|GAELIC AS A SYMBOL OF
All identities are processes
of construction, and “[l]ocal identity is not established from the mere
facts of proximity” (Keane 1997: 37). Historical contact between
native Gaelic speakers and anglophone monolinguals5 has provided the material
for construction of multiple interpretations of Gaelic as a component of
local identity. Such is the variation that local identity “cannot
be taken for granted as having a continuous, clearly bounded existence
and uniformly experienced tradition” (Nadel-Klein 1991: 501). Nonetheless,
one particular way in which Gaelic can be viewed as ‘local’ has taken precedence
in the ‘local’ as well as the national imagination. I will give a
specific ethnographic example of this view and briefly discuss coexisting
alternative views of Gaelic as local, emphasizing the class-related aspects
of conflicting ideologies of Gaelic as local.
In communities where a majority
of residents are Gaelic speakers, many Gaelic speakers have come to believe
that Gaelic stands for a local identity by representing and creating cultural
and emotional solidarity, but that Gaelic also lacks the prestige and economic
power associated with English (see Brown and Gilman 1960, cited in Woolard
1989: 89–95). Many inhabitants of local Gaelic-speaking communities
see Gaelic as a component of a marginalized, relatively powerless local
identity. This view has been documented by sociolinguists, sociologists,
and anthropologists (e.g., Dorian 1981a; Ennew 1980; MacKinnon
1977; Mewett 1982; Prattis 1990), usually in the context of
their concern with the ‘death’ of minority languages and cultures.
The idea of Highland communities as marginalized ‘local’ communities, and
the idea of Gaelic as a component of such an identity, have been constituted
out of a homogenizing, hegemonizing nationalist ideology and political
Gaelic symbolizes local
identity most particularly in communities where the language is still spoken
in daily life by a majority of the population. In the case discussed
here, ‘local identity’ means a feeling of attachment to a specific (rural)
geographical location as well as to a kinship group residing in that location
and “a set of cultural practices that are self-consciously articulated
and to some degree separated and directed away from the surrounding social
world” (Nadel-Klein 1991: 502). Just as physical proximity in itself
does not constitute a local identity, neither does Gaelic usage alone.
Many other cultural practices indicate and comprise local identity in Gaelic-speaking
communities, including religious and agricultural practices and “distinctive
customs of social life” (MacKinnon 1977: 58). Many of the aspects
of distinctiveness nonetheless involve the use of Gaelic; these include
the kinship system, expressed in Gaelic patronymics (Mewett 1982, Ennew
1980); distinctive religious practices, such as the reading of the
scriptures and the singing of the psalms in Gaelic; and traditional
Gaelic place-names (Jedrej and Nuttall 1996: 121–127), all of which contribute
to the construction and consciousness of a local identity.
The awareness of a different
surrounding social world as the context of the local community delineates
the idea of the local both for ‘locals’ and non-locals (Nadel-Klein 1991).
MacKinnon pointed out that the ‘locals’ in the Harris community he studied
could to some extent simultaneously participate in or move in and out of
different levels of identity, local, Highland, and national (MacKinnon
1977: 58). Nonetheless, the culture in which Gaelic use plays a daily
part has been encompassed by homogenizing Scottish mainland and British
mainstream culture. The process of encompassment has actually created
Gaelic culture as ‘local’, that is, as marginalized: at one time
Gaelic was a state language and a medium for both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture
(Thomson 1990a), but as the Highlands became assimilated into Scotland
and Scotland into the Union, Gaelic became primarily “associated with an
unsophisticated, non-learned folk culture” (Watson 1989: 49) in the eyes
of most Scots.
Gaelic has come to indicate
and constitute a marginalized local identity in the twentieth century primarily
as a collection of non-written local dialects in daily use in selected
domains.6 Inhabitants of Gaelic-speaking areas utilize for the most
part three main kinds of Gaelic in separate religious, media, and domestic
domains, as described by Ennew for the Western Isles: “[t]he formal
archaic Gaelic of the Churches has a specific sung form of psalmody.
Broadcast Gaelic provides a form of received pronunciation. But there
is a wide variety of Gaelic dialects spoken in home and village life in
rural areas” (Ennew 1980: 107). A variety of Gaelic akin to ‘broadcast
Gaelic’ is the Gaelic used in the bilingual classrooms, a standardized,
written form of Gaelic that Dorian terms “textbook Gaelic” (Dorian 1981a:
90–94). This Gaelic is different from everyday spoken Gaelic used
in local communities. Gaelic as a language of local identities is
rarely written and is restricted to a number of domains including the church
and the home. Gaelic speakers attach affective meaning to the daily
use of Gaelic in these domains, but generally as an oral dialect (Ennew
People conceive of Gaelic
as a component of a marginalized local identity differently according to
specific histories and geographies.7 I will discuss one example of
local identity in a predominantly Gaelic-speaking community located on
the Isle of Lewis, the island with the largest Gaelic-speaking population
of the Hebrides (Prattis 1990: 26). Peter Mewett’s ethnographic study
of a Gaelic-speaking Lewis community was based on fieldwork conducted in
1974–75 in a collection of three crofting townships8 to which he gave the
pseudonym Clachan (‘village’) (Mewett 1982). Mewett demonstrated
that his informants inhabiting the Lewis crofting villages had internalized
the hegemonic British mainland view of themselves as a peripheral people
with a negatively-valued rural way of life. In his study Mewett differentiated
between the “mainstream culture” of mainland Britain and the “esoteric
culture” of Lewis, a culture “which relates only to the local milieu that
shares a specifically local social knowledge” (Mewett 1982: 222).
He outlined the mainland-generated hegemonic dichotomy drawn between mainstream
and esoteric, in which the urban mainstream was opposed to the rural esoteric
culture with the rural pole negatively valued. According to Mewett,
the Clachan villagers participated in the mainstream-led negative evaluation
of their own culture by accepting the dichotomy and the place assigned
to them in it. Lewis natives also demonstrated their acceptance of
this viewpoint in their continued out-migration in large numbers.
The out-migration in turn helped to maintain their negative evaluation
of Lewis, because Lewis natives continued to feel that they had to leave
the island in order to succeed in life (Mewett 1982: 224).
The phenomenon of out-migration
demonstrates that the dichotomies of power/solidarity, center/periphery,
and national/local have dictated the position of Gaelic relative to English
not only in the social realm but also in the political economy of Gaelic-based
local identity. The idea of ‘the local’ in modern Britain, as elsewhere,
is at least in part “a product of modern political economy” (Nadel-Klein
1991: 501, emphasis in original).
Localism has…become a virtual
synonym for ‘marginality’. I argue that historically, the global
division of labor has alternately produced and then marginalized localism
as an integral part of the development process and the cultural construction
of class (Nadel-Klein 1991: 501–502).
The modern ideological and
political economic circumstances of the creation of the idea of the local
have also affected Gaelic-speaking areas:
Even the ideas of ‘community’
and ‘locals’ seem to be identities invoked by recent ideologies and contingencies
(it is notable that there are no regularly-used Gaelic terms for these
categories); and these are identities which social anthropology has
played a part in formulating (Macdonald 1987: 348).
