It IS ironic that, just as a study is published demonstrating that bilingualism postpones dementia, we get a typically gaga letter from Crawford Mackie (8 November). And his attack on John Campbell’s eminently reasonable defence of Gaelic (and Scots) is wrong on several counts.
In the first place, Gaelic is a working language for a growing number of us – some for many decades. We see it as an enrichment, not just of our mental capacities but of our lives in general.
Secondly, Gaels have lived with “language planning” since the Statutes of Iona, which Campbell alludes to.
Butcher Cumberland’s post-1745 brutalities were certainly planned, and there’s a sense of implicit (at least) co-ordination about the Highland Clearances, which hit the Gaelic communities particularly hard.
The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act ignored the existence of Gaelic. Despite that litany of oppression and suppression, young Gaels enlisted, and died in disproportionate numbers, for the “war to end all wars” – with a concomitant retrogressive effect on the birth rate after the conflict.
As for “pseudo-academic tosh” his own dismissive assertions regarding language planning should be seen in the context of the State of Israel, which had some success in restoring a comatose, if not quite dead, language.
Modern Hebrew literature can claim one Nobel prizewinner, to date, S Y Agnon, and many writers of major status, best known of whom would include novelist Amos Oz and poet Yehuda Amichai, whose appearance at the 1995 Edinburgh International Book Festival is still warmly remembered by many.
For those of us to whom Gaelic is a language we use daily, and value hugely, the apparent hatred expressed by Crawford Mackie, and others, is deeply perplexing. In that it attacks something so integral to our existence, it is also extremely hurtful.
In dismissing Gaelic as a “hobby” language, Crawford Mackie is really relishing a low opinion of himself and a few million others in what I presume is his native country, Scotland.
He is simultaneously trashing his country’s history, traditions, culture and considerable related belongings that nations accumulate in the course of their existence. And what for? Expediency, I would guess.
His letter coincides with academic statements about bilingualism having medical qualities too (as a dementia antidote), so he could scarcely have chosen a more inappropriate moment for his inappropriate comments.
The nurturing of Gaelic commands no more state attention than the promotion of English, linguistically or financially.
In referring to Gaelic as a marginal language, Crawford Mackie isn’t at all far from referring to Scotland as a marginal country, Scots as marginal people, and likewise himself as a marginal person. It is he who is doing the marginalising.
The cringe era in Scotland is on its last legs. More so than Gaelic is, or Scots. The last census testifies to this.
For Mr Crawford Mackie’s information, John Campbell did not invent the term “language planning”. It is a perfectly well-established expression, referring to a set of principles and procedures which are in operation, sometimes though not always to good effect, in many countries
Those are countries in which it is taken for granted that minority languages should be supported and encouraged, not only for their historical and cultural value but as a matter of elementary human rights.
Unfortunately, as letters like Mr Mackie’s show with depressing regularity, Scotland is still decades behind most other European countries in recognising this principle. There is some truth in Mr Mackie’s notion that “people will use whatever language they find useful”; but if the main use they have for a language is that it enables them to avoid being punished for using their own, the moral value of that argument becomes somewhat dubious.
Hundreds of languages have been deliberately wiped out by official persecution, Gaelic being almost, though fortunately not quite, a case in point. What is “democratic” about that?
Mr Mackie would do well to read some of what he calls “pseudo-academic tosh”: he could start with the writings of Professor Kenneth McKinnon, who, incidentally, is not a Gael. It might open his eyes to some facts of which he is apparently unaware.