A talk given to the Celtic Congress in Kemper/ Quimper, Brittany in July 2018
1) Na Dùbhlain – The challenges
An toiseach bu mhath leam na dùbhlain a chur mur coinneamh. Tha mi a’ dol a thoirt iomradh air fear, Joshua Fishman, a bha na ollamh aig Oilthigh Stanford sna Stàitean Aonaichte. Tha esan air leth cudromach ann an saoghal nam mion-chànanan.
First of all I would like to talk about the challenges with this subject. At Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Scottish Gaelic language college on the Isle of Skye, where I studied an Honours degree, Joshua Fishman was regarded the number one minority languages guru. He died in 2015 but was a professor at Stanford University amongst other institutions and wrote the ground breaking book: “Reversing Language Shift” which was first published in 1991. I had the privilege of meeting him when he came to Sabhal Mòr in 2003.
Aig an àm sin cha robh na meadhanan sòisealta leithid facebook, twitter no blogaichean cho pailte is a tha iad an-diugh. Mar sin bha esan a’ toirt iomradh air telebhisean sa chiad aite. Ach tha am bun-smuain cudromach na mo bheachdsa.
At the time social media such as facebook, twitter and blogs weren’t as widespread as they are today. So he referred to TV in a minority languages context, but I think the idea, the concept, may be transferrable.
Thuirt e ged a thathas a’ cur fàilte air stèiseanan tbh ann am mion-chànanan agus ged a tha iad cuideachail, nach b’ urrainn dhaibh a-riamh na h-uidhir a mhaitheas a dhèanadh ri oidhirpean gus na mion-chànanan a bhrosnachadh agus a nì stèiseanan sna mòr-chànanan cron.
He said that while the establishment of minority language tv stations was welcome and helpful they would never be able to do as much good to the revitalisation of the language as majority language stations do harm.
Thuirt e cuideachd nach dèanadh foillseachaidhean gleansach aig inbhe àrd a-riamh feum chun na h-aon ìre is dh’fhaodadh pròiseactan beaga coimhearsnachd togail a thoirt air a’ chànan.
He also said that shiny high-level publications, spread far and wide, would never have the same impact as a small grass roots initiative. He was obviously trying to shake things up a bit.
Na mo bheachdsa feumaidh sinn cuimhneachadh air an seo agus na bha Mgr Fishman a’ feuchainn ri radhn le seo.
I think we need to keep this in mind when we talk about the question to what extend social media can help minority languages revitalisation IF we want to have an honest conversation.
There are thousands of majority language tv stations out there which have budgets that dwarf those of channels such as BBC ALBA, the Scottish Gaelic tv station launched 10 years ago. I have had the privilege of working for “An Là”, the news on BBC ALBA since day one. The channel has made an important contribution to raising awareness of the language as around 700,000 people watch it for at least half an hour a week. With a population of around 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland that is no doubt a great achievement. Sometimes it has been suggested that many of them are only watching the life sport and traditional music. But I often hear from people who have seen my reports and who have no knowledge of the language. This clearly suggests a wider impact.
Ann am beachd Mhgr Fishman ge-tà tha pròiseactan beaga coimhearsnachd, leithid clasaichean cànain gu math nas èifeachdaiche na stèiseanan tbh no irisean gleansach.
But Professor Fishman argues that a small community project, e.g. an immersion class, several times a week, that makes people learn and speak the language in a natural setting may be more effective than tv channels or shiny brochures or even bilingual roadsigns, despite the fact that these raise the status of the language and that’s important, too.
Ach dh’innse Iain Mac an Tàilleir dhuinn ann an clas aig Sabhal Mòr mu cho cudromach is a tha e gun ionnsaich clann an cànan bho an cuid phàrantan. Thog e am puing gum bu chòir oifigearan coimhearsnachd a stèidheachadh sna h-Eileanan Siar a bheir taic do phàrantan a tha ga h-iarraidh.
But Iain Mac an Tàilleir, who lectured me at Sabhal Mòr and has been a Gaelic language activist for decades, suggested that the intergenerational transmission was the preferred method of language acquisition for obvious reasons. One is more likely to become an active speaker of the language acquired from the parents. So he suggested engaging a community outreach officer to encourage and support young families in the traditionally Gaelic speaking areas such as the Western Isles if they want it. Some of them, particularly those with only one Gaelic speaking parent often find it difficult to pass the language on to their children.
