Posts Tagged ‘gaelic’


Photo: Duolingo
Duolingo’s popular Scottish Gaelic course launched just before St Andrew’s Day.

There’s an asylum seeker from Afghanistan I’ve been working with on English. Virtually, of course. She was already very good when we started in March, and she’s now applying to grad schools in the US. An English proficiency test is part of that process.

Imagine my surprise when I heard that the free online language program Duolingo — the one that I used for a while so as to understand Erik when he speaks to my half-Swedish grandchildren — is the designated online exam for two of the universities where my young friend is sending applications!

In the same way that the previously maligned Wikipedia gradually became a trusted source, Duolingo has risen to language program of choice.

And every year, it adds options. Scottish Gaelic, anyone?

Libby Brooks writes at the Guardian, “Almost double the number of people in Scotland who already speak Scottish Gaelic have signed up to learn the language on the popular free platform Duolingo in over a month, concluding a proliferation in courses, prizes and performance in Gaelic and Scots during 2019, as younger people in particular shrug off the cultural cringe’ associated with speaking indigenous languages.

“The Duolingo course, which was launched just before St Andrew’s Day on 30 November and looks likely to be the company’s fastest-growing course ever, has garnered more than 127,000 sign-ups – 80% from Scotland itself, compared with just over 58,000 people who reported themselves as Gaelic speakers in the 2011 Scottish census. …

“Says Sylvia Warnecke, a senior lecturer in languages at OU Scotland, … ‘In the academic world, the recognition of Scots as an important part of our linguistic and cultural landscape has existed for quite a while, but that’s not the case in other areas, like education, where Scots has always been considered “bad English,” or in popular culture, where it’s used to add humour.’

“Warnecke identifies a growing momentum, bolstered by the official recognition of the Scots language by the Scottish government and awareness of Scots as a language in its own right.

“Last year also featured the first Scots language awards, held in Glasgow in September, where the winner of the lifetime achievement award was the writer Sheena Blackhall, who was recently also named as the first Doric makar, or poet laureate.

“Doric, or north-east Scots, was forbidden in schools and dismissed as slang for decades, but is now a key part of Aberdeenshire council’s language strategy. The first language of the Sunset Song author Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Doric is taught in schools across the north-east. …

“Blackhall and Warnecke point to the impact of social media: at last year’s Edinburgh fringe, Twitter curated an exhibition celebrating the best of the #ScottishTwitter hashtag, which has become an online institution for those experimenting with the Scots language. …

“The range of written Scots has been transformed, says [Dr Michael Dempster, the director of the Scots Language Centre and Scots scriever at the National Library of Scotland], since the 70s and 80s, when writers would employ the language to portray a particular type of character. ‘That was an act of stereotype, while the narrative voice remained in standard English. Now people are writing in Scots throughout. They started picking it up from Irvine Welsh, although his writing was not in standard Scots, but now you have younger writers like Chris McQueer, who is consciously working in Scots and readers are really appreciative of that.’ …

“A team of Glasgow University researchers have been charting the richness and diversity of Scotland’s local dialects, launching their initial findings in the Scots Syntax Atlas last month.

“Encompassing ‘fit like’ of north-east Scotland, ‘gonnae no’ in Glasgow, and ‘I might can do’ from the Borders, the atlas offers a means of tracing the development of local speech patterns. For example, the influence of Irish immigration can be heard in Glaswegian Scots phrases such as ‘She’s after locking us out.’ ”

I have to say I love this sort of thing. And reading the article reminds me: I need Ian Rankin to come out with a new Scottish mystery soon. I want to know what ex-detective John Rebus is up to in retirement. And I need to hear those intriguing “Borders” phrases and the accent in my head.

Check out the Guardian article here.

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I have blogged several times about vanishing languages and the people who seek to preserve them.

Now it seems that community radio is getting into the act, with programs that are becoming a piece of the cultural-survival puzzle. This is happening worldwide, including in the United States.

“The swift and sure loss of indigenous language in the U.S. was hardly an accident,” writes Alexis Hauk at the Atlantic. “From the latter part of the 19th century to the latter part of the 20th, the Bureau of Indian Affairs systematically sent generations of Native American kids into boarding schools that were more focused on punishment and assimilation than on education. In a piece for NPR in 2008, Charla Bear reported on the terrible conditions that persisted at these schools for a century—how kids were given Anglo names, bathed in kerosene, and forced to shave their heads.

“In recent years, the government has taken steps to reverse some of the damage. In 1990, the Native American Languages Act was passed, recognizing the right of indigenous populations to speak their own language.”

Lobbying by Loris Taylor, the CEO and president of Native Public Media, “helped lead to the creation in 2009 of the [Federal Communications Commission]’s ‘Tribal Priority’ for broadcasting,” writes Hauk, “and then, a year later, to the establishment of the FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy, which promotes technology and communication access on tribal lands.”

Mark Camp, deputy executive director at Cultural Survival, says that “Congress’s passage of the Community Radio Act in 2011 means that community radio stations could soon—in Camp’s words—’mushroom,’ which offers a lot of potential for Native American media on reservations, where there is usually little infrastructure and in many cases no electricity (certainly no wifi). In these areas, a low-power FM station that’s plugged into the grid in the center of town allows people with battery-powered, handheld radios to listen in to what’s happening all around them.” Read more.

Update: Asakiyume adds this link from “The Take Away.”

Arizona’s KUYI 88.1 broadcasts in Hopi to approximately 9,000 people. Photograph: KUYI


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To paraphrase a character in the Brian Friel play “Translations,” if you impose a language on people, one day you may find that their speech “no longer fits the contours of the land.” Language is critical to identity. People can always learn the language of the power group later, once they have learned how to learn.

That is the rationale behind a new effort in Haiti.

“When Michel DeGraff was a young boy in Haiti, his older brother brought home a notice from school reminding students and parents of certain classroom rules. At the top of the list was ‘no weapons.’ And right below it, DeGraff still remembers: ‘No Creole.’ Students were supposed to use French, and French only. …

“DeGraff is now an associate professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he is using his influence to try to destroy the barrier that essentially fences off most of Haiti’s children from a real education.” Read the Boston Globe report here.

The dominance of a few languages was one of the concerns behind creating Esperanto as a bridge. With a bridge language, Esperantists hoped, less common languages would not die. It hasn’t turned out that way.

“There are more than 7,000 languages in the world, and if statistics hold, two weeks from now, there will be one less. That’s the rate at which languages disappear. And each time a language disappears, a part of history — a subtle way of thinking — vanishes too.

“A new documentary called The Linguists, [which aired August 4] on PBS, follows ethnographers David Harrison and Greg Anderson as they race to document endangered languages in some of the most remote corners of the world.

“From the plains of Siberia to the mountains of Bolivia to the tribal lands of India, Harrison and Anderson have hopscotched the globe, but they sat down for a moment with NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss their race to capture the world’s endangered languages.

“Harrison, a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College, specializes in sounds and words; Anderson, who directs Oregon’s Living Tongues Institute, is the verb expert. Together, they speak 25 languages.” Read more here.

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