Almost imperceptible witticisms

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Week 4:Nobody can ride your back if your back's not bent
Whiners. Malcontents. Brain-dead. Hillbillies. Hypocrites. Stuck in the past. Bitter. Stupid. Ridiculous. Nonsensical. Squabblers. Daft. Insular. Paranoid. Petty. Foolish. Complainers. Grumpy buggers. Irrelevant.

I've heard all these words used to describe my people in the past few months. In public places. In comments on local, provincial, national news stories.

Colonization is an insidious process. Outright insults and assumptions of inferiority creep inside your head until you yourself believe that your culture is inferior.

My people are not the Scots, not the Highlanders, not the Celts. We are the Gaels.

It began... well, how it began is for historians to guess at. In 1380 John of Fordun wrote: "The highlanders and people of the islands, on the other hand, are a savage and untamed nation, rude and independent, given to rapine, ease-loving, clever and quick to learn, comely in person, but unsightly in dress, hostile to the English people and language, and, owing to the diversity of speech, even to their own nation, and exceedingly cruel." In 1586 William Camden described my people as wild and barbarous (or possibly vampires): "They drank the bloud out of wounds of the slain: they establish themselves, by drinking one anothers bloud..." In 1609 the government required my people to send their eldest children to far away English-speaking schools, if they were to inherit their fathers' cattle. This was to combat "ignorance and incivilitie". There have been government dictates preventing my people from offering hospitality in their homes, from sheltering our musicians and poets, from wearing our own clothing, from carrying weapons and from speaking our language in schools. There have been government-sponsored efforts to plant English-speaking colonists on our lands.

These things undermine confidence.

In 1884 the Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland found that "The language and lore of the Highlanders being treated with despite has tended to crush their self-respect and repress their self-reliance without which no people can advance. When a man was convinced that his language was a barbarism, his lore as filthy rags, and that the only good thing about him -his land- was, because of his general worthlessness, to go to a man of another race and another tongue, what remained that he fight for?"

And eventually our chiefs became "civilised", and they forgot that the people belong to the land, and we were spun away to colonize other lands. To remake ourselves in the image of our oppressors.

A hundred years ago there were 50,000 Gaelic speakers in my province alone. Now there's scarcely more than 50,000 in the whole world.

If you can teach the people that English is superior, eventually they'll clamour to learn it. To leave behind the stupid insular brain-dead hillbillies.

See how it works?

It began again last October, when the board of our tiny Gaelic educational institution announced that it has received a Royal designation from the Queen.

I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. The Crown and honour don't go together, for us. There is no honour in becoming the English. Being English is all very well for the English, but I've had to struggle to learn my own language. What does the Crown care about that? I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Letters to the editor were sent, petitions were circulated, meetings were called. The people made it clear that they opposed this renaming.

The name change was quietly dropped.

My people fought. Our language is beautiful, our lore is rich and deep.

The only irony is that I am writing this in English.

'S e cànan mo chridhe a tha seo, cànan cho binn ri smeòrach a'seinn air barr nan geug.
(This here is the language of my heart, a language as melodious as a thrush singing on the tip of a branch.)

The only irony is that I am writing this in English.

I didn't even make this connection until you pointed it out.

This is fantastic.

Thank you. As it happens this is one of the central disconnects of my life! I love writing and playing with language, but I can really only do it in English. But I keep learning and trying in Gaelic (since I'm sure I had 10 years of bad, cheesy writing in English, so if my early efforts in Gaelic aren't good, surely they'll improve with practice.)

I wish I could understand Gaelic.

It's possible to learn! If you ever have the time:)

Oh! the anguish...loved the last line...problem with a minority world over i say..*Hugs*

It really is a near-universal story.

Hold onto your language. It is so very important. I worry about the language and culture of our indigenous peoples... there is so much abuse and disempowerment in the last few hundred years.

Great post <3

I've been reading about cultural trauma lately (and a lot of the work in that field comes out of Native communities, they've been through a lot of terrible things) and reconnecting to culture is hugely important for healing.

The only irony is that I am writing this in English.

This line really was like a punch in the gut and it brought everything together.

Thank you (tapadh leat!)

This was fantastic! Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us!

Very sad, lovely piece.

Powerful. I have a deep and abiding love for your people (and mine, many generations ago), and really admire your important efforts in preserving your language.

It is also my considered opinion that the way English sounds in your part of the world elevates it. :)

Gaelic looks like a lovely language, and it is sad that it is falling by the wayside.

