I’ve had a fun day on Twitter, blocking and muting Unionists. Over the past day or so I’ve discovered that I’m a demagogue, a blood and soil nationalist, and a fascist, all because I’ve had the temerity to produce some detailed Gaelic maps. I’ve been called jingoistic, by a Scots Tory with a Union fleg no less. No one has been injured in the production of these maps, no one has been asked to contribute financially to their production, no one is being forced to look at them, but for some reason they’ve brought out a horde of frothing Unionists who for some bizarre reason seem to be terribly threatened by a language that they claim is dead.
In my spare time over the past four or five years I’ve been working on a wee project to produce some detailed Gaelic maps at a scale of 1:100,000. It’s involved a lot of research, trawling through place names books to discover the Celtic etymologies of Scottish place names, and translating English and Scots names, in order to turn them into a form of Gaelic that’s acceptable to modern speakers of the language.
There are a couple of reasons for doing so. Firstly there’s producing maps that are usable by modern Gaelic speakers. Gaelic might not be spoken nowadays in many parts of Scotland, but that doesn’t mean that Gaelic speakers won’t ever want to mention those places or discuss them. This project was sparked off in part when reading a Gaelic news report many years ago of a road accident in Ayrshire, and though the accident happened in a village with a Gaelic name (the name of the village escapes me now), it was given in English. Only the modern English name is accessible to Gaelic speakers because there are no Gaelic maps.
Another reason for wanting to produce Gaelic maps is because Scotland has three national languages. English, Scots and Gaelic are all equally national languages of all of Scotland, and as such are the cultural property of everyone in Scotland. Yet our maps are in English. There have been a couple of previous attempts to produce small maps of Scotland in Gaelic, but no detailed coverage of regions – especially Lowland areas. We’ve got our own languages, but have been taught to view Scotland through the medium of only one of them – English.
But the third reason is more personal. When I was a child I discovered that the place names all around where I was brought up actually meant something in languages that people used to speak in my home area. Auchenshuggle, Barrachnie, Daldowie, Carmyle, Drumpellier, Gartcosh, they’re not just collections of nonsense syllables. They actually mean something. Achadh an t-Seagail The Rye Field, Barr Fhraoichnidh The Heather Ridge, Dail Dubhaidh The Black Meadow, Cair Mhaol The Fort on the Bare Hill, Druim Peildeir The Ridge of the Stakes, Gart Cois The Farm of the Hollow. That fascinated me, and sparked off an obsession with language and linguistics which remains with me to this day. The first thing I asked for when I found out that these names meant something was to ask for a map of my local area in Gaelic, only to discover that there wasn’t one. So I’m doing it myself.
I’ve now got a number of detailed large scale maps close to completion. There are maps of Glasgow & Inverclyde, Kintyre Arran & Bute, Ayrshire, Fife, Islay & Jura, and Mull which I hope to get published in the New Year. There are also a few other maps, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Central Scotland, which need some more work. I released a few snippets on Twitter, and by and large the response has been extremely positive. Most people who responded are interested and excited by the prospect of seeing Gaelic language maps of their own part of Scotland.
But not everyone. According to Tom Gallagher I’m a nat demagogue who is artificially Gaelicising Scotland in order to make a lot of money (I wish). Other Unionists have accused me of blood and soil nationalism, of fascism, of wasting time and money. They’ve demanded to know why anyone should waste time on a “dead language”. Without a shred of self-awareness people with Union flags in their avatars have accused me of narrow minded nationalism.
They’ve insisted that Gaelic was never spoken in places which have Gaelic names. But no one in Edinburgh / Fife / Dumfries ever spoke Gaelic, they say, oblivious to the fact that all of those places contain significant numbers of Gaelic place names which prove that Gaelic was indeed once spoken there. In Scotland Unionist ignorance of Scottish linguistic history is touted as good sense and erudution. The truth is that Fife was at one time solidly Gaelic speaking, that Gaelic was still spoken in Dumfries and Galloway until the 18th century, and that there are plenty of Gaelic placenames in Midlothian created by Gaelic speakers who once lived in Edinburgh.
Scotland’s languages belong to everyone in Scotland, irrespective of their political views. However maps are about possession and ownership, and by producing a Gaelic map you’re also saying that Scotland is its own country. You’re saying that Scotland can look at itself and discuss itself without reference to English. That is a political statement, but it’s even more politicising to deny that usage to any language that isn’t English.
Scotland’s languages are the ground zero of the Cringe. The existence of Gaelic and Scots is an affront to those who claim that there is no basis to Scottish nationalism other than an atavistic hatred of the English. Gaelic and Scots prove that Scotland does have a culture and identity of its own, and therefore they must be diminished, disparaged, and destroyed. Their existence is a threat to the glorious unity of the UK, and any attempt to let them out of the folkloric box into which they’ve been confined is an insult to the sensibilities of our more zoomy Unionists. Don’t dare attempt to use them like proper languages. Only English is allowed that role in this perfect partnership of nations.
And yet these are the very same people who claim that attempting to use Scots or Gaelic like any normal language is “politicising” the languages. These are the nationalists who insist on the primacy of English and the sole use of English yet are blind to their own cultural nationalism and who revel in their ignorance of Scottish culture and history. Scotland is one of the few places in the world where some deluded people actually believe that their ignorance is erudition. It’s sad and pathetic to hate your own country’s heritage so much. It’s demented to be threatened by a minoritised language. But that’s what the Union has done to so many in Scotland. Thankfully the rest of us have the cure.
The maps still require further checking and corrections. All going well they will be due for publication sometime in the New Year. I’ll keep you posted.
Audio version of this blog article, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-27th-sept-2016
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