Many years ago, one of my professors at university said that starting grad school and becoming an academic is like joining a conversation. No matter what your discipline, there are already people out there who have done research and are talking about whatever it is you want to study. And it’s up to the student to do some background research to find out about who is already involved in the conversation, what’s been said already, and how to make a useful contribution to the ongoing conversation.
In the academic world, it’s really easy to spend a lot of time reading papers trying to gain an understanding of the conversation you want to join, and then also trying to stay current and keep up with the conversation as it grows and more research is published. The amount of effort needed to get up to speed and maintain your knowledge of the conversation depends a lot on how big the conversation is, how long it’s been going on, how many people are a part of it, and probably how many other conversations overlap with it.
As far as I have seen, the subset of academic research on (Scottish) Gaelic (in Nova Scotia) is not huge in comparison to other disciplines that are more popular. Even when you consider the academic research on Scottish Gaelic or just “Gaelic” in general, the amount of academic work is still quite small. Partly this is because Gaelic has only recently started to show up in academic works — the academic conversation about Gaelic, and certainly Gaelic in Nova Scotia is really only just beginning.
Although the academic conversation may be in its formative stages, there has certainly been plenty of discussion about Scottish Gaelic at the community level, and that conversation has quite literally been going on for centuries, in Scotland, Nova Scotia, and beyond. It’s the kind of conversation that doesn’t get recorded in academic papers for review and revision and records; it’s the kind of conversation that gets passed around by word of mouth between communities and from one generation to the next and develops a strong history. It’s the kind of conversation that speaks to people and conveys a sense of importance to those who listen. It’s the kind of conversation you can really only join by being in the community itself, and learning the background and history from those who have lived it, and are living it.
One day I may decide to join the academic conversation about Scottish Gaelic in Nova Scotia, but the reason I’m here, “Living Nova Scotia Gaelic” (in the words of my website title), is to learn what I can about the conversation that is happening locally. ‘Cause I won’t learn it anywhere else!