These “recent ideologies
and contingencies” are the ideology of nationalism and its political economic
contingencies of homogenization and peripheralization.
The negative view
of island life for Clachanites extended to views of Gaelic, since Gaelic
was a prominent component of the “esoteric” local identity of Clachan.
Mewett’s Lewis informants associated Gaelic solely with insular, private
island life, while they associated English with the mainland hegemony,
public life, and economic success:
The situations in which
[Gaelic is still spoken in Clachan]… are those which relate wholly to the
affairs of the home and of the village. Gaelic, therefore, has become
an esoteric language in specifically ‘local’ matters and irrelevant to
the relations Clachan people have with the outside world. This fact
reinforces their self-view that Gaelic is associated with inferior economic
and social standing in the wider society: a view supported by the
values promoted by mainstream culture (Mewett 1982: 227).
As Mewett’s account demonstrates,
this local view is created in the context of Clachan residents’ daily engagement
with mainstream (i.e., national) ideas about Gaelic and its speakers.
Mainstream ideas about Gaelic are conveyed not only through the national
media, but also in Gaelic speakers’ daily encounters with English monolinguals,
including representatives of the state.
Gaelic is now restricted
to domestic and village situations. When crofters enter the world
of officialdom they use, and expect to use, English. An officer of
the Department of Agriculture used Gaelic in some official dealings with
a crofter in Clachan. The crofter subsequently said that he thought
this improper and that it had made him feel uncomfortable. By using
Gaelic the official had implied that the crofter was a rustic, unversed
and incompetent in the ways of the English-speaking wider society (Mewett
Gaelic speakers form their
awareness of the distinctiveness of Gaelic and related cultural practices
out of their encounters with anglophone monolinguals (see note 5) in a
number of arenas, including encounters with representatives of the state,
with the media, and with settlers in the Gaelic-speaking communities (Dorian
1981b; Jedrej and Nuttall 1996). These encounters, mediated
through English, instantiate anglophone economic dominance, state power,
and cultural hegemony. Gaelic use is thus made to stand for local
identity in ways that express a local awareness of the differential status
of Gaelic and English in the context of the Scottish nation and British
To imbue Gaelic with significance
as a marker of local and domestic solidarity has also meant to accept the
hegemonic placement of Gaelic into a dichotomous symbolic relationship
with English in a local context. In this dichotomy, Gaelic holds
positive value as the language of local ‘solidarity’, but since the island
way of life with which it is associated in Clachan is negatively valued
in hegemonic discourse, the acceptance of Gaelic as a purely island (i.e.,
local) language also carries a negative self-evaluation when the language
is used. English, on the other hand, is the language of the state
government, of education, of business; in short, the language of
economic and state power (Brown and Gilman 1960, cited in Woolard 1989:
Some Clachan parents expressed
this negative evaluation of Gaelic in their refusal to teach Gaelic to
their children. In Clachan, parents often took the “deliberate policy”
of not teaching their children Gaelic (Mewett 1982: 226). Village
children in Clachan increasingly used English rather than Gaelic in the
playground as well as in the classroom, where English was the language
of instruction. Some parents also hindered or prevented the implementation
of new policies promoting Gaelic in primary education. One particular
idea implemented by a local schoolmaster for teaching Gaelic “was not very
popular, and one parent even rebuked the teacher” (Mewett 1982: 227).
Mewett briefly observed the class-based aspects of the clash in opinion
over Gaelic education.
Mewett interpreted the clash
of ideas about Gaelic in Clachan in terms of occupationally-defined social
Perhaps this merely underlines
the point that the present Gaelic ‘revival’ is mainly a phenomenon of middle-class
and professional people. Others, including the working-class crofter,
see Gaelic as a stigma that should not be passed on to future generations
(Mewett 1982: 227).
Mewett pointed out here
that social class was a factor in the conflicting approaches to Gaelic.
He saw crofters in Clachan and elsewhere (whom he categorized as “working
class”) as pitted against “middle-class and professional people” resident
on the island. The latter obviously held the power to implement changes
in the local educational system, even though they were probably in a demographic
minority in Clachan according to MacKinnon’s analysis of 1981 census figures
(MacKinnon 1996: 245). Nonetheless, some villagers resisted the implementation
of bilingual education, asserting their own view of Gaelic’s role in constructing
Such conflicts arise in
part out of the Gaelic-speaking population’s heterogeneity. This
heterogeneous population’s geographical and economic contours reveal that
there is a disjuncture between public perceptions of the ‘Gaelic community’
and the socioeconomic situation obtaining in contemporary Scotland.
Gaelic speakers living in predominantly Gaelic-speaking communities in
the Highlands have long been regarded as defining a local Gaelic identity,
but the number of Gaelic speakers living in such communities has been declining
for at least the past century as measured by the census. Census figures
indicate that as of 1981, only slightly more than one-third of Gaelic speakers
still lived in areas with concentrations of at least 50 percent Gaelic-speaking
inhabitants. In the future, even more Gaelic speakers are expected
to be found residing outside predominantly Gaelic-speaking areas (Johnstone
1994: 40; MacKinnon 1993: 494).9 Not surprisingly, it is these
Gaelic speakers who have emerged over the course of the past century as
influential in the revitalization of the Gaelic language, as will be discussed
in the following section.
GAELIC AS A SYMBOL OF
SCOTTISH NATIONAL IDENTITY
Since the Romantic era Gaelic
has held a contradictory position in contemporary Scotland “as both spiritual
substance of the nation and struggling minority language” (Chapman 1978:
13). The contradictory elements are two sides of the same coin;
the position of Gaelic as a signifier of national identity and the precarious
state of its speech communities both stem from the unequal power relationship
between inhabitants of the Highlands and the Lowlands created within a
Scottish national framework. Gaelic has not always been considered
a symbol of the Scottish nation; from the middle ages to the Romantic
era Lowland governors and “improvers” considered it antithetical to Scottish
political and cultural unity (Durkacz 1983; Withers 1984).
It is only since the late eighteenth century, with the dismantling and
disintegration of Gaelic hegemony and the ascendancy of English in Scotland,
that Gaelic has come to be seen as a national symbol.
Gaelic is by no means guaranteed
to become a universally-accepted component of Scottish national identity.
Although sentiment toward Gaelic in Scotland can range on a continuum from
passionately supportive to hostile (Thomson 1994: 91), the climate is generally
indifferent (MacKinnon 1981: 51). Many believe that if they wish
to ensure the continued existence of Gaelic, they must convince Scots that
Gaelic is a national language (e.g., MacKinnon 1974: 117). Language
revitalization is therefore built into the Gaelic nationalist project.
A number of features characterize the nationalist project of Gaelic revitalization.
First, in order to revitalize Gaelic and reach the largest possible number
of people, Gaelic has been inserted into the framework of a national history,
a history whose ultimate purpose is to create a charter and coherent narrative
framework for a national identity. Second, Gaelic has remained
a de-politicized ‘cultural’ symbol, which allows for broader (but generally
weak and ineffective) support of the language by Scots in general.
