Anti-Gaelic Bingo Revisited
Since long before the days of internet trolls, the Scottish media have given a platform to ethnic and linguistic stereotypes, prejudice, and hate speech against Gaelic and its speakers in the name of journalistic “balance.”
For decades the BBC and most of Scotland’s national & regional newspapers have presented audiences with a false balance, drawing false equivalence between objective news about public funding announcements for Gaelic on the one hand, and ethnolinguistic denigration of Gaelic and Gaels on the other. The denigration often goes so far as to proclaim that the language and its speakers have no right to exist.
Researching Anti-Gaelic Media Rhetoric
I explored this pattern in my Ph.D. research in 1999-2000, and wrote a chapter of my dissertation about it. Later I published parts of it in academic articles here and here (free downloads if you sign up for a free Academia.edu account).
I found that the denigration of Gaelic speakers in the Scottish media recycled some themes dating as far back as the middle ages: calling Gaelic barbaric or peasantish, equating it with animal sounds, and treating Gaelic as though it were inherently funny, always the butt of a joke (rather than being a legitimate medium for jokes).
Other themes of the abuse have also developed over time. Starting under Thatcher and Major, when the Tories first designated a substantial sum for Gaelic television with the Broadcasting Act 1990, people began to incorporate neoliberal themes into their denigration of Gaelic, complaining about the excessive cost of Gaelic alongside its other supposed negative characteristics. Indeed the increased public visibility of Gaelic that came with the increase in public funding for Gaelic, and the ensuing increase in Gaelic media, is what sparked the new cycles of public denigration.
Ethnic hatred for Gaelic speakers is now couched in terms of complaints about the amount of money spent on government programs to support the language and its speakers, but we know it’s still basically about anti-Gaelic prejudice and hatred, because the complaints about spending are always accompanied by plain old, intolerance, disrespect, lies, and insults.
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells (or more likely Disgruntled of Thurso) must think that he’s being really original with his letter to the editor complaining about funding for Gaelic road signs. And the newspaper editors obviously think these screeds should be published every time public funding is announced for anything related to Gaelic: dictionaries, research, road signs, media, education, anything at all.
But the fact is that anti-Gaelic rhetoric in the media is boringly predictable in its prejudice and spite.
So much so, that in 2015 I decided to make bingo cards of the themes as a way of coping. Humour helps. The cards were well received; someone started the Twitter account @GaelicBingo, and Bella Caledonia has used the cards as illustrations for several opinion pieces in support of Gaelic. (Note: if you want to use my bingo cards to illustrate your editorial or blog post, please ask my permission first and include a credit with an HTML link back to this blog post.)
I heard from Welsh, Irish, and other minority-language speakers who were inspired to make similar bingo cards for their languages. What unites Gaelic, Welsh, and Irish, of course, is not the inherent characteristics of these languages, but the bigotry of English speakers, as a comparison of the Gaelic and Welsh cards demonstrates:
Well done! Now wouldn’t it be nice if the Scottish media — including BBC Scotland — would stop giving this kind of hatred a platform? Gaelic speakers have called it out in various ways; I remember Alex O’Henley writing a Gaelic column for the Scotsman newspaper in 1999 or 2000 titled: “Gràin a’ chànain ’se gràin-cinnidh” (Hatred of the language is ethnic hatred/racism). Formal complaints about specific articles can be submitted to the Independent Press Standards Organisation of the UK, but in 18 years I have not yet heard of IPSO or its predecessor responding to a complaint in a way that helped reduce the denigration of Gaelic in the UK media. If you have suggestions for Gaelic.co readers about where complaints can be constructively addressed, or can relate your experience in making such a complaint, please leave a comment below.
The Latest Anti-Gaelic Rhetoric
Incredibly, 18 years after my initial research, and 3 years after I made the first two Anti-Gaelic Bingo Cards, you can still find this rhetoric word-for-word in newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and comment sections.
Most recently the hate has ramped up again in response to announcements about funding for a desperately-needed Gaelic dictionary project and the opening of a new Gaelic-medium school on the Isle of Skye, among other things. Here are some of the most recent examples:
English-speaking students ‘treated as second class’ after Gaelic school opens in Skye, Mike Wade, 20 April 2018
New funding of £2.5m for next phase of Gaelic dictionary, BBC Scotland, 24 April 2018 (see the comments section)
Brian Beacom: If Gaelic is dying does it deserve a financial kiss of life?, 26 April 2018 (about the Gaelic dictionary funding; Beacom’s photo is the “free space” in the new bingo card below)
Should Gaelic really matter to us? Let the war of the words begin, Brian Beacom, 9 May 2018 (Beacom’s followup report of his conversation with Professor Wilson McLeod of Edinburgh University who responded to his 26 April article)
It’s time to dump Gaelic… you know it makes sense (and I’m going to to take a lot of flak), Frank McAvennie, 20 May 2018 (a famous Scottish footballer)
Responses to Anti-Gaelic Rhetoric
For the last few years, Art Cormack has been my hero for his well-written, level-headed responses to the hate. I republished one of his 2015 responses with permission in this blog post. Here is another response of his published in Bella Caledonia in 2014.
Over the past few months, Gaelic speakers have been responding to the prejudice online with opinion pieces of their own, memes, clapbacks, and the hashtag #IsMiseGàidhlig on Twitter showing how vital Gaelic is in the lives of so many Scots and others (“Is mise Gàidhlig” means “I am Gaelic” in the sense of “I am the Gaelic language”). Have a look, it’s inspiring. This was my contribution:
These tweets represent a range of other responses on Twitter calling attention to anti-Gaelic rhetoric and fighting back against it:
Graphic artist Andy Arthur has created parody maps that show how Scotland’s railway stations would be named if all traces of Gaelic and other non-English languages were eliminated from the placenames. These are a response to the complaints that Gaelic was “never spoken here” and therefore there should be no bilingual Gaelic-English road signs or railway station signs:
A Monoglot’s Railway Map of Glasgow and West Scotland
A Monoglot’s Railway Map of Central and East Scotland
Anti-Gaelic Bingo Card #3
Since the hate keeps on coming, I decided to make a third anti-Gaelic bingo card. (The first two cards can be found in my blog post Anti-Gaelic Bingo, 2015.)
A List of All the Anti-Gaelic Bingo Card Squares
Here’s a complete list of the squares on all three bingo cards:
ANTI-GAELIC BINGO CARD 1
has no word for ______
can’t do maths or science
waste of money
has no written form
on life support
forced to listen to it
ANTI-GAELIC BINGO CARD 2
distracting on road signs
can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’
costs £__ per head
Garden of Eden
more speakers of Urdu
never spoken in ____
forced down our throats
‘Nighay naghay noo’
has no word for helicopter
compared to animals
ANTI-GAELIC BINGO CARD 3
gargling with Irn Bru
[I’m] not anti-Gaelic but
burn it down [referencing a real-life suggestion/threat to burn down a specific Gaelic-medium school with the children inside]
up there but not here
millions down the stank
no-one speaks it
English [is what] unites us
Gaelic vs. NHS [funding]
[I have] so much respect [for Gaelic] but
the Gaelic lobby
an SNP plot
fake snat grievance
but whatabout poverty
BBC Alba football
wrong kind of diversity
A 4th ANTI-GAELIC BINGO CARD?
Hopefully we won’t need to make a 4th card, but if you have suggestions for it, please leave them in the comments below. I omitted the following from card #3:
not real Scottish culture
discriminating against English
I speak more [other language] than Gaelic
Gaelic is Irish not Scottish