Why Nova Scotia Gaelic?

Why Nova Scotia Gaelic?  Why would I, or anyone for that matter, want to learn about Gaelic in Nova Scotia?

The most basic answer I can provide is that it appears that, other than those within the Gaelic community in Nova Scotia, not a lot of people know much about Gaelic in Nova Scotia.

I would guess that outside of Nova Scotia, or perhaps the Atlantic provinces, a lot of people in Canada don’t even realize that Gaelic exists in Nova Scotia, and not just because they think it’s “dead”.  It’s been my experience that some people have been a little surprised to find out that there was ever any Gaelic spoken in Nova Scotia at all. I suppose those people think that Gaelic was confined only to Scotland and Ireland? 

Even the most broad, imprecise, and not-to-be-relied upon figures of Google search results paint a vivid picture of the general “global” awareness of Nova Scotia Gaelic:

Search results for “____ Gaelic language”:

Scottish = 184,000
Canadian = 18,800
Nova Scotia = 4,590
Cape Breton = 4,620

Search results for “Gaelic language in _____”:

Scotland = 35,700
Canada = 5,470
Nova Scotia = 1,270
Cape Breton = 130

Clearly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of Nova Scotia Gaelic knowledge and awareness out there on the internet.  Again, these Google hits aren’t exactly reliable, trustworthy numbers, but it can at least provide a starting point for understanding basic levels of public awareness.

It surprises me that people are more or less unaware of this pocket of culture, and I think it’s a rich and intricate community that deserves a bit of recognition. 

This is one of the main reasons why I have chosen to learn about Nova Scotia Gaelic, as opposed to Gaelic in Scotland or Ireland.  Lots of people know of or about those languages, whatever their perceptions might be, and lots of work is being done in those areas to study and understand the respective situations.  Although there has been some work done, still relatively little (from what I can tell) is known about Nova Scotia Gaelic in a broader context.  And while Nova Scotia Gaelic is a type of Scottish Gaelic, it is certainly different from Gaelic in Scotland in terms of language, geography, culture, and community.

There are, of course, other reasons why I’ve chosen Nova Scotia Gaelic, and there is also the much larger general question of “Why Gaelic?”, but that one’s got a big answer that will have it’s own post at some point in the future.   

For now, here’s an example of public perception of Nova Scotia Gaelic from real-life:

On a recent trip to Halifax, I met a store clerk about my own age, and it came up that I had just moved to Nova Scotia.  “So why did you move here?” he asked. I replied, “For Gaelic.” He looked surprised and said “Is there still Gaelic here? I thought it died off a long time ago.”

If I were a more violent person, I might have slapped him right then and there.  He’s lucky I’m a gentle soul.  

I explained to this store clerk that yes, Gaelic is alive and well here, and isn’t it wonderful? He agreed that yes, it’s pretty cool, but perhaps he only said that because he could sense the death-glare I was trying to supress.

We had already established in our short conversation that he was born and raised in Halifax.  I might expect that kind of reaction from someone in Alberta, or just about anywhere else in Canada for that matter (although it doesn’t make it sting any less).  I suppose I had naively assumed that Nova Scotians would at least be aware of the existence of surviving Gaelic in their own province.

To their credit, a lot of Nova Scotians that I have met so far seem to understand this.  With Mr. Store Clerk being one of a handful of exceptions, most of the people I have met since I arrived have had a much more positive reaction to the news that I moved here for Gaelic. Their response? “Oh, well, you’ve come to the right place then!” I want to hug these people.

It’s not my intention to turn everyone (or anyone, really) into a Gaelic crusader, fighting for the language with every breath.  Nor do I expect everyone to appreciate the value of the Gaelic language and culture.  But if, in some small way, something could be done change the overwhelming public perception that Gaelic is “dead”, or non-existent, in Nova Scotia that would be pretty fantastic.

And that is precisely why I want to learn and promote and raise awareness of Gaelic in Nova Scotia.  I want people to stop thinking of Gaelic as a “dead” and “useless” language, stop thinking of it as a thing of the past, stop saying the word “Gaelic” with that awful tone of distaste that I have heard so many times, and start accepting the fact that it’s here, it’s alive, and it’s not going anywhere. It would be so nice if people could see it as something the province (and country) can embrace and acknowledge and be proud of, don’t you think?


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