Third, the language has been objectified and standardized (in the manner
of all national languages) in order to appeal to the people who will supposedly
‘save’ it from extinction. These are features of the ideological
project of promoting Gaelic as national, and as such they are goals in
an attempt to convince people in Scotland of the importance of Gaelic..
In order to justify and
promote its position as a national symbol of Scotland, proponents of Gaelic
have to establish its place in a Scottish national history. What
place, if any, Gaelic should have in Scottish history has been a matter
for contention and disagreement, however, and Macdonald observed as recently
as 1987 that “[o]n the whole … the idea that Gaelic was part of Scotland’s
heritage does not seem to have been widely received, and has had its only
recognition within the academic realm” (Macdonald 1987: 295). The
extent of Gaelic’s historical presence in Scotland has often been denied
or obscured in national histories (Thomson 1994: 89), and only relatively
recently have historians elaborated the historical trajectory of Gaelic
in Scotland. Professional historians tend to emphasize that although
the population of most of the area now known as Scotland was Gaelic-speaking
“at one time or another” (Thomson 1994: 89), there was no single point
in time when the whole of the area was entirely Gaelic-speaking (Nicolaisen
1994: 233; Thomson 1994: 89). Historians testify instead to
the linguistic plurality and complexity of the geographical area now known
as Scotland, defying an easy formulation of Gaelic as the “national language”
(e.g., Durkacz 1983, Withers 1984).
But national histories are
“retrospective mythologies” undergoing constant revision (Hobsbawm 1992:
3), and the making of history is not reserved for professional historians.
The relatively recent addition of Gaelic to popular Scottish history supports
a more ‘pro-Celtic’ (as opposed to ‘pro-Anglo’) view of Scotland’s national
history, and this pro-Celtic view of Scottish history has been popularized
since the 1960s and 1970s (Macdonald 1987: 295, but see also Campbell 1950).
Up to the present, with increasing ubiquity, proponents of Gaelic have
promoted the national dimension of the language (Macdonald 1997: 56).
With the foregrounding of Gaelic, popular Scottish national history has
been once again simplified and distorted (Smout 1994: 108), this time in
the construction of Gaelic as a symbol of national identity. In popular
nationally-oriented accounts of the history of Gaelic, the early spread
of Gaelic through Scotland by conquest and colonialism (Thomson 1994: 89)
is downplayed; instead, the eleventh century AD, when “Gaelic … came
to be the language of social dominance throughout Northern Britain” (MacKinnon
1991: 22), becomes a historical high point (e.g., MacKinnon 1974).
Scottish nationalist versions of history more generally tend to downplay
the principal role that Scots themselves (both Lowlanders and Highlanders)
played in the demise of the Scottish state and the decline of Gaelic;
instead both processes are linked together and attributed to active English
oppression and suppression of Gaelic. This convenient popular fiction
“gives to the high esteem in which Gaelic is now held a place in a newly
coherent and continuous Scottish history, uninterrupted and untroubled
except by outside influence” (Chapman 1978: 12–13).
and nationalism have always been closely intertwined, for if a language
essentially symbolizes the nation in nationalist ideology, the death of
the language would mean the symbolic death of the nation. But the
nationalist sentiment linked with Gaelic is not a ‘political’ nationalism
but a ‘cultural’ nationalism, which can help Gaelic appeal to as large
an audience as possible in order to ‘save’ it. Gaelic in Scotland
is not as politicized as other European minority languages (Macdonald 1997:
60). Gaelic has no party political label or profile (Torcuil Crichton,
personal communication); in the late twentieth century Gaelic has
not been closely associated with the Scottish Nationalist Party or any
other political party in Scotland in terms of policies or party membership
(Kellas 1994: 238–239; MacKinnon 1994: 115).10 Because Gaelic
has never been successfully or continuously linked to party politics, it
has the potential to hold much wider appeal and to serve as an ideal mobilizer
of general national sentiment (e.g., Hobsbawm 1994: 176–177).
Since the late-eighteenth-century
publication of Ossian, Gaelic has indeed been associated for the most part
with a ‘cultural’ rather than a ‘political’ nationalism (Macdonald 1997:
53; Tom Nairn  quoted in Cohen 1996: 104). Although a
specifically Scottish ‘cultural’ nationalism was already in place by the
nineteenth century, a Scottish ‘political’ nationalist movement with national
independence as its goal was relatively late in developing (Nairn 1977).
Moreover, the Scottish nationalist movement of the 1970s concerned itself
with ‘political interests’, but never co-opted Gaelic as one of these.
One analyst, originally writing in 1981, stated that “Scottish nationalism
is based on political and economic demands rather than on cultural or linguistic
ones” (Kellas 1994: 239). Thus the potential effectiveness of Gaelic
as a popular national symbol (as well as the greater public’s indifference
toward it as a national issue) continues to be based on its predication
as a cultural issue rather than a political one, and therefore on the very
assumption of political economic and cultural-linguistic realms as separate
and mutually exclusive.11
Proponents of language revitalization
expect Gaelic to play a particular role in the creation and maintenance
of a Scottish national identity, and their expectations dictate how they
conceptualize, shape, and utilize Gaelic. Those who consider Gaelic
a significant feature of a Scottish national identity usually objectify
Gaelic and construe its role in communication and social cohesion not as
referential but only as emblematic. In other words, the concept of
Gaelic, rather than daily use of the language, is what some nationalist
proponents of Gaelic believe is necessary for the maintenance of Scotland’s
uniqueness: “I believe Gaelic – as an idea – has a central, not a
peripheral role to play in the process [of endowing Scottish history with
coherence]” (Moffat 1995: 16, emphasis in original).
Learners of Gaelic constitute
one set of people for whom Gaelic is often an aspect of professed national
identity. As a result of some learners’ expectations that Gaelic
will play a primarily emblematic role in Scottish national identity (among
other important factors), fluent speaking ability is desirable but ultimately
optional (and rarely achieved) for learners. In fact, people see
widely varying levels of ability and commitment to Gaelic as necessary
in order to symbolize their national identity. The levels may range
from positive expressions (in English) of support for the language (MacKinnon
1981: 54); to the knowledge of a few phrases (Moffat 1995: 23);
to undertaking the study of the language in good faith (politician Billy
Wolfe, then-chairman of the Scottish Nationalist Party, stated in 1973:
“…I want to learn Gaelic. I see that as a symbolic assertion of my
being Scottish” (Wolfe 1973: 161); to achieving fluency.
The people who promote Gaelic
in a national dimension most visibly at present are a relatively homogeneous
group of native speakers who may be termed ‘intellectual elites’.
Several generations of poet-scholars fit into this category, but television
production professionals are currently among the most prominent members.
Cormack notes the “compactness of the Gaelic intellectual community,” a
homogeneity and “closeness” that “has led to accusations that there is
a ‘Gaelic mafia’ operating to the exclusion of outsiders” (Cormack 1994:
116), even though these educated professionals are not formally organized.
Many of the Gaels involved
in television share the same educational background – school education
at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, Portree High School or Oban High
School, and university education at Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen Universities.