Mar sin is coltach gur e dealbh measgaichte a th’ ann a thaobh dè cho feumail is a dh’fhaodadh na meadhanan a bhith gus taic a chur ri mion-chànanan.
It seems to be a mixed picture regarding what the media can contribute to what Fishman called: Reversing Language Shift, reversing the decline of minority languages.
2) The Big Gaelic Survey
Ach chaidh rannsachadh a dhèanadh bho chionn ghoirid mun a’ bhuaidh a th’ aig seirbheisean Gàidhlig a’ BhBC air luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig.
But in November 2016 Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic languages board, and MG ALBA, the Gaelic media service that runs BBC ALBA in partnership with the BBC, commissioned “The Big Gaelic Survey”. They wanted to find out how digital media help Gaelic speakers, learners, and those interested in learning, access the language.
Bha iadsan a’ coimhead air na meadhanan digiteach agus leis an sin, bha iad a’ tuigsinn a h-uile seòrsa stuth a ghabhadh a chraoladh tron eadar-lìon, a’ toirt a-steach tbh, reidio, teacs, fuaim, bhideo, grafaig agus na meadhanan sòisealta. Le sin is coltach gu bheil seo a’ toirt iomradh air pàirt mhòr dhe na chaidh ainmeachadh mar mheadhanan sòisealta airson cuspair na h-òraid seo.
As digital media they understand content that can be broadcast through the internet or computer networks, including tv, radio, text, sound, video, grafix and social media. This seems to be taking in large parts of what was defined as “social media” for the purpose of this talk. They found that there was very little academic research on how successful language acquisition through digital media was.
Lorg iad anns an rannsachadh aca fhèin tro cheisteachan agus tro bhuidhnean fòcas gu bheil prògraman naidheachdan agus aithriseach a’ toirt brosnachadh do Ghàidheil gus Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn. Fhuair iad cuideachd gu bheil na prògraman a’ cur ri ìomhaigh a’ chànain, ach gu bheilear ag iarraidh tuilleadh làraich bhideo.
In their own research through questionnaires and focus groups they found that news and factual programmes encouraged fluent speakers to speak Gaelic and that they add to the normalisation of the language in a modern context. They found it also helped the image of the language and the esteem people hold for the language. 79% of fluent speakers said that Gaelic digital media increased the amount of Gaelic they would use and 66% said they would improve their Gaelic skills. It seems fluent speakers would like to see more vlogs (or video blogs) to attract speakers on social media.
Thuirt 46% dhen fheadhainn nach eil fileanta sa chànan, ach aig a bheil ùidh ann gun robh iad air am brosnachadh tron t-seanail. Is coltach gun robh beachd ann gun robhar ag iarraidh app mar Duolingo gu sònraichte air sgàth is gun robh gu leòr dhen luchd-ionnsachaidh ann an sgìrean far nach robh mòran luchd-labhairt eile.
Of the group who weren’t fluent but had an interest in Gaelic 46% said they had been encouraged to learn Gaelic through BBC ALBA, but only 25% of respondents had heard of the website LearnGaelic.scot. It is a resource for beginners. There was a suggestion that applications for language learning such as Duolingo would be helpful, because one could “jump in and out” and that it would be helpful to have live conversation groups online. This is especially true because some Gaelic speakers and learners may find themselves in an area with very few other speakers of the language.
So it seems this research suggests that social media both in a broader as well as in a narrower sense of the term can play an important part in advancing the cause of minority languages.
Le sin is coltach gu bheil pàirt chudromach aig na meadhanan sòisealta, an dà chuid anns an seadh nas cumhainge agus nas fharsainge, gus piseach a thoirt air mion-chànanan.
3) Na meadhanan Sòisealta – social media
Tha mi a-nis a’ dol a thionndadh dha na meadhanan sòisealta ann an seadh beagan nas teann. Nochd rudan inntinneach ann an Innis Tìle agus air Ghàidhealtachd na h-Alba bho chionn ghoirid. Ann an Innis Tìle tha beachd ann gu bheil an cànan fu chunnart bàs digiteach.
