Should I stay or should I go?

I started this blog 10 years ago to write about trains, trams and trolleys in Gaelic.

I know it’s kind of a niche topic but I thought it’s important that there is a range of different material available in Gaelic and railways are what I’m interested in.

I’ve become very disillusioned with the Gaelic world in the last year or so, however.

Around a year ago, the Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community report came out. The book rightly identified the weakness of Gaelic in traditional communities (as did a variety of previous reports) however, it was also very negative about new speakers and about urban Gaelic speakers.

And rather than leading to a discussion about how to best promote Gaelic in the traditional community – something that everybody in the Gaelic community surely wants to see – the key take-home message for many people seems to have been negativity towards urban Gaeldom and adult learners. Processions of people have taken to social media and old media alike saying that cities and learners get too much funding and too much priority, many calling for cuts in funding and others referring to people using Gaelic in cities as hobbyists. At best for many, people like me are irrelevant to the promotion of Gaelic, and for others we are actually cultural imperialists. And for some, even seeing Gaelic as a national language is an act of cultural appropriation.

The debate has moved from how to promote Gaelic to who is and who isn’t a Gael. An identity-politics debate that I’m not even particularly interested in. More recently, there have been vocal calls for native Gaelic speakers/Gàidheil/Gaels to be given a special indigenous status or and/or for a Parliament for Gaels. Where this leaves fluent learners and Gaelic speakers outside the Hebrides, and where it leaves Gaelic speakers who don’t think of themselves as Gaels is a good question.

Those challenging the views of Gaelic Crisis towards new communities or challenging the ethnicisation of Gaelic online are subject to so much trolling that it just isn’t worth continuing.

This ethnicisation of the Gaelic debate really disturbs me. I feel that reversing language shift should be civic and not ethnic.

If we can’t empower traditional Gaelic communities without disempowering new communities, count me out. Of course, we could easily do this, but in this polarised toxic debate, it has become something of a zero sum game where some advocates of traditional communities see this as incompatible with support for new communities. (Fortunately I don’t think the opposite is true, but I’d be totally against that too!)

It’s important to note that few people in the Gaelic world agree with the ethnicisation of Gaelic. It’s also important to note that most of the people that have been calling for an ethnic definition of the Gaelic community in my experience are themselves fluent learners and don’t belong to the communities that they are trying to gatekeep. I’d also make the important point that most advocates of enhanced support for traditional Gaelic communities have no problem with new communities and new speakers – and I agree strongly with them.

However, in a situation where many people are actively defining learners and cities as, at best unimportant, and at worst actively damaging traditional communities, it is difficult to keep on. It’s particularly difficult to do cheerful content when some think you are not allowed, as a fluent learner, to say that Gaelic is your own language and you are not considered authentic/ Gàidhealach/ indigenous enough to be a member of the now ethnically defined Gaelic community.

If I have to be an “ally” or a member of a “diaspora” to use Gaelic as a fluent learner or in a city, count me out. Fluent learners and urban Gaelic speakers are either full members of the Gaelic community or not at all.

I should say that this isn’t just me. I know dozens of other people in the Gaelic world in the cities and Gàidhealtachd alike – native speakers and learners alike – who are very very dissolutioned due to ethnicisation of Gaelic, othering of new speakers and urban Gaeldom and due to the idea some are putting forward that Gaelic isn’t a national language. And The toxic debate is damaging people’s mental health and leading many to leave the Gaelic world or seeking to leave the Gaelic world.

For this reason, I’ve deleted my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

For this account, I’m asking – should I stay or should I go?

Should I delete the account or should I keep writing about trains, trams and trolleys in English?

Alasdair

Update: Thanks everybody who got back to me about the blog. Following your kind words, I’ve decided to keep writing it in English. My first post Beware of the Gadgetbahn is now up. I’ll hopefully get back to Gaelic some time when I get my misneachd back and when things get more positive in the Gaelic world. In the meantime, stay tuned for more trains, trams and trolleys.

About alasdairmaccaluim

Eadar-theangair, neach-leasachaidh cànain, neach-iomairt Gàidhlig, sgrìobhadair, rocair agus droch chluicheadair beus.
Chaidh seo a phostadh ann an Uncategorized. Dèan comharra-lìn dhen bhuan-cheangal.

14 Responses to Should I stay or should I go?

  1. Thuirt Rob Dunbar:

    Tha mi ‘tuigisinn mar a tha thu a’ faireachdainn, a charaid, agus cuimhnich gu bheil tòrr ann, nam measg daoine aig an robh a’ chànain bho thùs agus a tha fhathast a’ fuireach ann an coimhearsnachdan eileanaich, a tha a’ tuigsinn na tha thu ag ràdh agus ag aontachadh riut. Na dèan a’ mhearachd a tha cuid dhe na daoine mun do sgrìobh thu a’ dèanamh—’s e sin a chreidsinn gu bheil beachdan faramach nam meadhanan sòisealta ‘an saoghal fìrinneach mar a tha e’ seach ‘echo chamber’ mealltach. A thaobh na ceiste agad: fuirich, ma ‘s e do thoil!

    Liked by 2 daoine

  2. Thuirt joannicdhomhnaill:

    Tha mi ag aontachadh ri Rob. Bu chòir dhut cumail a’ dol – an seo agus an àite sam bith eile a thogras tu, anns a’ Ghàidhlig. Carson a b’ urrainn do dhuine sam bith cantainn nach eil e ceadaichte dhut bruidhinn ann an cànan sam bith a thogras tu.

    Liked by 2 daoine

  3. Thuirt Gun urra:

    I for one hope you find you can stay, and that you can keep on writing about the things that interest you, in whatever language you choose to write. Your blog is a good place full of gentle and informative enthusiasm in an internet that all too often is neither gentle nor informative, and I appreciate it.

