July 9, 2009

The Gaelic language has been spoken in Scotland for longer than any other language. At one time Gaelic was the language of the Scottish court and for the best part, the majority of the population spoke Gaelic. Scotland’s history shows Scots had been stripped off their religion, freedom to wear the kilt, playing the pipes and speaking the Gaelic language. Amazingly after centuries of repression, Gaelic has survived in Scotland and is still spoken by approximately 65,000 Scots.

In the late 18th and 19th centuries economic hardship resulted in emigration from the north of Scotland which was mostly a Gaelic speaking area. At that time many thousands of Gaelic speaking Scots left for the Lowlands and the New World. Another factor in the late 19th century was the Failure to give Gaelic its proper place when universal education was established
In recent years there has been a growing interest in Celtic culture, Gaelic language, music and the arts. This has been supported in Scotland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada through Gaelic-medium education.

In Cape Breton the late Father John Angus Rankin was concerned about the downward slide in the culture. He was instrumental in restoring interest and a new emphasis was placed on teaching children the art of step dancing, square set dancing, playing instruments such as the fiddle and bagpipes. Fr. Rankin along with the government’s support in providing lessons in the Gaelic language stopped the backward slide.

In Scotland there has been an incomparable growth in Gaelic playgroups and Gaelic-medium education at both the primary and secondary level. I am told Gaelic is progressively used more frequently in advertisements and on road signs. Another major support for the Gaelic language was the creation of a fund in 1992 to provide a Gaelic television service.

Gaelic is an ancient language from one of the Indo-European groups, of which English is also a part. The language was given a written alphabet in the eight century.
It consisted of eighteen letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, & U
The order of words in a Gaelic sentence is:
The Verb, The Subject, The Object, The extension of the Verb (phrases that go with the verb.
Example: I saw a dog at the door.
Chunnaic mi cu aig an dorus.
Chunnaic -saw/ mi – me/ cu – dog
aig an dorus – at the door
There is no indefinite article in Gaelic
Example: cu – can be translated dog or a dog according to the sentence.

Combinations of multiple letters produce a single sound. An example of this being the “bh” pronounced like “v”. Many wordsare pronounced with letters not written. Other words have letters that are not sounded.
Most Scots find it difficult to pronounce the word ‘film’. We inevitably include an extra vowel, pronouncing it as ‘filem’. My children had been correcting my pronunciation of that particular word for many years. Imagine my joy when Gaelic teacher Donald MacDonald, a native of Harris, Scotland cleared up that matter for me.
By for, in my limited knowledge , the most difficult letter to pronounce in the Gaelic language is the letter’L’ when it is followed by a broad vowel. it has a guttural sound that is not found in the English language and takes a great deal of practice to master.

On the other hand the ‘B’ is very similar to the ‘B’ in English however, I find it difficult to remember it is always said with a hard biting sound.
The grammar seems complicated to me. For example, nouns are similar to Latin in that the endings change according to their use in the sentence. The gender is also unclear. There doesn’t seem to be any way to understand it. It is my belief that one must simply memorize it. Since then many syllables have been dropped.

The stress accent plays a very important part in the formation of words along with the phonetic laws of Gaelic. The stress accent hasn’t any visible sigh of its own and is placed on the first syllable of a word. It may shorten a long vowel or lengthen a short one. However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Another use of an accent is to indicate a certain quality of vowel sound.
And thirdly an accent is used to indicate the length of a vowel sound.

My struggle to learn Gaelic is indeed a difficult one. When I succeed I am delighted. When I fail, which is often, I try again. Hopefully one day I will celebrate my ability to converse, if even on a very low level, in the language of my ancestors.

The Verb “To Be”

Present Tense, Dependent Form
a bheil me? / am I?
a bheil thu? / are you? (singular)
a bheil e? / Is he? is it?
a bheil i? / is she? is it?
a bheil sinn / are we?
a bheil sibh? / are you? (pl)
a bheil iad? / are they?

What is delayed will be forgotten


In 1998 the Gaelic language was spoken by approximately 86,000 individuals primarily in the north of Scotland and in the Western Isles (Skye, Lewis, and Harris) the vast majority of Gaelic speakers are bilingual, Gaelic and English. Today there are very few people if any who do not speak English.
Gaelic or Scottish Gaelic as it is sometimes known as outside of Scotland has similarities to the other Celtic languages. It is particularly close to Irish Gaelic to the extent that a mutual understanding is possible. Another variant of Gaelic is spoken in the Isle of Man,
a small tax haven located between England and Ireland, called Manx Gaelic.

There are six Celtic languages spoken today, divided into two groups.
The older group – Goedelic, or q-Celtic, consists of the three Gaelic languages.
1 Gaelic of Ireland, 2 Gaelic of Scotland, 3 Manx Gaelic from the Isle of Mann

The second group, Brythonic or “p-Celtic consists of:
1 Welsh, 2 Cornish, 3 Breton

The main distinction between the two groups is that the q-Celtic language retains the old Celtic “q” sound. Actually it is really a “c” or “k” sound. Example “ceann”
The p-Celtic languages have replaced this sound in many words with a “p” sound . Such as the “p” in the Welsh “pen”.

Say but little and say it well. ABAIR ACH BEAGAN IS ABAIR GU MATH E.

Gaelic conversation

A bheil Gaidhlig agaibh? – Do you speak Gaelic?
Tha, tha Gaidhlig agam. – Yes I speak Gaelic
tha mi ag ionnsachadh (tha me uh yuhusuchugh) I’m learning
tha, beagan ( tha bayhkahn) – yes, a little
tha, gu leor (ha guh lyeuhr) – yes, plenty
tha mi fileanta (tha me feehlahntuh) – I’m fluent
tha mi a’ tuigsinn (tha me uh tuhykshinn) I understand
Tha Beurla agam – I speak English


do not have the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y, or z nor co they have double vowels.
IRISH GAELIC – has acute accents called fadas, and does not have grave accents. Irish has “ellipsis” which are impossible looking combinations of initial consonants (mb, gc, nd, bhf, ng, bp, dt) which strike terror into Scots speakers.
SCOTS GAIDLIG – has both acute and grave accents, but predominantly grave accents (officially, acute accents are no longer used.)

MANX GAELIG – IS THE ONLY Gaelic Celtic language to be written down with, more or less, English phonetic rules. Manx is the only Celtic language to have c-cedilla. The letter “y” occurs frequently, as do double vowels.
MANX AND CORNISH – are the only Celtic languages that have “j” .
WELSH CYMREAG – has no “z”, but a lot of y’s and w’s. The Welsh language also has circumflexes on all vowels: a,e,I,o,u,w,y
CORNICH KERNEWEK – has very few accents, has a-circumflex, and has a lot of k’s, W’s, and z’s.
BRETON BREZHONEG – looks like Cornish, except it has many more accents (both grave and acute). It also has an n-tilde (like in Spanish) and a lot of Z’s
To some extent Celtic speakers can understand the other languages of their own group, but it is much more difficult across the p-q chasm.

Little is known of the language of the Picts, the people who lived in Alba before the Scots arrived from Ireland, but many linguists believe that Pictish was a
pre-Celtic (pre Indo-European) language.

q-Celtic – Ireland, Scotland , Mann – p-Celtic – Wales, Cornwall, Breton


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