… In fact, [the closeness] …is the inevitable result of the networking
which takes place within any special-interest group, but which in this
case is perceived as being more impenetrable to outsiders because the group
is defined by language ability and by attitude to that language (Cormack
Such professionals, although
they are not the only people promoting Gaelic as national, have been responsible
for the explicitly national focus on Gaelic promotion in new Gaelic television
programming of the past four years (Cormack 1994: 119).
Owing to government support,
television programming is one of the major areas of contemporary Gaelic
revitalization activities. The Broadcasting Act 1990 set up a Gaelic
Television Fund, administered by the new Gaelic Television Committee (CTG).
From January 1993 onward the CTG started to receive approximately £9.5
million annually to distribute for the production of Gaelic television
programs. This funding has led to a great increase in the number
and quality of Gaelic programs produced and broadcast in Scotland.
Much of the programming, produced by members of the ‘Gaelic elite’ just
described, has had a specific agenda:
[The new Gaelic television
programmes] represent the attempt by a relatively small and cohesive group
of Gaelic language activists to do two things: to alter the Gaelic
community’s self-perception, and to alter the broader Scottish public’s
view of Gaelic. To put it another way, they are attempting to reconstruct
the collective identity of the Gaelic community and, at the same time,
alter the position of the language within popular definitions of Scottish
identity (Cormack 1994: 129).
The director of the CTG
himself acknowledged this “attempt to make Gaelic central to Scottish identity”
(Cormack 1994: 119). But the attempt has not been well received in
all quarters. The Scottish tabloid press (associated with the working
class) displayed negative reactions to much of the new Gaelic programming.
Cormack advised reading these reactions “as a refusal to accept this broader
redefinition of Scottish identity, rather than any kind of reasoned reaction
to the programmes themselves” (Cormack 1994: 129). This refusal to
accept the elite construction of Gaelic as specifically Scottish demonstrates
another possible class-based disjuncture in views of the role of Gaelic
in social identity, similar to the disjuncture postulated by Mewett in
Clachan (Mewett 1982).
Contemporary Gaelic television
programming illustrates the ways in which cultural elites can imagine the
national community through Gaelic and disseminate their ideas to a national
audience. It also illustrates the class dimensions of ideological
conflicts over the issue of Gaelic as a component of national identity.
Another example of conflict over how Gaelic television should create and
reinforce a Scottish national identity involves Alistair Moffat, Chief
Executive of Scottish Television Enterprises, the network production subsidiary
of Scottish Television (one of the three major Scottish broadcasting companies
in Scotland). Moffat is not a native speaker of Gaelic, but his enthusiasm
for Gaelic led him to study it and to promote it as a significant feature
of Scottish national identity in Scottish Television’s broadcasting output.
Moffat worked discursively in a manner typical of nationalist promoters
of Gaelic to link language and nation through an affective appeal to personal
subjectivity. He placed Gaelic into a Scottish historical context
as a cultural symbol; he outlined an appeal to revive Gaelic through
television programming; and he objectified the language and promoted
not its referential aspects but its emblematic capacity to stand for Scottish
In 1995, Moffat was invited
to give a lecture on the future development of Gaelic television at Sabhal
Mòr Ostaig (the Gaelic college founded in the mid-1970s on the Isle of
Skye) (Moffat 1995).12 In his lecture, titled “Dreams and Deconstructions,”
Moffat spoke about the need for a unified focus in Gaelic television planning
and production and outlined his “language rescue plan” to be implemented
through marketing and Gaelic television programming. His goals, approaches,
and methods clearly establish that he is a proponent of Gaelic as a cornerstone
of national identity.
Moffat stated that Gaelic
could provide a greater historical coherence for Scottish national identity:
…[B]efore I…[offer a strategy
for Gaelic revival]…I want to assess the state of Gaelic – not as a statistician,
because I’m not one. But as a Scot interested in the identity of
his country, anxious that possibly two or three years away from the first
parliament in Edinburgh for three hundred years, we don’t have a coherent,
serial identity as a nation. Our sense of ourselves should move forward
in a line. Instead it lies about us as the pieces of an unmade jigsaw.
Gaelic is an important piece [of the puzzle]. It’s important because
Scotland is a vissiparous, bad tempered little country sorely in need of
all of its own history. We need it as a bonding agent and a glass
through which we can see a shared past, 2,000 years of shared experience
in one place, and a glass through which we can refract our common future
(Moffat 1995: 19).
In his affective appeal
for “a deeper, more widespread feeling of national unity,” Moffat invoked
the “coextensive history” of Gaelic in Scotland that, in an ideal case
of linguistic nationalism, “the language then expresses, transmits, and
symbolizes” (Smith 1981: 44). Moffat reminded his audience that Gaelic
was spoken all over medieval Scotland by monarchs and numerous other historical
personages, and that Gaelic had played an illustrious role in battles and
other historical events (“How many Gaels know that the war-cry of the medieval
Scottish host was Albannaich?”) (Moffat 1995: 22–24).
In his speech Moffat acknowledged
that the face Scotland presents to the outside world is a Highland face:
“Gaels were frisked for all the portable bits of Highland culture, and
it was promptly hi-jacked by the rest of us – whisky, tartan, music and
much else.” He felt that what was still lacking was the co-optation
of the Highland language, Gaelic: “At posh do’s most Scots look like
Gaels, the problem is to persuade them to sound like Gaels” (Moffat 1995:
21). To persuade Scots to sound like Gaels would be to ideologically
naturalize Gaelic as a national language, and Moffat’s plan was directed
toward this end. The link that Moffat drew between Gaelic and ‘poshness’
(i.e., the essence of high social class and ‘high culture’) indicates the
class-based aspects of his project, and, more generally, of the relationship
between Gaelic and the nation posited in nationalist ideologies of language.
The political economic aspect
of the relationship was further elaborated in Moffat’s comments about the
real, imagined, and desired relationships between social class and speaking
Gaelic. First, he pointed out that those Scots who are most likely
to learn Gaelic are the urban educated middle-class inhabitants of the
mainland of Scotland:
…if the service [of the
Gaelic Television Committee] is to be part of a language rescue plan, then
that means programmes to stimulate learners and re-learners. That
in turn means catching the interest of these people. Most potential
learners live in cities, are likely to be in upper income groups and have
had some form of higher education and probably own their own house.
Now if these were a stated target group, then producers will [sic] target
their programme development at that group. They will probably prefer,
for example, documentaries to game shows, drama to variety or music programmes
and so on (Moffat 1995: 19, original emphasis).
Moffat’s observation about
the socioeconomic standing of potential Gaelic learners corroborates with
that of Mewett described previously. Moffat accepted the stratification
of culture into ‘high’ and ‘low’, assuming that middle-class learners would
want shows like documentaries and dramas. Moffat implicitly contrasted
these preferences to the game shows and variety and music shows that he
probably viewed as working-class preferences (and that he probably associated
with the rural native Gaelic-speaking “working-class crofters” described
by Mewett [cf. Mewett 1982: 227]).
