SCOTTISH GAELIC

TEN REASONS FOR LEARNING IT

©Gaelic Society of Moscow,2003

hy learn Gaelic? Go to Scotland itself and many people will offer you inexhaustible reasons for not learning it. Some people claim it is almost obsolete therefore irrelevant to their lives. It is of only academic interest. As few as 2 percents of Scots have knowledge of Gaelic so why learn it. It is simply
useless knowledge. Why learn a language if you have few opportunities to use it in addition, people have problems improving Eng-lish never mind learning an ancient language. The culture of the Gaels is no longer ap-propriate in a modern industrial society. The main argument against learning Gaelic is utilitarian; it is no longer useful to learn. We, of the Russian Scottish Gaelic Society re-fuse to bow to these notions. After much consideration, we firmly believe that there are overwhelming reasons for not just Scots to learn Gaelic but for anyone regardless of nationality, religion and political beliefs. Our Society has been established to hold up another candle for the cause of Scottish Gaelic. We intend to keep the candle burning from afar, in Moscow, for a long time. A favourite story told by our society may help to sum up our spirit.

   One day the Duke of Buccleuch was being driven in a carriage through his land when he was astonished to catch a glimpse of a shabby looking stranger squatting on his land. The duke was taken aback by this. He stopped his carriage, got out and ad-dressed the stranger ' Do you know that you are trespassing on my land?' The stranger replied 'By what right is it your land?' 'My family fought for it' The stranger retorted 'Then fight for it again'.

   That is how we feel about Scottish Gaelic. We have to fight for it again. A tremendous blow was inflicted on the Gaelic language and culture at Culloden and the Highland Clearances. The language and culture were devastated. It is a miracle it survived at all! Now we have to refight the war to recover Gaelic. This time it will be a war without guns. The ink of the pen is worth far more than the blood of the martyrs. The potential power of the word has a magic of its own which can weave many a spell.

   We may present ten reasons for learning Scottish Gaelic.

  1.    You gain access to a unique way of perceiving life which opens up a radically distinct world which will enchant you. As Wittgenstein stated, a language is not simply a means of communication but reflects a mental condition of mind. You learn of a rich culture. You also might be rewarded with ideas which are now alien to our own contemporary world. Some of those notions reflected in the language express a more humane and caring attitude to people than our own prevailing notions. Therefore learning a lan-guage can represent a profound way of living a new way of life. It is an invitation to embrace, a new way of living. Let us present a few examples of those differences to illustrate the point:

       It is fair to claim that Anglo-American culture is a 'Putting-down culture'. It is so com-petitive that it brutally divided people into either 'winners' or losers'. Those who fail to attain a particular level of material wealth, prestige, property or power are scored as failures'. This notion, call it the 'American Dream' or 'capitalism', is so prevalent that it is in films, cartoons, comics and almost ingrained into the mentality of people. The atti-tude also banalises conversation or at worse, brutalises our speech. For instance, we hear that people must 'earn respect' rather than attain it automatically. In a reasonable humane and decent society people should treat others with respect regardless of their faults. We are not even generous with our respect anymore.

       Scottish Gaelic is far more generous with their respect to others. For instance, in British English, a person states 'Hector is a joiner while Scottish Gaelic translates back into English as 'There is a joiner in Hector: (Se saor a tha ann an Eachann).The difference between the meanings is not even subtle. In the former, the person's identity is more likely to be rigidly defined by his occupation while in the latter, being a joiner is only one part of his identity. For the Scottish Gaels a person is more than just his work. There can be an artist, a singer and a fisherman in him.

       We too often senselessly condemn people for being a prostitute, policeman or lawyer. We like to put people into little boxes and label them. This 'talk' scarcely acknowledges the unique personhood which resides in every person. Scottish Gaelic acknowledges the Matreshka doll in all of us. In western society, people are burned in hell even be-fore they reach it. A person is thus not a one-dimensional man but three, four or five dimensional man. This is important because people are often mislead into believing they are a hopeless failure and loser when in reality they are not. They are simply suc-cumbing to the largely inhumane ideas which prevail in western society. For Scottish Gaelic no man is a loser. On the contrary, the 'loser' is only in him, and probably not in him at all. In English, while people 'have' a car, in Scottish Gaelic, the car is only near him. A person is therefore more likely to be defined by being rather than what he actually has.

