Gaelic Nova Scotia

The New York Times has an article on the resurgence of interest in Gaelic in Christmas Island, Nova Scotia. (You’ll likely have to register to read it). As the article makes clear, the earlier Scottish settlers of Nova Scotia, and their descendents, commonly spoke Gaelic until after World War 1.

My first Gaelic book, a present in my early teens, was a “teach yourself” pamphlet with cassette tapes that came from Nova Scotia. Today there’s a wide variety of Nova Scotia Gaelic and Celtic cultural resources on the net, starting with the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia. And there’s still Gaelic and Celtic culture elsewhere, for instance, Cape Breton’s Gaelic College. Fortunately there are already some attempts to preserve and continue Gaelic culture, particularly the music. The Library of Congress for instance has made available recordings and transcripts of Gaelic songs sung by Mary McDonald in 1931. And in Iona, Nova Scotia, ther’s the Highland Museum, a “living culture” museum that celbrates and preserves Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia.

In Dúil Bélrai

Dennis King has created “In Dúil Bélrai“, an antique term for a glossary. In this case, a new English – Old Irish glossary in the form of a searchable database, with over 5,000 Old and Middle Irish words, with a little Early Modern Irish mixed in. Dennis King writes to the Old Irish List “We’re still tinkering with it and adding new vocabulary, but we invite you all to give it a try.”

Scots wha’ Hae

Dave Winer points to a BBC story: “A new dictionary is being compiled which will put tens of thousands of Scots words dating back as far as 800 years on the Internet.” Sponsored by the University of Dundee, the project will created a web site for the online dictionary that will contain illustrative quotations for each word, necessitating at text archive. The acronym for the text archive (all such dictionaries must have acronyms!) will be (SCOTS)—the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech.

The resulting dictionary is a Scots version of things like the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, or Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, GPC, the Dictionary of the Welsh Language. These dictionaries trace words as they are used through time, with illustrative extracts showing the word as is was really used at various dates.

Scots, by the way, is a separate language, or at least a dialect. It is not English. It is sometimes called Lallans, or Traditional Scots, often called Braid Scots, the Doric, the Buchan Claik or the Moray Claik. It is not Scottish Standard English. Scots is sometimes referred to as a dialect of English, with ancestry in Old English, but given that there are distinct dialects within it, and distinct differences in syntax and vocabulary, I tend to think it’s closer to being a language than a dialect. It dates back to the middles ages as well, with poets like Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, and other so-called “Scottish Chaucerians“.