Moffat’s plan for Gaelic
revitalization was apparently not informed by an awareness of either rural-
or urban-dwelling native speakers’ sentiments about Gaelic, as he himself
unknowingly indicated. He complained about a fluent native-speaker
‘snobbery’ that existed “[f]or entirely understandable historical reasons
to do with cultural confidence” (Moffat 1995: 20). With that one
phrase Moffat dismissed the effects of years of extirpation of Gaelic and
cultural and economic subjugation of its speakers throughout Scotland.
It did not occur to him that the snobbery he read into their behavior could
also be read as defensiveness. In Moffat’s opinion, in order for
revitalization to succeed, Gaelic native speakers needed to “stop being
so proprietorial about Gaelic, and the rest of Scotland needs to be persuaded
that Gaelic is for all Scots” (Moffat 1995: 21). In this statement
Moffat was expressing distaste for the ‘Gaelic mafia’ mentioned previously,
whom he saw as exclusively controlling the output of Gaelic television.
Moffat wanted to bring the
predominantly middle-class learners of Gaelic into the space already principally
occupied by a native Gaelic-speaking elite, where they would become the
overwhelming majority. In his plan, the majority would soon co-opt
for the Scottish nation the cultural consumption practices of the native
Gaelic-speaking minority, and then the cultural production practices as
well (as Moffat noted, this had already been done with many other aspects
of Highland folk culture). At least some Gaelic professionals understood
the threat to their position as cultural elites inherent in Moffat’s approach,
even if he himself did not, for Moffat complained in his speech about the
vituperative criticism to which he had been subjected in the Gaelic press
(including having his “presence…likened to the stench of urine”) (Moffat
Moffat proposed to transform
Gaelic speakers into an overwhelmingly homogenized middle class (or rather,
transform a homogenized Scottish middle class into the majority of Gaelic
speakers). He would achieve the transformation in part by discursively
blurring the line between native speakers and learners, removing the boundary
of fluency that seemed to exclude most learners. “The first aim of
any language rescue plan and what should be a central element of the CTG’s
[Gaelic Television Committee’s] policy is the creation of a substantial
group of Gaelic learners. But let’s do it formally and declare that
every Scot who can say ‘slàinte mhath’13 is a Gaelic learner” (Moffat 1995:
Gaelic in 2000 shouldn’t
bother with the wearisome lexical precision of a so-called fluent Gaelic
speaker. Anyone who signs up in any way for a language learning course
should be defined into that group, not out of it or on the periphery.
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig should develop this group as a database and find the
money to mailshot them monthly, to involve, to bind them in (Moffat 1995:
The group of learners would
be created by discursive manipulation of the definition of a speaker.
Census statistics, a purportedly objective measurement of the strength
of Gaelic in Scotland (see note 2), would then indicate increased numbers
of Gaelic speakers:
…I believe that we should
declare every Scot (including the so-called native speakers) a Gaelic learner
and aim to create 100,000 speakers of the language by 2000 AD (Moffat
In Moffat’s plan, the economic
power and cultural hegemony of the middle classes would carry the movement
after native speakers were stripped of their special status. More
and more people would feel compelled to join the statistical bandwagon
of purported learners, and to collectively imagine into existence a nationwide
community of Gaelic speakers. Thus the ideological basis for the
Gaelic-speaking Scottish nation would be disseminated ‘top-down’ in true
Moffat’s own social position
in Scotland supports the observation that elites are the most enthusiastic
proponents of ethnic revivals (Smith 1981). Moffat, as well as being
a self-proclaimed ‘patriotic Scotsman’, is member of a cultural and socioeconomic
elite – he is a television executive and author of several books who has
had the advantage of higher education and is himself in an ‘upper income
group’. He grew up in the English- and Scots-speaking Borders Region,
probably without the particular economic and educational barriers to success
faced by many native Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands
Moffat’s views are of course
individual, and even among individuals who promote Gaelic as the essence
of ‘Scottishness’, the level of commitment, availability of resources,
and social, political and economic power vary widely. But Moffat’s
position in Scottish public life ensured that his views would reach a wider
audience in Scotland. As a television executive, at the time of the
lecture Moffat wielded considerable influence over the direction that Gaelic
television programming would take in Scotland. As a minor example,
he proudly claimed responsibility for the ‘our’ in the title of the popular
Gaelic lesson show Speaking Our Language (Moffat 1995: 18). After
the delivery of Moffat’s speech, the publication of the text of the speech
in a booklet with a full-color cover was subsidized in part by Sabhal Mòr
Ostaig, the Gaelic college that sponsored the lecture (Moffat 1995).
Invitations and hospitality for the lecture itself were sponsored by both
Lochaber Limited and Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise Limited (two of the local
enterprise companies, or LECs, responsible for economic development of
their respective areas of Scotland) (Moffat 1995). These LECs in
turn received funding from the Scottish Office. Thus individuals
in positions of power like Moffat, and holding similar nationalist ideologies
of language, can significantly deploy national resources to shape the symbolic
role, if any, that Gaelic will play in the construction and maintenance
of a national community.
GAELIC AS A SYMBOL OF
Gaelic remains a significant
feature of local and national identities in Scotland, but in recent years,
Gaelic has begun to gain a new social significance for some Scots as a
symbol of a pan-European identity. The EU has continuously attempted
to promote the idea of a common European culture and heritage in order
to facilitate economic union (Shore and Black 1992). The EU has also
promoted European minority languages as sources of diversity and strength
in Europe. Contemporary popular discourse about Gaelic in Scotland
is now beginning to echo EU rhetoric about pan-European culture and European
In order to achieve the
fullest possible integration of Europe, as is the explicitly stated goal
of the European Union, European Community officials realized that the EC
would have to promote not only economic integration but also cultural integration.
The European Community had therefore taken action “in order to promote
a sense of belonging and develop feelings of ‘Europeanness’ among the citizens
of the various EC Member States” (Shore and Black 1992: 10). Over
the past decade the European Commission implemented a great variety of
projects to achieve its goal of integration:
…the Commission has set
up various committees to explore ways of “making Europeans more aware of
their common cultural heritage” and developing the “European identity”
– phrases that recur throughout official reports and documents (Shore and
Black 1992: 11).
After Maastricht the European
Union has continued to take an explicitly cultural approach to community
building. The Title IX in the 1993 Treaty of European Union reiterates
that the EU “should bring ‘common cultural heritage to the fore’” and promote
the exchange of cultural and historical knowledge and the “conservation
and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance” among Member
Postdating and supplementing
the EU cultural policy are the EU’s resolutions on minority languages and
cultures, one of which was passed in 1987 by the European Parliament.15
As a result of these resolutions a budget has been made available for “action
to promote and safeguard regional or minority languages and cultures” through
education, standardization, research and other projects (the 1997 budget
was 3,741,000 ECU).16 Actions taken include the establishment of
the Mercator Project, set up in 1987 by the European Commission with centers
in Friesland, Catalonia, and Wales for the study of minority language education,
law and linguistic legislation, and media, respectively.17 Through
this and other projects the minority languages spoken on the European continent
are made to represent Europe’s “cultural diversity,” and investment in
the projects is justified by rhetoric about such diversity as a valuable
resource for “economic deployment” and “a cornerstone of innovative development.”18
European Union discourse
portraying Gaelic as symbolic of a pan-European identity is now being disseminated
in Scotland. EU discourse includes Scottish Gaelic as one of the
more than fifty regional or minority languages spoken by almost forty million
citizens of the EU.19 EU pan-European and minority language discourse
uses specific strategies to portray Gaelic in this way. It fashions
Gaelic as a sign of Europeanness by declaring its speakers to be members
of a pan-European culture. In this recontextualization, Gaelic speakers
can remove Gaelic from a dichotomous relationship with English, and instead
place Gaelic in a multilingual context. Both strategies remove Gaelic
from an unequal dichotomous relationship with English, and instead place
Gaelic in an equivalent relationship with “other European languages” in
a multilingual context (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997: 23).
