14 November 2012

By yon bonnie banks....

The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority in Scotland have been busy refreshing their public image with their logo, which is pretty nice, even if it does look a little bit like an island.  (I'd say it's most like Barra, but only after a few meters of sea-level increase turns Eoligarry into a separate island.)

They've put up some fancy new stone signs at some of the entrances to the park, too:

It's very nice, I'm sure you'll agree.  There's only two problems.

First up, why on Earth is "the Trossachs" so much smaller than "Loch Lomond"?  As a child, I spent a heck of a lot of time visiting the Trossachs (Loch Venachar being one of the few lochs in the area suitable for swimming in) and not a lot of time around Loch Lomond.  I personally feel a wee bit aggrieved that the much nicer part plays second fiddle to something everyone knows from "that song"....

But secondly, there's no Gaelic on it.  Nothing out of the ordinary in that, and while it was traditionally part of Highland Gaeldom, Gaelic is now extinct in the local area.


The signage to the park had been raised bilingually, which means that this new (and expensive) sign is actually taking away the existing visibility and status for the language.

I've written to the park authority:
I am from near to the national park (Gargunnock) and a frequent visitor. At present I am working overseas, but am looking forward to finishing and getting home, and getting my bike back up the Duke's Pass, along the Inversnaid road and round Loch Katrine.

I am aware that the park has taken on a new brand identity, reflected both on the website and on new long-life stone signage erected at certain major entrance points.

I am disappointed, however, to find that the new logo has no space for the Gaelic name of the park, and that this has led to existing bilingual signage being replaced by a monolingual alternative, which is directly contrary to the general trend in Scotland.

Indeed, it is likely that at some point the park authorities will be subject to a Gaelic Language Plan, and that one of the key actions for the park will be the use of bilingual branding and signage. It is therefore easily foreseeable that the present signage will need to be replaced in the not-too-distant future, leading to additional expenses on the park that could have been avoided had a little foresight been applied.

I am currently living and working in Corsica, one of the many minority areas in Europe that considers themselves a "nation". The current debate over independence has led to increasing exposure for Scotland in the public consciousness here, and in other areas such as the Basque Country and Catalonia, where developments in Scotland are often featured in major news bulletins.

This presents an opportunity for Scotland, whether or not we eventually opt for independence.

While Gaelic does not represent a central feature of Scottish identity in the same way as Welsh in Wales, Catalan in Catalonia and Basque in the Basque Country, it is certainly a feature that is currently garnering much attention, and is therefore useful in attracting tourists. Loch Lomond, the Trossachs and most of the placenames therein are Gaelic in origin, and this is something that should be exploited to its maximum to attract tourists to the area.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter,

All of this is true.

In my classes here, several people have asked me if I speak Gaelic -- I don't get that a lot.  When I was living in Edinburgh, newly-arrived Catalans, Basques and Galicians would ask about the language.  It is a tourist asset.

I say this, but I am not one of those learners who proudly declare that Gaelic is "my language".  It is not.  I was brought up in the lowlands, in a village that probably spoke an Anglo-Saxon tongue from its very founding (there are various Celtic-derived placenames in the vicinity, but most of these are very, very old).  I didn't start learning Gaelic until my mid-twenties, and even then I learned Spanish to a much better level.  Either "my language" is English, or "my languages" are Scots and English.  I am a nationalist, but my support for Gaelic isn't about Scottish nationalism (most people do not consider Gaelic a pre-requisite for Scottishness, so Gaelic is more likely to damage nationalism than help it).

Gaelic deserves its support simply as a mark of respect for people who speak the language.  (By extension, any learner who claims to "love the language more than a native speaker" has completely missed the point of why you should learn someone else's language.)

But if that's not good enough, then be mercenary: Gaelic is a marketable asset.  Scotland has a limited tourist draw thanks to its climate and those ******* midgies.  Gaelic can be employed as a commercial tool to sell us as a destination for people from the other small nations of Europe, rather than relying on the New World diaspora revisiting their roots, and the odd European whisky fan on a "distillery pilgrimage"....


random review said...

