This land is ours, this language is ours – part one.
Land and language. It always saddens me when there is the suggestion that somehow I lack the capacity to be a powerful voice for the place I live in, for the Gaelic language because I was not born here in the Highlands. I have come across this comment this week and whilst I know that this is not a majority view and we spoke loudly against the suggestion that the Independence debate was insular and anti english in its nature – I blogged here about it – it is still disappointing to to have my commitment questioned.
So lets get a few things straight – in the nicest possible way. I am English, I am from Lancashire, a small town in the foothills of the Pennines called Shaw. I grew up there and when I married my first husband, I moved precisely 3 miles away to another small town called Milnrow before moving to Caithness
I like being a Lancashire Lass – I’m not ashamed of that – I am proud of it. I believe that growing up in that place, amongst those people, made me the straight talking, no messing lass that I still am. I have lived here for almost twenty years and I brought my children up here, my youngest two were born here.
So, if there are people wondering how a proud Lancashire lass will stand tall for the people of Skye Lochaber and Badenoch, how can she speak up for the language and the land of this place, who think that somehow the only strong voices are those that come out of the mouths of those born here – then let me put your minds at ease.
I will stand up for this constituency and for its language and its land by caring about people – the people that live here and about the things that are important to them. Those things are important to me. I can stand tall and be a loud voice for gaelic speakers even though I don’t speak gaelic because it matters to people here in our constituency. It is because I love here, because I live here, because this is my home, that what matters to you – matters to me.
I also know very well that the gift of a second language is a fabulous gift to give to our children. My sister moved to France when her children were 8 and 3, my eldest niece went straight into school – a french school of course – and they didn’t speak french at home. She was fluent in three months. What I would give for all our children to have the opportunity to have a second language. Gaelic is part of our culture, part of MY culture, my families culture and I want all our children to feel that way.
There has been some great work done on increasing the use of Gaelic and the accessibility of Gaelic medium Education and I have much to learn but I know we struggle to get teachers, struggle in a land which is so rich with Gaelic words to find enough people to do for our children what my sister did for hers – give them that gift of a second language. We need to address that gap if we are going to make Gaelic part of the everyday life of more of the people living not just here in the Highlands or in our constituency but also throughout Scotland.
Every primary school in Highland should teach Gaelic. Not in a sterile and grammar based boring manner but in an inclusive, lets all chat together sort of way so that EVERY child who moves on to secondary school has conversational Gaelic. If a child decides to study Gaelic to exam level there is plenty of time to teach grammar and to write essays and its always easier to do those things if you speak a language first. To be honest, I’d like to see French and German taught that way too. im sure there are lots of us who having studied a language to higher or A level have a dread of getting the tense wrong or saying la when it should be le or vous when it should be tu. IT seems to me that these hang ups about grammar prevent us jumping in and chatting. Speaking the language is what is important, having fun with it, learning rude words, feeling the words in your mouth and realising you can have a secret conversation with your friends which your mum can’t understand. I would love for all our children to OWN Gaelic as their language, regardless of whether they speak it at home.
That would need every PGCE in Scotland to include a Gaelic bolt on for students to choose. Every single one. Teachers who have Gaelic should be offered incentives or a higher salary to teach Gaelic. In UHI I would expect that every degree course they offer should have a Gaelic module in every year – a module which people can choose to do alongside whatever course they are doing. We should be offering that to every student – event those studying here from overseas. We have the amazing Sabhal Mor as part of the resources within UHI and so Gaelic should be accessible to every student – not simply those who want to study to a high level but for anyone who wants to understand and speak Gaelic. Only by increasing the accessibility of Gaelic will we increase its use.
And lets not forget Scots and Doric. The Scots language is often, wrongly I belive, said to be a “dialect” rather than a language but it has its own rules and words and needs also to be protected and supported in addition to Gaelic. We have speakers of all these languages in our constituency – it gives us a rich and distinct culture but within that there is room for those that speak other languages, are from other counties, other countries. At our Burns party – John and I have one every year – it’s a riotous celebration of Burns but also of all sorts of languages in poems and in song – Gaelic, Doric, Polish, German, and of course I do a Lancashire Dialect Poem every year (and occassionally do a twirling rendition of “Those were the days” but maybe the least said the better)
I will stand up for Gaelic because I understand the passion of language, understand that wonder of words and I know that the language is part of our culture and our identity here – a place that I live in and love and am proud of. A place which is now my place, my family’s place – my culture. I’m part of the fabric of our community and because of that, I’ll be the strongest loudest voice you could have. Just try to shut me up!