Precisely who would experience
a pan-European identity with Gaelic as its cornerstone, however?
In 1992 Shore and Black concluded that most “average citizens” of Europe
do not view Europe as a cultural entity, but that it is quite possible
that this view of Europe may “become more effective in the future or among
younger generations.” They noted that the bureaucratic culture of
EU bureaucrats in Brussels, that is, “European elites,” could serve as
a catalyst for a top-down or outward diffusion of “a new type of pan-European
identity and consciousness” or that it could “remain the culture of an
isolated, international bureaucratic elite” (Shore and Black 1992: 11).
As the following examples demonstrate, an educated and relatively influential
Gaelic ‘cultural elite’ composed of media and communications professionals
and employees of government-sponsored Gaelic revitalization organizations
has already started to disseminate the idea of Gaelic as an element of
a ‘pan-European identity’ to other Scots through the media.
A Gaelic pop song illustrates
one way in which EU discourse about conceptions of European community is
shaping popular discourse about Gaelic as a symbol of Europe. It
also shows clearly how such discourse reaches the popular level.
A band called Runrig, perhaps the most popular of the very few Gaelic pop
groups in Scotland, has played a part in the contemporary revitalization
and popularization of Gaelic in Scotland since the early 1980s (Johnstone
1994: 34). Their 1993 album Amazing Things featured a song called
“Sràidean na Roinn Eòrpa (Streets of Europe),” which presents appeals to
a common European culture by placing the singer and his language on the
European continent. The voice is that of a Gael turning away from
the United Kingdom to a physical and spiritual existence in Europe on his
own cultural and political terms: “I have put London behind me/The
summer is on my face/And I am on the big streets of Europe/With my love,
my flag/My sun, and my new moon” (Macdonald and Macdonald 1993).20
On his travels through Europe the singer reflects on the legacy of his
father who fought on the continent in World War II, and he meets a young
German girl struggling to deal with the ‘burden of history’ she feels from
Germany’s role in the war. He parts ways with the girl affected by
their mutual exchange: “I left her with a small part of my country/She
left me with the fellowship of a new age.” The singer expresses pride
in his language and the hope that it will flourish together with the other
minority languages of Europe:
The flags are swimming
In a sea of colour
My language melodious in
the ear of Europe
The streets are alive with
conversation and purpose
Possibilities for a new
The singer expresses the
feeling that as a Gaelic speaker he can be proud in the knowledge that
his language will be counted among the other languages of Europe.
In so doing he leaves behind the putative negative/positive Gaelic-English
dichotomy with its forced ‘choice’ located in the significance of Gaelic
as a sign of local identity. He also bypasses proclamations of essential
‘Scottishness’ for “the fellowship of a new age” and the mixed blessings
and opportunities in a “new Babel” of European competition and cooperation.21
Another example demonstrates
how the identification of Gaelic with a pan-European cultural identity
can be disseminated from official EU discourse to popular discourse through
the influence of cultural elites and the state. Following the government
grant of œ9 million annually for Gaelic television programming mentioned
previously, BBC Scotland started to produce the television series Eòrpa
(‘Europe’), which first aired in 1993 (Macaulay et al. 1994: 27).
The program works to establish Gaelic as a legitimate European language
through the strategy of recontextualization, linking Gaelic to the program’s
European subject matter and professional presentation style. Eòrpa,
the first and only specifically Scottish European affairs television series
(Torcuil Crichton, personal communication), is a weekly thirty-minute European
news program conducted in the medium of Gaelic (with English subtitles
available). The program creates an image of the Gaelic language as
a suitable language for the professional presentation and discussion of
European affairs, in effect creating a new domain for the language within
Gaelic broadcasting. The program portrays Gaelic and Gaelic-speaking
presenters in a professional and international context (Torcuil Crichton,
personal communication). Such recontextualization counters the long-held
images of Gaelic speakers as rural or backward and of Gaelic as a language
conveying “crudity, backwardness, and a bumpkin simplicity” (Dorian 1981a:
62). The program’s presenters report from various locations across
Europe and on a professional studio set, consolidating their image as modern
and cosmopolitan ‘citizens of Europe’. The program also recontextualizes
Gaelic through its presentation strategies and choice of subject matter:
On several occasions Eòrpa
has mounted multi-lingual television debates on issues as complex as the
European Monetary Union and differing patterns of land ownership in Europe.
In these debates (thanks to simultaneous translation facilities) exchanges
have taken place in Gaelic, French, Irish, Spanish, Dutch and English.
In that sense the programme has internationalised the language (Torcuil
Crichton, personal communication).
Strategies of recontextualizing
Gaelic as professional and as equivalent to European languages therefore
work to make Gaelic represent a new pan-European community identity.
The tendency to make Gaelic
stand for and constitute ‘Europeanness’ is also found in discourse about
Gaelic produced by Gaelic revitalization organizations. For example,
a tourist brochure produced by Comunn na Gàidhlig (the government-sponsored
organization responsible since 1984 for the development of Gaelic in Scotland)
uses EU-influenced strategies of appeals to a common culture and recontextualization
to create links between Gaelic and Europe. Fàilte 97: Welcome
to Scotland’s Gaelic Renaissance is a well-designed, lavishly illustrated
thirty-two page color brochure first published in 1996.22 The project
that the brochure represents “has been partly financed by the European
Regional Development Fund under the Highlands and Islands Objective 1 Partnership
Programme” (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997: 32), which makes the Highlands Region
a top priority for EU economic development funding. Projects like
this European-funded brochure promote the idea of Europe as a common cultural
area and Gaelic as an element of that culture accessible to all Europeans,
but the project simultaneously seems to strengthen a view of Gaelic as
constitutive of ethno-national identity as well as promoting European regionalism.
The brochure’s text and
visual elements work to create links between Gaelic and Europe by representing
Gaelic language and culture as a subset of European culture. The 1997 printed
brochure’s text starts on page two with a greeting set in a two-page spread
linking Scotland to a wider, pan-European Celtic world through its Gaelic
We, the Gaelic-speaking
people of Scotland today welcome you. Ours is a land of dramatic
contrasts and serene tranquillity, home of the eagle, the wild deer, and
courteous, hospitable people… We are a people of ancient lineage,
and we are custodians of part of Europe’s rich Celtic heritage (Comunn
na Gàidhlig 1997: 2).
