Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gaelic Tokenism

I don't speak Gaelic (though I'm trying to learn ..... slowly) and I could, as a native English speaker, happily survive without Gaelic - but the language is at the very heart and soul of the history and culture of the Highlands, and creates the fundamental links with all of the Celtic Nations from Ireland through Wales and Cornwall to Brittany and beyond. The language is precious and its state of health is, as described today by Fiona Hyslop, fragile. An extra £100,000 has today been given to help promote early years Gaelic teaching. Yet another example of the SNP Government finding wee bits of extra money that can make a difference when all around bleat and moan. There will doubtless be some who cry 'waste of money' or 'how can we justify this in difficult economic times'.

I don't subscribe to this view. If this was always the approach taken, there would be no arts left; no culture; no sport - in short, if it wasn't seen as a crucial bit of front line service to citizens, it wouldn't get any money. I submit that nobody really benefits from such short termism.

Highland Council has what appears on the face of it to be an excellent gaelic language plan - even though there are some who constantly snipe and would do away with it tomorrow. But I do say 'on the face of it' ..... there are a couple of things though that really get my goat. First is when offices use dual language road sign policy as an excuse for doing nothing with a worn out sign ... 'ah yes', they say, 'but if we replace the sign, we'll have to upgrade it to dual language and that will cost lots more money, because the sign will have to be bigger, so the post will have to be stronger, so the foundation will have to be deeper!' Never mind if that's actually right or not - it sounds like a good story and it will keep councillors quiet.

The other is our tokenism in documents - where the title, and main headings are all shown in both English and Gaelic, but the rest of the document - all of the real content - is in English only. What's the point of that? Who benefits? It doesn't happen in Ireland and it doesn't happen in Wales, where routinely material across a broad front is produced in dual language format. Surely we can do better than this? OK, so to do this with all printed material would potentially double the number of pages (though not necessarily double the cost), but why can't we have a gaelic version? and why can't we have downloadable web based versions in both languages instead of these pointless little main headings. 'Comhairle na Gaidhealtachd' the logo proclaims. Isn't it time we started to be a Comhairle as well as a Council?

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