Is there a topic that you know a lot about, but that most people can only seem to grasp through stereotypes and misconceptions? A situation where no matter how hard you try, you cannot debunk people’s wrong-headed ideas?
Scottish Gaelic language and culture is like that. Even in Scotland. In fact, the Scottish media are a good place to find stereotypes, misconceptions, lies, and crazy ideas about Gaelic that just. Won’t. Die.
My doctoral dissertation contains a long chapter titled “Ideologies of Gaelic in Scotland: Discourses of Death and Denigration, Revitalization and Redemption.” In that chapter, I analyzed the way that the Scottish media (and British/English media as well) talked about Gaelic. Using examples from 1999-2000 and earlier, I found certain recurring patterns of talk — repeating concepts, metaphors, and figures of speech. (I called them “discourses” — that’s one of many academic definitions of discourse.) Some of these ideas about Gaelic have been circulating in written form since the 1500s, like the idea that Gaelic resembles animal noises or that Gaelic speakers are animals. Others developed in later centuries with various trends in thinking (racism, Darwinism, neoliberalism, etc.). (In 2011, I published an article drawing on that dissertation chapter which has been pretty popular in academic circles.)
The thing about academic work is, once you put it out there in an approved format, other academics are responsible for taking it into account. It becomes part of “the literature” on that topic. If you are lucky, you may gather a small fan club of fellow academics who cite your stuff when they write their stuff. They might even assign your stuff to their students to read. You can sometimes lord it over people by saying “Clearly you haven’t read my article on the topic.” And if you are very lucky, your publication might help to earn or keep an academic job.
Beyond that, though, most people in the world will never read it, and will never care.
After I put this research out there on discourses of death, it would be nice to think that Scottish journalists, newspaper editors, and members of the public who write letters to said editors would read it and say “You know what? You’re right — we’ve been saying horrible and stupid things about Gaelic for centuries. We’ll change our minds now. We promise never to write or publish any lies, stereotypes, or easily disproven misconceptions again.”
So, why not have some fun with it instead? BINGO!
Here are two bingo cards to use when you read newspaper articles about Gaelic. Playing a round of “anti-Gaelic bingo” will help you to spot the stereotypes, lies, and crazy ideas that are continually circulating, and recognize them for what they are. Consider it a form of cheap therapy to help you deal with the prejudice and misunderstanding. ‘Se ur beatha.