The links are part of a
project intended to coordinate and promote Gaelic language-based tourism
in Scotland. “Europe’s rich Celtic heritage” is literally mapped
on the facing page, subtitled “Freumh nan Ceilteach/The Celtic Roots of
Europe.” The page features a map of Europe in which almost the entire
continent is highlighted as an area where Celtic languages were formerly
spoken (with the much smaller area where Celtic languages are spoken today
also highlighted). This page also features a short essay about “the
ancient Celts” extolling the virtues of “Celtic culture,” “Celtic education,”
and Celtic bravery. The essay about the Celts portrays them not only
as the ancestors of the Scots, but also as the original Europeans, dominators
of a “pan-European commonwealth” (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997: 3). This
essay replicates the pattern of discourse established by European Union
directives and projects about a pan-European culture previously outlined,
and is repeated in other places such as in continental European museum
exhibits of Celtic archaeology mounted in major European cities in recent
years (Dietler 1994: 595–596).23
Aspects of the brochure
also draw links between the Gaelic language and Europe by juxtaposing Gaelic
with major European languages. Bilingual section titles throughout
the brochure, while not necessary for comprehension by the brochure’s intended
audience (British, continental European, and North American tourists),
set up Gaelic as equivalent to English. Moreover, the brochure itself
is published not only in English, but in Gaelic, French, German, Spanish
and Italian. Inside the brochure a Gaelic phrase book is offered
for sale in English/Gaelic, French/Gaelic, German/Gaelic, Spanish/Gaelic
and Italian/Gaelic (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997: 28). The phrase book,
like the subtitles and the simultaneous publishing of the book in other
languages, accomplishes the task of making Gaelic seem to be a local equivalent
to each of the mainstream European languages. As Benedict Anderson
points out, this was also a linguistic strategy for nineteenth-century
European nationalist movements: in the nineteenth century, “[b]ilingual
dictionaries made visible an approaching egalitarianism among languages
– whatever the political realities outside, within the covers of the Czech–German/German–Czech
dictionary the paired languages had a common status” (Anderson 1991: 71).
In such a way the bilingual section titles throughout this brochure and
the publication of the brochure and phrase books in a variety of major
European languages implicitly give Gaelic parity with these languages and
hence place it on equal cultural footing within ‘Europe’ itself.
However, the Fàilte project
also seeks to transform Gaelic’s role in a local identity and reinforce
conceptions of Gaelic as symbolic of the nation. The project links
Gaelic with images of the nation, transforming an endangered marginalized
minority culture (as previously discussed) into a national resource par
excellence, and creating a new place for Gaelic as a cultural commodity
in the postindustrial and soon-to-be-devolved national economy. First,
the centerfold of the Fàilte brochure features a map of Scotland, with
numbered sites mentioned in the text as well as marks pointing out the
locations of Gaelic tuition festivals, the Royal National Mòd (Gaelic competitive
festival), and Community Historical Associations (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997:
16–17). Not surprisingly, the majority of the locations referred
to in the text are in the Highlands (mostly the Hebrides and west coast).
But their placement on a national map suggests a national coherence of
purpose in the promotion of Gaelic, a coherence that is growing under the
guidance of the national organization Comunn na Gàidhlig.
Second, the Fàilte brochure
promotes the standardization of Gaelic, which is necessary for Gaelic to
act as both national and European symbol. A standardized form of
Gaelic is far more relevant to the experience of predominantly urbanized,
middle-class learners and native speakers than it is for native speakers
inhabiting rural localities where Gaelic is a language of daily use in
multiple dialectal manifestations. Therefore, the standardized form
of Gaelic is far more practical (and profitable) to promote. The
commodification of Gaelic (cf. Silverstein 1987: 7–8) in support of the
local and national economy requires a standardized form of the language,
accessible to learner/tourists, as one section of the Fàilte brochure titled
“Cuid na h-Oidhche/Accommodation” implies:
There are at least 250 accommodation
providers in Scotland in which the proprietors or a member of staff are
able and willing to speak Gaelic with visitors. Most of these are
indicated by the ‘G’ symbol in the accommodation registers of the local
tourist boards covering Argyll, the Highlands and the Isles (Comunn na
Gàidhlig 1997: 37).
When a national organization
such as Comunn na Gàidhlig sets up a scheme with a symbol for Gaelic-speaking
homes, the purpose is to promote cultural tourism with Gaelic and Highland
culture as its object. To facilitate the commodification of Gaelic
in this instance, window stickers featuring the recently-designed ‘G’ symbol,
a bold green ‘G’ within a black diamond, are sold through a new Gaelic
mail order catalog called Muillean Dubh. This small Gaelic-based
business resembles the many other new Gaelic-based businesses advertising
in the pages of the Fàilte brochure. The brochure features small
advertisements on almost half its pages for a variety of small Gaelic-oriented
businesses and services catering to these tourists, many based in the Highlands,
and many of which have started up in the last five to seven years:
language schools, video companies, mail-order catalogs, and visitor centers.24
Native Gaelic speakers
who promote Gaelic as a language of Europe, like those who promote Gaelic
as a national language, are for the most part intellectual elites (Cormack
1994: 116–117). They include people such as the members of the pop
band Runrig (who regularly tour Scotland and continental western Europe),
the producers and crew of Eòrpa (working in Glasgow and traveling all over
Europe) (Torcuil Crichton, personal communication), and employees of the
Gaelic revitalization organization Comunn na Gàidhlig. In most cases
these professionals are no longer living in the predominantly Gaelic-speaking
communities in which they were born (MacAulay 1987: 47–48; MacKinnon
1996). Such professional elites are simultaneously promoting Gaelic
as local, national, and European through the Gaelic media, but as the previous
discussions of Gaelic in local and national identities demonstrate, pop
songs, television programs, and tourist brochures are not the only ways
to portray Gaelic as symbolic or constitutive of social identity.
The projects discussed here represent a selection of ideologies about Gaelic,
which overlap and conflict with a multitude of others in contemporary Scotland.
Clearly, there is no one
single ‘ideology of Gaelic’ dictating how people conceptualize the language
in a scheme of social identity. Appeals to the Gaelic language as
a component of social identity in contemporary Scotland play “a number
of important and often paradoxical roles in the ideological naturalization
of modern political communities at several contradictory levels,” just
as archaeologist Michael Dietler found with “appeals to an ancient Celtic
past” in France (Dietler 1994: 584). The examples I have given of
claims to local, national, and pan-European identities based on Gaelic
show that nationalist ideologues and European bureaucrats are far from
imposing a single view of Gaelic, or total cultural homogeneity, even when
that is the explicitly stated goal. The construction of Gaelic-based
local, national, and pan-European identities can work both for and against
the creation of local, national, state, and European hegemonies.
The class-based aspects of differences among ideologies of Gaelic, and
the nationalist ideological influence on conceptions of local identity,
become very clear when we consider how different groups of people approach
Gaelic as a component of local identity: as a barrier to success
or as worthy of revival on the local level. Moreover, the EU-influenced
approach to Gaelic is complex; while some projects work to endow
Gaelic with significance as a feature of European identity, they can also
intentionally and unintentionally transform ideas about the significance
of Gaelic for other levels of identity.