    I know it’s easier to say “ignore the bullies; they’re just a tiny minority” than it is to do it; I got that advice a lot earlier in my life and it was rarely helpful! But you are the person you are and nobody has the right to police you out of that; and speaking as a wee mischling with no inherited right to any culture, the purists can take their authenticity and stick it.

    Neart agus dlùth-phàirteachas, a charaid.

    Liked by 2 daoine

  4. Thuirt An Deasaiche:

    Cà’m faigh sinn a-mach mu thrèanaichean, tramaichean…eileanan agus ròc cruaidh ann an Gàidhlig mura bi tu ann, Alasdair chòir?! Sàr bhloga a th’ agad agus sàr eisimpleir a th’ air a bhith annad do luchd-labhairt ùra/bho thùs/FMG ann an Glaschu. Dèanamaid sabaid còmhla airson fàs nan coimhearsnachdan traidiseanta agus nan lìonraidhean bailteil!

    Liked by 1 duine

  5. Thuirt Eilidh:

    Alasdair chòir, thuirt cuideigin glic “nil carborundum illegitimi”, no an robh e dìreach Kris Kristofferson? Chan eil e gu diofar. An dòchas gum bi thu cgl agus chì mi san taigh-seinnse thu.

    Liked by 1 duine

  6. Thuirt Norman N Gillies:

    Cum thusa ort a charaid. Tha thu air obair ionmholta a dhèanamh agus tha an tuilleadh a dhith bhuat. Aig deireadh an latha ’s e an obair a thogas an fhianais.
    Sin agad na sgrìobh mi an-raoir air Tweeter. Ann an aon fhacal–fuirich!

    Liked by 1 duine

  7. Thuirt llolsite:

    Fuirich ‘ille.

    'S toil

  8. Thanks everybody for your kind words. I’m glad that so many people want me to continue. I’ll keep the blog going in English, starting with a post about “gadgetbahns” and a look at Cornish railways. I might start writing in Gaelic again at some point in the future if things get less polarised and more tolerant once again. Cànan seach cinneadh!

    'S toil

  9. Thuirt Maighread Stiùbhart:

    Cùm ort agus fuirich Alasdair. Tha àite ann airson a ch’uile duine.

    Liked by 1 duine

  10. Thuirt Niall.:

    There’s a serious disconnect here.

    By combining the issue of native-speaker-primacy with the ethnocentrism, you are lumping together native-speakers who feel non-natives are often guilty of cultural appropriation with… non-natives who are absolutely guilty of cultural appropriation. I mean, you even say as much when you point out that the ethnicisation comes from non-speakers.

    So these things are polar opposites, but the blog post makes it sound like they’re part of the same thing. What’s slightly ironic is that you explicitly mentioning the “othering” of your identity group, but fail to recognise that by treating two so distinctly different groups as one, you are very much “othering” them.

    My experience as a learner (for ~17 years now) is that there has been something of a “cult of the learner” for all that time, and as the Crisis book says, we have institutionally been looked on as at least as important as native speakers, and no-one has been allowed to say otherwise.

    This has pushed Gaelic speakers out of Gaelic spaces, and if you talk about that, you’ll just be told it’s their fault because they’re just being mean-spirited. But when every Gaelic event is presented in English to be open to so-called “friends of Gaelic”, it’s no longer a Gaelic event where Gaelic speakers speak Gaelic — it’s just a concert of Gaelic song in an English-speaking community. And even on the odd occasion where the presence of non-natives doesn’t force a switch to English, it’s certainly a lot less relaxing to spend your leisure time struggling to understand and be understood by someone who doesn’t speak your language well (a situation I understand intimately having taught English overseas).

    This learner worship has dominated the institutional layers of Gaelic for as long as I’ve been involved in Gaelic, and the publication of this book has basically given permission to people who had felt silenced to start airing an opinion that has been suppressed for a long time.

    A personal anecdote…
    In a mini-conference in the Kelvin Hall in late 2019 (pretty sure you were there too — I remember speaking to you briefly), one of the speakers started talking about how the Gaelic community needed to be more open to learners, to treat learners as equals etc. I chipped in saying that that was already the way it was and the way it had been for as long as I’d been learning, and actually no… my Gaelic will never be as good as a native’s, and I am no substitute for someone who’s been speaking the language “bhon ghlùin”.
    And I got told I was wrong.

    Later in the event, Conchúr Ó Giollagáin gave a talk about the forthcoming book and I was just like… “yes, that.” I also recall having a chat in one of the breaks with a Welshman and a Breton (in Gaelic) and we all agreed that we were not in any way equivalent to native speakers and it was silly to say it.

    To be blunt, it seems to me that we have been unfairly elevated above the native speakers for years, and to complain that people are finally able to express a heartfelt view that you happen to disagree with is kind of… appropriative…?

    Liked by 1 duine

    • I’m afraid that I completely disagree with your analysis here. I fundamentally disagreed with Professor Ó Giollagáin’s talk at the conference too.

      And I’ve been mainly talking about fluent learners in my writings here. I agree that we need more Gaelic spaces.

      Also, just to be clear, I said that it was some fluent Gaelic learners who had been the prime movers in ethicising the debate – not non-speakers.

      I did a PhD called on the Periphery of the Periphery in which I argued that learners were not taken seriously in Gaelic development and I stand by my argument.

      I feel that all Gaelic speakers and communities are equally deserving of support and resources. Both for social justice reasons and for the sustainability of the language.

      'S toil

  11. Hi everybody, thanks again for encouraging me to continue. I’ve now written my first English blog. I hope you enjoy it and will stay with me for the ride! https://treanaichean.wordpress.com/2021/06/27/beware-of-the-gadgetbahns/

    'S toil

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