I am now going to look more specifically at social media in a narrower sense, meaning Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and so on. There were a few interesting developments in Iceland and indeed in Gaeldom recently. Earlier this year it was reported that Icelandic was under threat of digital extinction. Icelandic is not a minority language in Iceland, indeed it is spoken by over 350,000 people or 97% of the population. But it was reported that Icelandic was in decline among teenagers.
Tha sinn uile eòlach air òigridh is iad ceangailte ris na fònaichean-làimhe aca gu bith càite a bheil iad. Gu h-eadar-nàiseanta is e saoghal na Beurla a tha sin.
We have all seen youngsters walking around or sitting in groups, glued to their mobile phones. Many of them seem to spend their lives on social media. Globally the world of social media is dominated by English and so it seems that many young people in Iceland communicate in English for a large part of the day.
Seo an cunnart: Is iad na bliadhnaichean a tha òigridh a’ cur seachad san àrd-sgoil as coltaiche dhaibh cùl a chur ri mion-chànan.
The danger lies in the fact that the teenage years are often the time when young people turn their backs on their minority mother tongue. The reasons for it are certainly complex. In Scotland they include the dominance of English in high school, the perceived need to rebel against the parents and the feeling that Gaelic isn’t “cool,” although this may slowly be shifting. The fact that traditional music and the pipes managed to become very cool amongst young people once again is certainly a sign of hope.
Is coltach gu bheil e a’ dol cho fada is gu bheil daoine òga ann an Innis Tìle, aois 15 bliadhna, a’ cumail còmhraidhean air fad ann am Beurla ann an raon-cluiche na sgoile. Ged a tha faclan sa chànan aca airson a h-uile càil, is coltach gu bheil òigridh cuideachd tric ag ràdhn nach eil fhios aca dè an t-ainm a th’ air rudeigin, ach ann am Beurla.
A professor of Icelandic language and linguistics at the University of Iceland, Eirikur Rögnvaldson called the phenomenon in Iceland “digital minoritisation.” Apparently secondary school teachers already report 15-year olds holding whole playground conversations in English, and much younger children tell language specialists they “know what the English word is” for something they are being shown on a flashcard, but not in Icelandic. Icelandic is a language that prides itself in having very few loan words and rather creating new terminology themselves. There is a word for everything in Icelandic. The professor fears that Iceland may “see a generation growing up without a proper mother tongue.”
Na mo bheachdsa tha seo a’ sealltainn gu bheil na meadhanan sòisealta gu math nas cudromaiche gus taic a chur ri mion-chànanan na bha mi an dùil.
This at least suggests that social media may be much more significant for language usage than I certainly would have previously thought. We need to bear in mind what I outlined at the beginning, that it may well be the case that majority media, majority social media (I would now add) can do more harm than minority social media can do good. But there may be differences between the impact of tv, as referred to by Fishman and social media.
Tha beachd ann gum bu chòir coimhead air na meadhanan sòisealta mar phàirt chudromach do bheatha na coimhearsnachd agus gum bu chòir mar sin coimhead orra mar innealan fìor-chudromach gus cànan ath-bheòthachadh.
Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones in her article in the book: Social Media and Minority Languages: Convergence and the Creative Industries, from 2013 refers to Fishman’s scepticism with regard to the helpfulness of the media in the cause of minority languages and argued that social media should be regarded as being a “‘real part of neighbourhood life’ and as such should be high-priority tools and domains for language revitalisation”.
Tha buannachd sna meadhanan sòisealta cuideachd is gu bheil e comasach do dhuine sam bith an cur gu feum. Faodaidh duine sam bith a bhith na neach-iomairt cànain.
Furthermore one of the advantages of social media is that they can be accessed almost anywhere in the world at next to no extra cost. This means anyone can open up a facebook page or start a twitter campaign. Anyone can now become a minority languages activist and dedicate the amount of spare time that they have to the cause no matter where they live.
Tha cuid a dh’iomairtean air na meadhanan sòisealta air a bhith air leth soirbheachail. Nam measg tha an taga-hash #ismisegaidhlig.
