Friday, 17 July 2009

Tha beagan Gàidhlig agam

I've been learning Gaelic at City Lit in London for the last year. It's the summer holidays now, but there's one more year of the course left, which I'm going to sign up for. I'm really enjoying learning it; I think I caught the language-learning bug after studying German for four years as part of my linguistics degree at Birkbeck. As a Celtic language, Gaelic is quite hard to learn if you're used to learning Germanic or Romance languages like most people in this country do in school. It has verb-subject-object word order, which means the verb usually comes first in the sentence. It also has some weird idiosyncracies, such as having no verb "to have", which means that if you want to say you have something you have to say it's "at" you or "on" you, and if you want to say that you are something, you have to say that it's "in" you. There are loads of these prepositional constructions and in addition, all the prepositions can combine with all the pronouns to create scores of "prepositional pronouns" which you also have to learn. Having a linguistics degree is a definite advantage because then you understand how languages actually work and fit together. It's a real challenge but hey, I like that sort of thing and there are loads of resources to help, most prominently BBC Alba, the BBC's Gaelic-language TV channel. I've also joined two fora for learners, Fòram na Gàidhlig and mygaelic. Despite a recent increase in institutional support, many people (primarily Scots, I'm sorry to say) seem to feel there is no value in learning Gaelic. I am proud of my Scottish heritage and I think of Gaelic as a link to my ancestors, who would have spoken it. But it is also an intrinsic part of the culture and history of the British Isles and as a linguist, I will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from going the way of the dodo.

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