Anti- English at­ti­tudes do no favours to ad­vo­cates of the Gaelic lan­guage


I feel I must re­spond to JA Mor­ri­son’s let­ter on the sub­ject of Gaelic’s place, and his sug­ges­tion that I “should take my chil­dren to Eng­land where they can learn English” ( Scots­man Let­ters, 8 May).

Firstly, Gaelic is not Scot­land’s orig­i­nal lan­guage. Picts were in Scot­land long be­fore “Scot­tish “in­vaders from Ireland ar­rived, and dis­placed the Picts and their lan­guage, re­plac­ing it with Gaelic.

Also, round about the same time as the Scots were ar­riv­ing, An­glo- Sax­ons were colonis­ing east­ern Scot­land, while in much of Strath­clyde and Gal­loway the lan­guage was an­cient Bri­tish, and most of east­ern Scot­land was never Gaelic- speak­ing.

The po­si­tion of Gaelic as a school sub­ject in the High­lands and Western Isles has a valid sta­tus within the cul­ture of th­ese ar­eas, which I do not ques­tion.

How­ever, in much of the rest of Scot­land, Gaelic has not been widely spo­ken for cen­turies, if at all, and does not merit the spe­cial treat­ment which it does re­ceive, much at the ex­pense of other school sub­jects, many of which could r ea­son­ably be con­sid­ered more valu­able sub­jects than Gaelic.

Other sub­jects have to be taught in classes which must have min­i­mum size, which is not ap­plied to Gaelic. Gaelic teach­ers can be em­ployed for only two pupils!

As re­gards your correspond­ent’s telling me to “take my chil­dren to Eng­land where they can learn English”, had the words Eng­land and Engl i sh been re­placed by, say, In­dia and In­dian, they would have been deemed guilty of racism.

The ob­vi­ous anti- English at­ti­tude of many of my fel­low Scots is shame­ful, and does Scot­land no credit.


Lam­lash, Isle of Ar­ran

Clearly, JA Mor­ri­son thinks that English is some­thing that you should take your chil­dren to learn in Eng­land and that Gaelic is “Scot­land’s orig­i­nal lan­guage”. He writes ( in English) to tell us so, just as Bar­bour wrote his “Brus” about Robert the Bruce in the 14th cen­tury in “Inglis” in Aberdeen for his Scot­tish read­er­ship. Surely that i s good enough for Mr Mor­ri­son?

Old English made its ap­pear­ance in the south- east of what is now Scot­land, re­plac­ing Old Cum­bric ( a va­ri­ety of Old Welsh), in which tongue the old­est work of lit­er­a­ture em­a­nat­ing from this is­land, “Y Godod­din”, was writ­ten.

Gaelic then made its ap­pear­ance in the west. To the north and west in ear­lier days, the lan­guage spo­ken was Pic­tish, about which we know next to noth­ing apart from frag­ments etched on the side of carved stones us­ing Ogham Script. It is ar­gued that it was a Celtic lan­guage, but we have lit­tle to go on. Fur­ther north and in the He­brides, at a later date, Old Norse be­came the spo­ken lan­guage. That Gaelic be­came the lan­guage of the greater part of Scot­land for a fairly short time many cen­turies ago, how­ever, does not make it any more na­tive than English.

As my “Life of St Columba” by Ad­mo­nan of Iona tells me, in Skye the na­tives “re­ceived the word of God from St Columba through an in­ter­preter” from t he Gaelic- speak­ing saint, be­cause they could not un­der­stand the Gaelic lan­guage he spoke! Scot­land’s na­tive lan­guage? Not by a long chalk.


Craiglea Drive, Ed­in­burgh

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