This is a ridiculously mundane post, but I have to do something to stay sane while I work on this literature review. I’m doing a research paper on patterns in Ethnolinguistic Vitality and Language Maintenance in native linguistic minorities in the UK. In normal, I-have-a-life words, I’m basically trying to figure out why Welsh is getting more popular and Gaelic is declining. The major factors of an enduring language seem to come from these four, for almost every researcher:
- Prestige of Language
Use at respected institutions, perceived legitimacy, use by “cool” people, taught in schools or not.
Landweer, UNESCO, Karan
- Relationship between language minority and majority
Government policy, tension or lack of tension between the two groups, etc.
UNESCO, Karan, Ehala, Landweer
- Ability to use language for economic reasons
presence or absence of the language in the public and business sectors, continuity or discontinuity of the majority language economy with the minority language economy.
UNESCO, Landweer, Karan, Ehala.
- Significance of Language to minority
How important it is to them that the language continue on, any sentimental or nationalistic meaning for the language, whether the language makes a statement about specifically not belonging to the majority.
UNESCO, Landweer, Karan, Ehala.
Is this Scottish or Irish Gaelic? I’m fluent in Scottish Gaelic. My own feeling is that one of the ultimate reasons behind the different fortunes is that the Welsh language is seen by most Welsh people to be intimately connected to their country and culture but Scottish Gaelic is seen by the vast majority of Scots as being something ‘teuchtars’ (scottish ‘hicks’, means thicko) speak on those windswept, alcoholic, bible-bashing islands at the edge of nowhere.
In Wales, every schoolchild is at least exposed to Welsh - most Scottish people will go their lives without hearing a word of Gaelic. This can be seen as a symptom of the differing fortunes, but it can also be viewed as a cause. There was a resurgence in both Welsh and Scottish nationalism in the 19th and early 20th century. The Welsh embraced Welsh as a defining marker of Welshness and the thing they would be fighting for - they weren’t too bothered about political independence. The Scottish national parties were founded by Lowlanders who had never met a Gaelic speaker in their lives and who were focussed on getting home rule. If there was a lingusitic element at all, it was of the Hugh MacDiarmid variety - trying to craft the various Anglo-Saxon idioms, already in decline, into a Synthetic National Scots. They were basically arrayed against Gaelic - which to these Protestant lowlands represented Irishness and the Pope.
So the national movement in Wales was united by Welsh and faught for it. The national movement in Scotland ignored Gaelic, because, well it was never really a language of all of Scotland anyway, and focussed on fighting for home rule. It was left to the Gaels themselves to preserve Gaelic, and being the poorest, most downtrodden, inhabitants of Scotland, is it any wonder they were willing to abandon their language in order to move to the lowlands where the streets were paved with gold, and they could look forward to a better English-speaking future.