Some of these ventures have been really successful, such as a recent campaign under the hashtag #ismisegaidhlig. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the language of the Garden of Eden, it translates as: “I am Gaelic.” It follows on from a hashtag that started after the Paris terrorist attacks, #jesuisparis (I am Paris), showing solidarity. In the case of #ismisegaidhlig the attack had been by a journalist, Brian Beacom, who wrote an anti-Gaelic article in the Herald, a leading Scottish newspaper. He said e.g. that Gaelic was useless in an international context (while this may be partly true, he failed mention all the things it can be useful for).
Chìthear cuideachd litrichean an aghaidh na Gàidhlig ann am pàipearan naidheachd – gu math nas trice na chìthear feadhainn a’ cur taic rithe.
Furthermore anti-Gaelic letters often seem more prominent in newspapers than those of support. This may well be because it takes a lot more effort to write a letter than to compose a tweet. Also, negative feelings seem much better suited to provide the energy to write letters. Over centuries Gaels were looked down upon and made fun of by English speakers. Maybe as a result of this they have not had a culture of standing up for themselves.
Ach le Twitter is coltach gu bheil inneal aig na Gàidheil gus am misneachd a chur am follais. Thug #ismisegaidhlig guth dhaibh.
It seems at last with Twitter, they have been given an instrument to express their confidence. The #ismisegaidhlig response to the newspaper article gave a voice to the Gaels.
Seo cuid a dh’eisimpleirean fon taga-hash “ismisegaidhlig”:
I’d like to share a few examples with you, which were tweeted at the end of April 2018:
@LiamAlastair (who started the hashtag) tweeted: “I’m an American living in Uist. I speak the #Gaelic daily, both at work and in the community having studied it at @EdinburghUni #IsMiseGàidhlig.”
@cat_mackinnon wrote: “Brought up speaking Gaelic. Grateful to my parents who passed it on to my siblings and I. Travelled extensively throughout Europe with work because I speak Gaelic. Use it everyday, with friends and family. The language is a gift to be both treasured and shared. #IsMiseGàidhlig.”
@OHenleyAlex said: “Blessed to be born into a family steeped in Gaelic,Gaelic culture. My only language going to school where I was told on the 1st day by a teacher that it was the language of the playground not the classroom.I have been swimming against the monoglot tide ever since. #IsMiseGaidhlig.”
@RynoMoireasdan tweeted: “I was made in Gaelic, born to Gaelic and grew with Gaelic. Gaelic was the language of my people and my village. I work, play, write, sing, dream and pray in Gaelic and it’s now found on the tongues of my daughters and son. Speak ill of Gaelic – speak ill of me! #IsMiseGàidhlig.”
@law_chiyan wrote: “Singapore-born Cantonese Chinese. I started learning Gàidhlig in 2012. The experiences it has given me both here and in Scotland have enriched my view of the world and made me who I am. Now awaiting the day to head back to the heartland to put this gift to use. #IsmiseGàidhlig.”
@Diorbhail said: “#Gaelic was my first language and has always been the language of home, raised in Wester Ross I learnt the Gairloch dialect from native speakers and my father, Roy Wentworth, a Londoner who’s life’s work was to record that dialect before it was too late #IsMiseGàidhlig.”
Nach eil na tweets seo a’ toirt misneachd agus spionnadh dhuinn?
I find these tweets hugely encouraging and inspiring. Mr Beacom has since met with Dr Wilson MacLeod of Edinburgh University, a leading Gaelic language activist, and subsequently wrote a much more balanced article. So the campaign seems to have been successful.
5) Là twitter na Gàidhlig – Gaelic Twitter day
A-measg iomairtean soirbheachail eile tha “Là twitter na Gàidhlig” anns a’ Ghiblean gach bliadhna.
Amongst other successful initiatives is the Gaelic twitter day with the hash-tags: #LaTwitterNaGàidhlig #GaelicTwitterDay. It happens in April every year and again helps to draw some attention to the cause. It was started by a guy called Jamie Wallace, just as something he does in his spare time and at BBC Naidheachdan, we tend to report on it.