If we acknowledge the multivocality
of ‘identity’ and discuss the construction of identities in terms of conflicting
language ideologies, we can better understand the struggles for power that
underlie claims about Gaelic in Scotland. The construction of identities
is a continuing process, and new ideologically- and economically-driven
transformations of Gaelic will continue to unfold in the late twentieth
and early twenty-first centuries. Scotland’s devolution is the most
important development, and the enormous political reorganization and redistribution
of duties that it entails will undoubtedly create new opportunities for
proponents of Gaelic to promote the language as an element in the construction
of social identities. Ethnographic fieldwork in the ‘new Scotland’
will shed even more light on the relationship between language ideology
and the construction of identity.
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I would like to thank Elaine Adkins, Grant Arndt, Marc Blitz, Beth Anne
Buggenhagen, Paul Friedrich, Miklós Hadas, Dan Suslak, Elizabeth Vann,
Miklós Vörös, and Marko ivkoviæ for their helpful comments, criticism,
and encouragement. I would also like to thank Chrissie Bannerman,
Torcuil Crichton, Jo McDonald, Beathag Morrison, Kevin Donnelly, and A.G.
Boyd Robertson for taking the time to provide me with valuable information
and insights about Gaelic media and other revitalization activities.
Any errors of omission or commission which remain are entirely my own.
1 Throughout this article,
‘Gaelic’ refers only to Scottish Gaelic, not to Irish or Manx Gaelic.
2 Census data are by no
means an exact measure of the extent of Gaelic ability in Scotland for
a number of reasons, however (Johnstone 1994: 36; Macdonald 1987:
297). Moreover, the census itself is an apparatus of the modern state,
and as such it cannot be approached uncritically (Anderson 1991: Ch. 10;
3 This article is a preliminary
survey of selected expressions of social identity involving Gaelic.
I do not exhaustively catalog all contemporary claims to identity in which
Gaelic plays a part, but in reality, gender, occupational, religious, and
other identities are completely interwoven with the nominally territorially-based
claims to identity that I discuss here.
4 Other approaches to language
ideology have been outlined in a recent review of the literature (Woolard
and Schieffelin 1994).
5 I use the term ‘anglophone
monolinguals’ here in place of the lengthy descriptor “people who are not
native speakers of Gaelic, who have not learned Gaelic.” ‘Anglophone’ and
‘monolingual,’ however, are vastly simplified and ultimately unsatisfactory
terms for people who may have spoken English, Scots, any dialectal variants
thereof, or any combination of these. The terms also take no account
of the fact that the people whom they describe may have used other languages
in addition to English and Scots.
6 Ten major dialectal divisions
of Gaelic have been identified within Scotland, but the term ‘dialect’
is a convenient linguistic fiction, since it is ‘bundles’ of isoglosses,
clusters of common features (themselves statistical abstractions), that
have been used to draw dialect boundaries. Variations in Gaelic speech
crisscross Scotland in all directions (Gleasure 1994: 93).
7 In her accounts of East
Sutherland Gaelic and other Gaelic-speaking areas, Nancy Dorian has highlighted
the differences in constructions of language ideologies that arise out
of local experiences and understandings of Highland-wide subordination.
For example, not all residents of a Gaelic-speaking community will even
necessarily see Gaelic as a language of local solidarity. Dorian
(1981b: 172–173) provides another example of a local difference of opinion
on the role of Gaelic in constituting a community identity in a community
where Gaelic is spoken. Dorian’s survey of attitudes towards Gaelic
in Dervaig on the Isle of Mull found that
English mother-tongue residents
continue to regard the village as ‘Gaelic’ in character even when only
slightly better than 50 per cent of the adults are native speakers of Gaelic
(and an aging 50 per cent at that) and when virtually none of the young
people have any active knowledge of Gaelic. The Gaelic native speakers,
faced with precisely the same facts, no longer look on their village as
a Gaelic community (Dorian 1981b: 179; see also Dorian 1981a).
8 Crofting is “[t]he system
of small-unit ‘family farming’ long characteristic of the north-west Highlands
and the Hebrides. A croft was not a house but a piece of land (usually
small), the tenant (crofter) paying rent to the landowner and sharing grazings
in common with other crofters in a ‘crofting township’” (Murchison 1994:
49, citing Carmichael 1884).
9 Nevertheless, in Scotland
Gaelic is still symbolically identified with the Highlands and Islands
region of Scotland. The Highlands were already considered a separate
region of Scotland, with the Gaelic language as a unique feature of that
region, by the fourteenth century AD (Withers 1984: 22). Although
‘regional identity’ could have constituted another category of identity
for analysis here, Gaelic’s position as a multivalent symbol of Highland
regional identity is integral to its position in social identity at each
of the other levels discussed here.
10 In 1933 ‘Gaelic militants’
were expelled from the National Party, together with other romantics who
opposed the party’s new policy advocating Home Rule for Scotland within
the British Commonwealth (Hanham 1969: 159–160).
11 As some theorists pointed
out before the 1997 referendum for Scottish devolution passed, in the 1990s
Scottish nationalism itself seemed to be becoming less ‘political’ and
more ‘cultural’ (Cohen 1996: 102; Paterson 1996: 116). Unfortunately
the implications of this for Scotland as a whole and Gaelic speakers in
particular cannot be discussed here.
12 For at least the past
six years Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has sponsored an annual lecture on Gaelic language-related
issues by a distinguished speaker. The 1997 speaker was Mary Robinson,
former president of the Republic of Ireland.
13 Literally ‘good health,’
a popular toast.
14 For another example of
how the boundaries of minority language speaker categories have been discursively
manipulated in order to strengthen the position of a minority language
within a society, see Jacqueline Urla, “Cultural Politics in an Age of
Statistics” (Urla 1993) on the case of Basque.
15 Cited from the Mercator
website, found at http://www.troc.es/mercator/index.htm [sic]
16 Quoted from a page of
the ‘Europa’ website found at http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg22/mercator/
17 Cited from the Mercator
website, found at http://www.troc.es/mercator/index.htm [sic]
18 According to a page on
the European Union website describing the ‘Euromosaic’ report on European
policy for minority languages and cultures, found at http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg22/mercator/
19 Found at http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg22/langmin/joen.html
20 English translations
by the authors, included in the liner notes of the album (Macdonald and
21 The image of the Tower
of Babel also features prominently at the top of a page on “Regional or
minority languages of Europe” on the European Union website “Europa.”
The image forms a point of intersection between the EU’s and Runrig’s visions
of Gaelic in the ‘New Europe’. (The page is found at http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg22/mercator/regmin.html).
22 Fàilte means ‘welcome’.
An on-line version of the brochure is available through the Comunn na Gàidhlig
website, found at http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/cnag/failte.
23 Dietler (1994) and Chapman
(1992: Chapters 6–8) assess the implications and accuracy (or, more properly,
inaccuracy) of these pan-cultural claims in archaeological, cultural, and
24 The business that designed
the brochure, Cànan, is another one of these companies. Cànan was
founded under the auspices of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college, and
is housed at their campus on the Isle of Skye. The company markets
the Speaking Our Language course materials as well as other Gaelic materials.