Gaelic in Aberdeen

by May 29, 2015

Ever since I wrote the post on Anti-Gaelic Bingo, it’s been more fun to read about Gaelic in the Scottish newspapers. I simply pull out one of my bingo cards and check off the boxes as columnists and journalists reel off predictable clichés. Nonetheless, it’s hard to just sit and read the lies and mistakes without wanting to set the authors straight.

The Evening Express, a daily tabloid published in Aberdeen, Scotland, featured this column on Wednesday 20 May 2015:


Columnist Scott Begbie's rant against Gaelic in the Evening Express tabloid

Columnist Scott Begbie in the Evening Express tabloid, 20 May 2015


“All but a dead language”? “Never native to the North-east”? Bingo! This one hurts a bit more than usual because I actually studied Gaelic and Celtic at the University of Aberdeen in 1990 and 1991-92. I learned so much not only from the lecturers, but also from fellow students. An amazing number of my friends who studied Gaelic at Aberdeen went on to work in Gaelic research, teaching, language planning, and the arts.

Arthur Cormack, Gaelic singer, educator, and advocate, wrote a succinct, fact-checking reply to Scott Begbie’s ignorant rejection of Gaelic in the north-east of Scotland. He has given me permission to reprint it here (I have taken the liberty of adding links that provide more information about his points):

Scott Begbie’s wonderful proclamation ‘We don’t want Gaelic up here’ leads me to sympathise with the more tolerant people of the north east associated with the spoutings of such a bigoted, self-appointed spokesperson.


Speakers of Gaelic are used to ill-informed denigration even although Gaelic is an official language of Scotland and it is over a decade since an Act of the Scottish Parliament conferred on Gaelic ‘equal respect’ with English. Clearly, Scott has a problem upholding the law with Gaelic being neither equal nor respected in his eyes.


The Book of Deer confirms Gaelic was spoken in the north east and Scott need look no further than placenames such as Inverurie and Banchory, the origins of which are obviously beyond his ken. In rural Aberdeenshire the evidence of spoken Gaelic is much more recent.


Some children are educated through the medium of Gaelic in Aberdeen. Bilingual children perform as well, or better, in school than monoglot children. So what’s not to like? Adults, too, learn Gaelic in the city which has a long-established Gaelic choir and a university department from which many prominent Gaelic scholars graduated and which continues to provide some of the Gaelic teachers Scott asserts are in short supply. The Gaelic arts have always attracted a healthy audience in Aberdeen and where would the employees of Grampian Television have been without the Gaelic broadcasting funds which sustained their jobs in the nineties and early noughties?


The support of Gaelic is not ‘lip service to the PC brigade’, but an endeavour to offer to a minority language community some of the things the majority language community takes for granted.


David Leask recently put well the situation in which Scott finds himself: ‘Scotland is still soaked with largely unexamined anti-Gaelic sentiment that, at times, spills in to self-hating bigotry.’


Most people would agree that Scots have become more aware, tolerant and supportive of the needs of minorities. What a pity this is not reflected in Scott Begbie’s column which simply demonstrates how out of touch he is with public opinion in Scotland.


Aberdeen is not in the Highlands or islands of Scotland, which are traditionally thought of as the Gaelic-speaking areas of the country. Rather, it is on the north-east coast, and it’s an urban centre at that. But as Art Cormack describes, Aberdeen and the surrounding areas have had Gàidhlig gu leòr (plenty of Gaelic) from the distant past right up through the present. And this is a linguistic legacy that north-easterners can be proud of, right alongside Doric.


Tapadh leibh, Artair.


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