Tha iomadach neach agus buidheann a’ cèilearadh sa Ghàidhlig – mi fhìn nam measg. Bidh mise a’ cèilearadh ann an diofar chànanan agus cruthan.
There is of course a vibrant array of people tweeting in Scottish Gaelic. I personally vary between Gaelic only, English only and completely bilingual, as well as multilingual tweets. Most of my tweets are bilingual and although I aim to get the core message across in both languages, I often vary the content slightly between languages to spare those who understand both the boredom of repetition.
So a typical tweet from me might say:
Luchd-iomairt dhen bheachd gu bheil ADDs mì-laghail is iad a’ cur dragh air pèileagan (which in English means: Campaigners think ADDs are unlawful as they disturb purpoises, and then the English part reads:) Campaigners launch EU complaint about Acoustic Deterrent Devices at fish farms in Firth of Lorn triple area of conservation #anla @bbcalba 8pm. Both languages contain unique bits of information and you will only know that this is about purpoises if you speak Gaelic.
Bearing all this in mind it must be welcomed that Young Scot, the national youth information and citizenship charity, have recently created a post to deliver a dedicated Gaelic digital resource which is to include digital and social content: “The project will provide a platform for existing networks, support and develop connections to spaces and activities for young speakers to grow their skills and stimulate new pathways, whilst supporting learning, understanding and engagement for non-Gaelic speakers.”
Chan eil teagamh nach eil pàirt chudromach, dh’fhaodte fiù’s nas cudromaiche aig Facebook cuideachd. Tha buidhnean air facebook leithid “Luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig” air leth feumail gus guth agus coimhearsnachd a thoirt dhaibhsan a tha a’ fuireach fada air falbh bho choimhearsnachdan tràidiseanta na Gàidhlig.
Facebook has an important role to play as well, maybe even more important, due its more interactive nature. Groups on facebook, such as “Scottish Gaelic Learners” give a voice and a community to those who are living away from traditional Gaelic speaking communities.
Chunnaic mi am brath seo air an làraich sin: “Halò, a h-uile duine! Tha ceist bheag agam: Nam bithinn ag iarraidh ionnsachaidh Gàidhlig anns an Alba, ach mura bitheadh airgead agam do chùrsaichean sam bith, càit’ a thèid mi ma-thà?”
Not long ago I saw a post there by a guy with a Turkish looking name, who described himself as being from Germany, living in Argentina, wanting to learn Gaelic. He had obviously done some research already, as the post was in understandable Gaelic, asking for help finding free online courses. He was pointed to learngaelic.scot.
There was another post from a transgender Gael who was looking for like-minded individuals.
7) Innealan Didsiteach – Digital Devices
Ann am mìneachadh airson na h-òraid seo an-diugh chaidh a chur sìos gu bheil na meadhanan sòisealta cuideachd a’ toirt a-steach innealan digiteach.
As per definition in the brief for this talk the term “social media” was to be understood very wide-ranging, including everything that, using numerical technology, promotes social interaction, creates material, and diffuses information. All tools that allow digital personal interaction are included in this definition – such as web sites, blogs, discussion platforms and applications.
Le sin tha mi a-nis a’ dol a thoirt iomradh air bathar-bog teicneòlais cànain. Tha dùbhlan eile an seo.
Using this very wide definition I’d like to mention language technology software. Herein lies another challenge for minority languages. Well-known examples of such software include spell and grammar checkers, interactive personal assistants on smartphones (such as Siri on the iPhone), dialogue systems that work over the phone, automatic translation systems, web search engines, and synthetic voices used in car navigation systems.
Ach tha duilgheadas an seo, agus is e sin gu bheil an teicneòlas seo feumach air stòras data gu math mòr. Dh’fhaodadh e a bhith doirbh sin fhaotainn ann an cànanan beaga.
Today language technology systems primarily rely on statistical methods that require incredibly large amounts of written or spoken data. Especially for languages with relatively few speakers it is difficult to acquire the needed mass of data. Furthermore, statistical language technology systems have inherent limits in their quality, as can be seen, for example, in the often amusing incorrect translations produced by online machine translation systems.
