”. There are three in this photo. Well, three who were actually brave enough to wear orange.

 

Once we got back to the hall, we had a welcome speech from the president of the Irish Club. I was impressed with how much Irish was actually used – it would have to be 50/50, with everything said in Irish first and then English – but the sound system wasn’t great so I doubt people at the back understood much of either. The woman in question doesn’t really have any Irish, so it really became a question of how many times you can say ‘ceud mìle fàilte’ in a day.

Then we sang the national anthems, to the accompaniment of a guitar. This was a problem for me, because I only know the first line of the Irish national anthem, so it became something like:

“Sinne fianna fáil atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn… buí hurram-da… chan eil fios agam… hurram-durram-da… sin e ar sinnsir feasta… chan eil fios agam fhathast mu dheidhinn na faclair… anns an t-òrain Eireannach an-seo … Le hurram Ghaeil! … bás no saoil… hurram-durran-da… lámhach na piléar… seo leibh, canaidh òrain na bhfiann!”

And then, somehow, it became Advance Australia Fair without even a pause for breath or key change – I’m still trying to work out how that was managed – and I know all the words to that one, at least.

In other news, although still on the topic of national anthems, my Hebrew teacher keeps threatening us with learning haTikvah if we don’t pay attention, so… I’ve taught myself it.

Then I had a textbook to pick up, while I was in the city, and I stopped for a bit to eat at the café there.

DSCN2551

Why is food so artsy now? A cake this small does not need a place that large. And surely that’s a waste of caramel sauce…

It’s warm today, so I took my fiddle in with me.

Yeah. Dressed in green and carrying a fiddle in the middle of March. I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that everyone knew where I’d been.

Nor the feeling that it Patrick could only see today (and Thursday), he would be appalled.