Gaelic quite simply does not help itself: for a European language the resources available on the web are pitiful. This (football) season I have sometimes found myself watching football matches on BBC iplayer from BBC Alba that were simply not available anywhere else. As I don't speak Gaelic I just let the sound wash over me. At some point it occurred to me that with a little bit of effort to learn the basics over a very short period I could turn watching football into hours of comprehensible input! Gaelic wasn't on my language wish list, so it was unlikely I would ever gain an active command; but here was a chance (given that I watch SPL games anyway) to gain a passive understanding of the language essentially for free (i.e. with virtually no time investment). It never happened, because I never found any suitable resources to learn those basics with: I found some s*&t resources that had audio; and some seemingly pretty good resources that had no audio (e.g. the Hugo book). Oddly (given the range they *do* have) even the Jehova's Witnesses have no audiobook in Gaelic. I therefore abandoned the idea (and that's even with me being a language enthusiast). Like I say, Gaelic doesn't help itself: unless, that is, Gaelic speakers don't actually want people to learn their language, which I don't understand but would have to respect.

Nìall Beag said...

Woooooaaah there hoss! So who's responsibility is it?

Your average speaker of any language doesn't know how to teach it. If you have a look at other minority languages, you'll find that pages are either A) hopelessly naive and useless, B) written by university teachers or C) written by other learners (and not 100% reliable.

Note that I say the university teachers. Why is it normally university teachers? Because they are the only real experts in learning. Most good teachers aren't capable of writing good self-study material, because they are not consciously aware of why they are good teachers. (And also because free stuff doesn't threaten a university teacher's main source of income!!)

Anyway, the best free resource for Gaelic at the moment is TAIC and it's fairly solid as a beginner's course.

Of course, you may not like the methodology, but as I said: most of these free resources are written by people who aren't genuine experts in teaching and learning.

The stuff on the BBC site is pretty poor, but if you ever do study a bit of it and finish with TAIC, there's always "An Litir Beag" and later "Litir do Luchd-Ionnsachaidh", which are a sort of "listen-read" exercise (translated they mean "the little letter" and "letter to learners"). They have an archive of hundreds of these and I can't say I've found a free resource as good for Corsican. Or French or Spanish for that matter....

random review said...

Fair points. Anyway, I looked again after your response and there seems to be a fairly decent Teach Yourself course with audio for a very reasonable price. Don't know how I missed it. Perhaps because I have only studied languages where better resources are available than that series.

Nìall Beag said...

And in a remarkable example of timing, shortly after making my comment, I discovered GaelicGrammar.org from the University of Arizona.

It's not a course, but a reference grammar. It's slightly confusing, because they appear to have used a template to generate page content, thus producing a few examples of nonsense such as "I was been".

There also seems to be some disagreement with team over whether Gaelic has a "passive voice" or an "impersonal form".

Which inspires me to write something about structuralist vs functional terminology... when I get the time....

Nìall Beag said...

Also, TY is written by two university lecturers, Colloquial is by a Gaelic lecturer and a university English teacher, and Gaelic in 12 weeks (essentially the updated edition of Hugo's out-of-print "in 3 months") is a university lecturer. Another lecturer, Ronald Black, has his own material published on a small scale under the title "Cothrom Ionnsachaidh". Other university teachers were involved in Speaking Our Language, which is still available, so this makes Gaelic actually pretty well catered for, but in a very "pre-internet" way. A well developed market, definitely, but it clearly disincentivised teachers to make materials available the way they are for some other languages.

Gaelic has clearly been fairly commercially successful -- it's quite easily to sell. But as you point out, this doesn't necessarily help bring in new speakers.

Which leaves an interesting question: is it better for a language to have a lot of learners, or is it better that it's seen as a profitable career choice by the natives?

It's not an easy question to answer....