Did an electrician from Back really change Gaelic forever?

LANGUAGE and how we use it has been in the news again. Not just the latest gaffe by Sarah Palin, who didn’t know the difference between the really mad guys in North Korea and the not-so-barmy fellows in South Korea, but a kooky Caithness councillor invoking the spirit of the Nazis in deliberations on the recruitment of teachers who support Gaelic.

He’s the guy who has tried to find out how much is spent on the promotion of Gaelic. Fair enough, he should get that information and we should all know how much that costs us. It is quite disgusting, the cover-up that is going on over cash for Gaelic. He’s absolutely right about that.

However, that does not give anyone any excuse to spout the offensive nonsense he came out with the other day.

I hear he has been trying in vain down the Freedom of Information route to get the info from the Scottish Government. I suspect it’s as easy to get that kind of detail as it is to get sight of the legal advice that the council lawyers here in Stornoway gave our licensing board when the North Korean members threw out our golf club’s bid for a Sunday extension. I have been trying for ages to get that.

Wait a minute. Freedom of Information legislation? Now there’s an idea. What if I . . . ?

Sarah Palin should think herself lucky she doesn’t speak Gaelic. Certain words are spelled differently depending on where you see them. Simple words like tigh, which means house, becomes taigh when written in certain textbooks and posh newspapers. I always assumed it was people with degrees keeping the plebs with O-level woodwork in their place by confusing them.

The word for association, Comunn, is another one. The Royal National Mod organisers are An Comunn Gaidhealach, yet the learners’ body is Comann Luchd-Ionnsachaidh or, of course, CLI if you’re really lazy.

So is it comunn or comann? Maybe it’s just the difference by us only having tinker Gaelic here in the islands? Yeah, that’ll be it, I thought. I’d just keep quiet about that.

Then someone pointed out that Lews Castle College translates its own name to a colaisde while the rest of the world calls a college a colaiste. Even Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on incomer-rich Skye calls itself a colaiste – with a “t”.

Ah, got them. If even the academics are all mixed up about it, then what chance is there for the rest of us? So I asked both institutions, as well as the head honchos at Bòrd na Gàidhlig. Funnily enough, none of the responses was out-and-out admissions that they hadn’t a clue what they were doing. Far from it.

First, Professor Hugh Cheape phoned from the campus at the bottom of Skye. He told me the awful truth. It was all Gawk’s fault.

These changes were set out by the Gawk many years ago.

Strange. George never mentioned it. What did a full-time crofter and part-time insulated-screwdriver-wielding sparky on North Sea oil rigs have to do with it? He has short-circuited many things in his time – but an entire language? Was the prof sure? He had it there in black and white.

Then I got an e-mail from Angela Weir at our college here in Stornoway. She, too, blamed the Gawk and revealed he first started fiddling with the language of the Garden of Eden back in 1985. Apparently, he recommended “st” should be adopted in orthography rather than “sd” – hence ist, eist, fhathast, colaiste and so on, rather than isd, eisd, fhathasd, colaisde.

George Campbell from Coll – him with the mud-spattered Subaru Impreza and the fondness for the girls from Harris – said that? Blimey.

She explained that, as Lews Castle College was around before 1985, the name Colaisde a’ Chaisteil was part of its corporate identity, so the “sd” spelling was retained.

Even although it’s wrong. Excellent.

“GOC also recommended “-unn” be altered to “-ann”, as in Comann Luchd-Ionnsachaidh, however Comunn na Gaidhlig and An Comunn Gaidhealach retained the pre-1985 orthography, as they were established prior to the orthographic change. Therefore, the accepted convention is, if the body/agency/institution was established prior to 1985, it retains the pre-1985 orthography.”

I’ve got it. If you’re a bit long in the tooth, just ignore all the new words and rules that are being introduced every second week to keep the Gaelic Mafia in jobs.

Hold on. Did she say GOC? Is that how he spells his nickname? Well, yes, it probably is, but maybe GOC is something else, too.

Right then, Murdo Macleod at Sabhal Mòr writes to put me right.

“You’ve probably heard of the Gaelic Orthographic Conventions (GOC) first published around 1981 by the SCEEB, forerunner of the SQA, and at that time the body responsible for administering examinations and certification in high schools – O levels, Highers, etc.”

Of course I’ve heard of them. Yeah, hasn’t everyone? Well, they did it. Not George, then. I did wonder.

And Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s official response? They were obviously far too busy doing their expenses on Friday to bother with me. Well, it is the end of the month.

I’ve had loads of replies from mortar-board types, all putting the blame squarely on the GOC. Thank you. Fine work.

I just have one other job for you to do concerning those councillors who refused to interview anyone for the two teaching posts which ask for support for Gaelic.

As you know, one of them has reportedly claimed the Gaelic reference in the job spec echoes 1930s Germany when jobs were earmarked for Nazi members.

What is the correct Gaelic term for an anti-Gaelic councillor from Thurso who will stoop as low as referring to the Third Reich to make cheap political points?

And just remind me of the term for good riddance, which I can use when he has the good grace to step down or, even better, be booted out.

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