In the near future, we will be able to talk to computer programs as well as machines and appliances, including the long-awaited service robots that will soon enter our homes and work places. Wherever we are, when we need information or help, we will simply ask for it. Removing the communication barrier between people and technology will change our world.
Chaidh pàipear rannsachaidh fhoillseachadh ann an 2016 le META-NET ag ràdhn gun robh fiù ’s cuid dhe na cànanan stàite san Roinn Eòrpa ann an cunnart bàs digiteach.
A research paper published in 2016 by META-NET, a European network of language technology experts, concluded that 21 out of around 80 languages in Europe had no digital support or “weak” digital support at best. They were even of the opinion that most European languages were unlikely to survive in the digital age. Several languages, such as Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese, receive the lowest score in all areas examined. These four languages are all official languages in their respective countries. This apparently doesn’t seem to be enough of a protection.
8) Blogaichean – Blogs
Gu dearbha dh’fhaodadh làraich-lìn a bhith feumail cuideachd. Tha làrach agam fhìn far am bi mi a’ foillseachadh stuth ann an diofar chànanan. Gheibh sibh òran an sin nach deach a chlàradh a-riamh roimhe. Agus tha an comas sin aig a h-uile duine an-diugh: a’ cur ri stòras a’ chànain agus a’ chultair.
Websites or blogs can be really useful. I have a wee site at andreaswolff.org which contains a range of content in different languages. On the folklore page you can listen to a song written by the grandfather of a fellow choir member in the Taynuilt Gaelic Choir. He found it handwritten in a book in his loft! It had never been published or recorded before. I am hoping to sing it at the concert on Friday. The site also contains my top tips to learn a new language.
So the internet gives everyone the chance to spread unique aspects of the language and culture. I believe this is as important as language acquisition because for a language to be healthy it needs to have a vibrant culture attached to it. There is of course a much larger site with Gaelic and Scots language folklore called Tobar an Dualchais or Kist of Riches.
Tha cùrsaichean ri fhaotainn air loidhne leithid: “Beag air Bheag” agus faodaidh sibh fiù ’s cùrsa colaiste fad dà bhliadhna a dhèanadh air loidhne tro Shabhal Mòr Ostaig.
For those wanting to learn Gaelic there is an introductory online course called “Beag air Bheag.” You can even do a whole two years of college and a masters degree online through Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. They also have a page with links to almost everything Gaelic you can possibly think of at http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaidhlig/gaidhlig.html.
9) Co-dhùnaidhean – Conclusions
Mar sin bu mhath leam geàrr-iomradh a thoirt air an puingean as cudromaiche: Faodaidh àite cudromach a bhith aig na meadhanan sòisealta gus na cànanan Ceilteach ath-bheòthachadh air sgàth is gu bheil an òigridh a’ cur seachad barrachd is barrachd sìde orra agus air sgàth is gu bheil iad saor. Faodaidh sinn uile a bhith nar luchd-iomairt ath-bheòthachaidh mion-chànanan.
B’ urrainear coimhead air na meadhanan sòisealta mar phàirt de bheatha na coimhearsnachd gu sònraichte dhaibhsan a tha a’ fuireach air falbh bho choimhearsnachdan Gàidhlig. Ach chan iad a-mhàin nam fuasgladh air na trioblaidean air fad. Gu dearbh tha fiù ’s cuid a mhòr chànanan fo chunnart bàs dhidsitich.
Theirinnsa nach bu chòir aire a thoirt air falbh bho cho cudromach is a tha e an cànan màthaireil a thoirt don chloinn agus bho phròiseactan coimhearsnachd. Feumar an cànan a bhruidhinn gus am bi e beò is fallain.
To summarise I’d say that social media can play an important part in revitalising the Celtic languages because the younger generation spend increasingly more time on social media and because of the low cost of accessing them. We can all be digital activists of minority language revitalisation.
Social media could be considered a “real part of neighbourhood life” especially for the diaspora. Nonetheless they aren’t the magic stick that will solve all problems. Indeed even some smaller majority languages and official languages may be in danger of digital extinction.
Above all I would still argue that one shouldn’t divert the attention away from the importance of passing on the mother tongue in the home and from grassroots community projects. After all a language needs to be spoken to be alive and well.
Trugarez! Mòran taing!