future of Scottish English depends on the degree to which Scots
go on using their version of an international language. The future
of Gaelic, Scotland's second language, depends purely on whether
people speak it or not. It is a completely separate tongue, with
its unique vocabulary and grammar, as different from English as
are Greek or Polish. But it is in trouble, despite a recent revival
in interest. What was a thousand years ago the speech of Scotland's
kings has now dwindled to the extent that less than 2 percent
of the nation's inhabitants speak it.
stronghold of Scottish Gaelic--which is closely related to, but
quite distinct from, Irish Gaelic--is in the northwest Highlands
and in the Western Isles, although large numbers of native speakers
live in the Central Belt, especially in Glasgow (over ten thousand).
The highest concentration of all occurs on the island of Lewis
in the Outer Hebrides. The largest town there, Stornoway, is the
base for the civic authority, the Western Isles Council (Comhiairle
nan Eilean in Gaelic) and the true capital of the Scottish Gaelic-speaking
world. Stornoway is the only town where you are likely to hear
the language spoken regularly in the street. But even in the rural
hinterland, one person in ten has no fluency in it.
(pronounced "Gallic" by English-speaking Scots) is taught
in schools in the area, and many children still learn it from
their parents. But as Donald Maciver, Gaelic-speaking editor of
the Western Isles' weekly newspaper, admitted in 1987, the steady
decline in the number of speakers has not been halted: "The
reality of it is that the kids in the village who once spoke Gaelic
don't nowadays. English is the language of the playground."
survives as a literary language, thanks to poets like Sorley MacLean,
Derick Thomson and lain Crichton Smith. But efforts to bring it
into the world of commerce, politics and technology are painfully
difficult. Mr. Maciver's paper, the Stornoway Gazette, is published
almost entirely in English. The council conducts its debates in
English because there are always a few members who can't manage
Gaelic. What steps the council has taken--changing all the name
signs for towns and villages to Gaelic spelling, for example--often
seem to run into obstacles. "Barvas" may be "Barabhas"
on the new sign, but it's still Barvas on every available map.
eyes are cast southward to the United Kingdom's other Celtic state-within-a-state,
Wales. The Welsh, with hundreds of thousands of native speakers,
have their own TV channel. Some Highlanders and Islanders believe
more Gaelic TV, beyond the few programs now broad-cast, would
be just the tonic needed to give the language credibility among
Scots are familiar with scraps of Gaelic. Some words and phrases
have passed into Scottish English, like slainte-mhath, a drinking
toast, and ceilidh, a Highland-style evening of music, dance and
drink. Besides, virtually every hill, mountain, river and loch
north of the Central Belt has a Gaelic name. Translating these
wild-sounding, hard-to-pronounce names into English can make the
ancient Gaels less remote to us: They did no more to make themselves
feel at home than the early American settlers who christened Little
Rock and Salt Lake City. Beinn Dearg, for instance, means Red
Mountain; Drumochter, where the main road between Perth and Inverness
crosses a high pass, should really be Druimuachdair, meaning Summit
Ridge; Loch an Eilean is Island Loch.
as far as global English is concerned, Gaelic has contributed
just one common word by which it can be remembered, particularly
in the advertising agencies and campaign offices of the world:
"slogan," originally sluagh ghairm, the war cry of the