       Yet a third example of how different Gaelic is from English can be defined by the word Ceilidh. The word can be simultaneously defined as both visit and a highland gathering where people gathered to entertain themselves by telling stories, poems and singing music. In contrast to a society where people prefer to watch TV and play computer games, the people assume an active role in their entertainment. In some Highland vil-lages every house was thought to contain a fiddle!

       Scottish Gaelic stresses the Oral Poetic tradition where the story-teller can act the role of a shaman whose stories act as a blessing on those who listen to them. Learning Gaelic can be an immense liberation from the soulless rat-race ideas of consumerist society. If an oppressive idea torments you mind and makes you too hard on yourself then discard it!

  2.    By learning Scottish Gaelic you are undertaking something special. You are helping to preserve just one of the languages still under threat of perishing. You might also be inspiring native Indian people to defend their own languages. This is important be-cause the World might lose as many as 3000 languages by 2010 unless it takes radical action.

  3.    If you love history, then Scottish Gaelic is a must. You can be transported back into another bygone age. The speaker of Gaelic embraces modern times, the Middle-Ages and antiquity and his mental horizon is radically enlarged. If Americans seriously seek to affirm their roots then dawning a kilt and tracing their ancestral roots is not an an-swer; learn Scottish Gaelic. This act not only more fully affirms an almost lost identity but practically supports Scottish culture. (Incidently, the fact that so many Russians and Americans think the 'kilt', an English invention a symbol of Scottish, demonstrates how people continue to cling to a highly impoverished reinvention of the Scottish identity.)

  4.    If you are a serious writer or poet, Scottish Gaelic can inspire creativity. There may well be a correlation between how many languages a person speaks and literary output. Is it any wonder that we are at present witnessing a renaissance in Scottish writing when some Scots speak Lallans, Gaelic and English! The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, thought that learning ancient languages was far better for creativity than mastering modern languages as 'learning ancient languages offers more ideas than mastery of modern languages. To imitate the ancients in their own languages the best way of preparing for skillful and finished expression of thought in the mother tongue. So improve your Russian by learning Scottish Gaelic! Scottish Gaelic puts the poet back into you!

  5.    Learning Scottish Gaelic allows you to master the oral poetic tradition which permits you more independence by helping your memory. In this age, we are too dependent on pocket dictionaries, diaries and calculators and less on our memories.

  6.    There is no better recreation for the human mind than to take a book of Scottish Gaelic in the hand for half an hour, and you already feel fresher, more energetic and revitalized.

  7.    If you are unhappy with your old identity and feel profoundly enstrangled and alien-ated from your own then join us. There is no harm in becoming Scottish. You do not have to be born in Scotland to embrace a Scottish identity. Learn the language than be born in Scotland.

  8.    Learning Gaelic offers an insight into Irish culture. 75 percent of words from Irish are identical with Gaelic. So you befriend not only the Scots but the Irish. Learning Scottish Gaelic will get you far more respect from the Scots than learning English. It is one of the best complements you can pay Scotland.

  9.    Learning a language is a test of character. Too many people give up after the first few lessons because it all seems so daunting. Learning it strengthens your will-power and you become a real doer rather than a mere talker. Who knows! Though learning a language can represent hardship, it also offers joyful moments as well as a real feeling of achieving something. Perhaps it could offer you a new meaning and purpose to life.

  10.    By learning Scottish Gaelic we are imperceptively affirming a strong Russian phi-losophical tradition which has been largely ignored by the West. Whereas the Russian Slavonic philosophers made only incomplete and impartial attempts to internationalize the concept of Sobomost we are striving to put it into practice. Sobomost ceases to be a remotely theological or academic idea but is brought down to earth by affirming a Celtic form of Sobomost, - Neighbourness or -Nabochar' which has firm roots in a Celtic way of life. Ideas from Russian philosophy can strongly inspire Scots to revive their lost traditions of hospitality, care for others and reawaken a spiritual sense of community. Learning Scottish Gaelic helps to recover our sense of society. This is im-perative at a time when we are becoming more and more alienated from each other .We are becoming in Durkheim's phrase 'disorganised particles of dust' who are strangers to not only each other but ourselves. Learning this language is one way of dealienating ourselves. You don't just come into a classroom but into a real community. You don't just communicate but you partake in a special communion.

   Scottish Gaelic is a special language. It is a unique spiritual gift. We, of the Scottish Gaelic society in Moscow are learning Gaelic not for profit, prestige or power but to preserve a profound spiritual legacy. Unless we make a tremendous effort to learn Scottish Gaelic then this language will die. A priceless treasure will be lost forever. It will remain no more than a historical curiosity for academics. We certainly won't let this happen.