Since I doubt it is pronounced the way it is spelled, would it be possible to get a phonetic sort of translation too?

This is a great suggestion, thanks! I would really like to be able to embed audio...

Oh queenie, dear Liz, what are you playing at? I'm so pleased to hear that you all fought back against the change, and I hope you, collectively, are able to continue to reclaim and spread your language. And I hope that us English speaking Brits acknowledge your right to do so.

Thank you. It was great to see people stand up and say no. I'm always curious about the way English people, in the media at least, seem to disparage their own folk culture. I don't think I've ever heard anything nice said about Morris dancing, you know?

Gaelic looks like a beautiful language. I'm glad the proposal was withdrawn.

Sadly, much the same thing was done here in North America to our native inhabitants. What disease and colonization didn't achieve in the first wave, was continued later by theft and relocation.

Thanks for telling your story this week.


A familiar, perhaps universal, story. Nicely done.

Pretty much every group has been through something like this, yes? The things that tear us apart bind us together, if we knew it.

I only know how to say one thing in Gaelic, and it isn't very pretty. :P But I find the language lovely to listen to, even if I can't understand it. I hope people continue to fight for it.

Ha, is it pòg mo thon?

Thank you for this piece. The same sort of thing happened (is happening) to the native people in the Americas, and our history barely bothers to mention it. Suffice to say we don't learn much about it happening in other countries, either. I am glad that there are still people fighting to keep your language alive.

I see why people didn't quite get this, but I'm Canadian. I hate that my people are in many ways complicit in doing the same, and worse, to the First Nations people here.

This is fascinating and informative - thank you so much for sharing it.

My ancestors hail from Wales, which has a very similar history. Once of the 'recent' changes was the decision in many places to teach school in Welsh, with English as a second language (because bilingualism comes so easily to children). It surprises me to see people in their 30s for whom Welsh is their first language, but it's a sign that the method is working. Has Scotland adopted something similar?

Wales is, as far as I know, the most successful of the Celtic countries in creating and retaining speakers. Good on them! There are a lot of similarities in the history, even down to the use of shaming objects as punishments for speaking the language in schools. In Scotland there are immersion schools, but I believe they are mainly in areas that are already Gaelic speaking. It's good that kids get that but I don't know if they're creating many new speakers.

If you'd written the whole thing in Gaelic, most people wouldn't have comprehended it.
Love what you did with the topic.
My linguistically talented daughter would love it even more

True! It's just that I can't write anything this complex in Gaelic.

I have a friend who is currently learning your language. Great piece!

Thanks! Good on your friend, too!

My roots are in Scotland, but all I have to show for it is my red hair and ruddy complexion. Thank you for sharing this.

I grew up near an Indian Reservation in the United States, and this is something I'm extremely mindful of. In my opinion, the worst part of the colonization and all its related sins is that the descendents of the colonizers don't even seem to realize that the native people are actually people, and that they're still alive. This is how "tradition" makes it okay for the football team of the capital of our country can call itself the nastiest racial slur against Native Americans, or Atlanta's baseball mascot is a caricature that looks like something out of one of those offensive Bugs Bunny cartoons from the 1940s.

As for Scotland--when Braveheart, The Highlander, and a whole bunch of romance novels featuring chiseled abs and kilts are what you have, it's no wonder the Gaels are thought of as fantasy creations too.

I may not know much about Gaelic culture, but I do understand where you're coming from.
The erosion of culture follows colonization no matter when and where it happens. It's shocking and astounding how much is lost just because one culture is too self satisfied, too convinced of it's own superiority and the faith that they have the "civil" culture, while anything different is "savage" and "uncivilised."
It's a crying shame.
Your statement about language rings true just as kuch from where I come from. In India, children are encouraged to learn English before Hindi, or even their own mother tongue. Hell, the national language is taught as a second alternative!
Your piece conveys the pain and anger at the loss very effectively. It's beautifully written.
Well done.

Great last line. Seems very similar to Native-American Indian hardships in many ways. AW

Sometimes, I try to find an answer for why humankind must always identify groups of someones who are different and inferior. Most of the time, I don't try too hard to find that answer. Thanks for this lesson in history and culture. I always love how you write and what you share.

I spent my Education Abroad year in Wales the year I turned 21, and learned about the history between the Welsh and the English...

Your piece here is brilliant: passionate and convincing and detailed and yes.

Very well-said. The english speakers of the world tend to view english as somehow superior to all other languages. It's sad, as language is such a rich part of culture. Take away the language, and you strip a huge piece of someone's culture away.


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