Top 10 Differences Between Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Scotland – Part One

by | Apr 12, 2015

Gaels in Scotland and Nova Scotia don’t tend to know a lot about each other. When they actually visit each other’s home turf, they find many similarities, but also a few surprises.

So in a spirit of education and understanding, I’ve created a list of the top ten differences between Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Scotland, from a Nova Scotian perspective. Here is the first half of the list, Part One:

10) Nova Scotians pronounce it “Gae-lic,” not “Gah-lic”

 

"You say gah-lic, I say gay-lic"

And we can ice skate, too.

 

When we’re talking about the Scottish Gaelic language — in English — we pronounce it Gay-lic, not Gah-lic. No, it’s not a mistake. No, “Gay-lic” doesn’t mean “Irish” in Canada. And no, we don’t care if it means “Irish” in Scotland. You say it your way, and we say it our way. You know perfectly well what we’re talking about from the context, anyway.

Don’t take my word for it that Nova Scotians pronounce it this way — hear it from the mouths of Gaelic teacher Hector MacNeil and Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond.

I’ve even had a couple of trollish comments about this pronunciation on my YouTube channel. But now that you know, please understand that it’s annoying when Scots — or Americans, or Australians — try to Gaelsplain to Nova Scotians that we’re “saying it wrong.” Pro tip: The more rude you are about trying to correct our pronunciation, the less likely you are to be invited to visit!

9) Our flag

We have a Gaelic flag, which is different from the provincial flag of Nova Scotia. This makes perfect sense in the Canadian context, as I wrote about in a previous post; the Mi’kmaq have a flag, the francophone Acadians have a flag, and in fact the francophone community of each Canadian province has its own flag.

 

The Nova Scotia Gaelic flag displayed by Nova Scotian travelers at the Canadian Pavilion, Expo 2010, in Shanghai, China

The Nova Scotia Gaelic flag displayed by Nova Scotian travelers at the Canadian Pavilion, Expo 2010, in Shanghai, China

 

8) Milling frolics

A milling frolic is a social event that was born of necessity, and is carried on today for enjoyment. After wool cloth is woven on a loom, it is necessary to shrink the cloth in order to make it warmer and more watertight. In the Scottish Highlands, cleansing and shrinking the newly-woven cloth was done by hand in local communities. It was a social event of shared labour, made enjoyable by singing songs which maintained the work rhythm, preserved traditions, and encouraged original compositions with jokes about local events and personalities.

Nowadays the real milling is done in factories, but the milling frolic has continued as a social event in Nova Scotia Gaelic communities. This contrasts with Scotland, where you might see a milling frolic performed on a stage or as a historical re-enactment, but not as a social event in the village or church hall.

Milling frolics involve special work songs which are known as “milling songs” in Nova Scotia (and “waulking songs” in Scotland). Some milling songs are shared with Gaelic Scotland, but quite a few were indigenously composed in Nova Scotia. There is a good but short collection of these songs on a Memorial University folklore website.

 

Luathadh ann an Hogomah - Milling frolic in Whycocomagh in 2013

Luathadh ann an Hogomah – Milling frolic in Whycocomagh in 2013

 

In Cape Breton, annual milling frolics are now held in multiple communities including Whycocomagh, Mabou, Christmas Island (at Fèis an Eilein), Johnstown, and others. A web search at the beginning of the summer season will usually find the community festival dates and locations. In Halifax, milling frolics are held irregularly at least a couple of times per year, and are usually announced on the e-mail list of Sgoil Ghàidhlig an Àrd-Bhaile, the Gaelic Language Society of Halifax (check their website to sign up for the list). To give you an idea of what a milling is like, here is a video of a milling frolic in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton Island, in 2009 on YouTube (different from the one pictured above).

Participating in a milling frolic is a great motivation for learning Gaelic songs, and a great way to meet other Gaelic speakers and enjoy the culture.

7) Butter-churning

Nations and ethnic groups will often choose a “golden age” to highlight in their history, which exemplifies their values or goals for the present. For some Nova Scotia Gaels, it’s the 19th century, when Gaelic culture was stamped out in industrializing mainland Nova Scotia and consolidated as a thriving community language in rural areas. The rural folkways of the 19th century, including spinning, weaving, and butter-churning, are used as a part of Gaelic language instruction and practice at the Highland Village Museum in Iona, Cape Breton and by some Gàihdlig aig Baile language instructors.

 

A meta churn - a butter churn with a painting of a butter churn on it.

A meta churn – a butter churn with a painting of a butter churn on it.

 

6) Gaelic in schools

We don’t have Gaelic-medium education in Nova Scotia, nor Gaelic-medium childcare or preschool, unlike many areas of Scotland. (Personally I would very much like to see Gaelic-medium childcare and preschool here.)

We do have French-medium schools of two different kinds, French immersion and ethnic Acadian, so English-speaking children of both francophone and non-francophone heritage do have the opportunity to become bilingual through the schools, and French-speaking children have the right to be educated in their mother tongue.

We also have wonderful “Gaelic for learners” type school programs in certain schools in certain areas, including Halifax, Pictou County, Antigonish County, and the counties of Cape Breton Island. These programs offer basic Gaelic language and Gaelic culture and history, and they are popular with students and parents alike. (More on those programs in a future blog post.)

 

Students taking Gaelic language and culture courses at Citadel High, Halifax. Source: Gaelic Affairs 2012 Gaelic Calendar

Students taking Gaelic language and culture courses at Citadel High, Halifax. Source: Gaelic Affairs 2012 Gaelic Calendar

Image Source: Gaelic Affairs 2012 Gaelic calendar.

 

That’s differences #10 through #6 on my list. Stay tuned for differences #5 through #1 in the next post, Top 10 Differences between Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Scotland (Part 2)!

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