I’m lucky enough to have grown up speaking two languages, Welsh and English (we actually weren’t allowed to speak English to our teachers in primary school outside English lessons). In secondary school I then learned a third, French. In my undergraduate degree I took a year of Ancient Greek, and I’m now learning Scots Gaelic as part of my PhD. I’m not bored of learning new languages yet!
My research revolves around an historical lack of resources in Gaelic. There wasn’t even a fully printed Gaelic Bible until the 1800s. Having resources is key to being able to enjoy your minority language. In Wales, all official documents, emergency services, and government-funded cultural material must be available in both Welsh and English. We have half a million Welsh speakers, you see, and many of them are more comfortable speaking Yr Hên Iaith than they are Saesneg.
Scotland has a strange relationship with Gaelic. Some believe it shouldn’t be present in the Lowlands or Edinburgh, even though it’s been here for centuries (trust me, I’ve got the papers to prove it. Don’t mess with a stressed PhD student). But it’s here. It’s growing, and you can learn it dead easily!
In Scotland, it isn’t as easy to find Gaelic in everyday life as it is Welsh in Wales, but it’s getting more common. If you stroll around the University of Glasgow you’ll see it on nearly every department’s front door.
On a recent trip to Ireland, I found out they’ve gone even further. Dublin is a city of beautifully ubiquitous Gaelic. Their official bilingualism is inescapable. Every signpost, every taxi, every tram, and even the drain covers have their wonderful language written on them.
The National Museum has every single interpretation panel, accession label, activity pack and map available bilingually. It was wonderful.
I’m not entirely sure what I wanted to say with this post. I guess it’s mostly just to let you know that a country having an extra language isn’t exclusive, it’s an opportunity. People will read your thesis even though it’s on a minority culture. Gaelic documents and commentaries offer fascinating insights into Scottish life that you might miss if you only read the English or Scottis. It doesn’t make you a snob to have bilingual stuff. It makes you welcoming. It means you welcome people from different backgrounds, and you embrace every part of the culture of this country, in whatever language. How can making something accessible to more people be a bad thing? Academia and museums have been a little slow to embrace the idea that Scotland’s minority language and its culture are worth studying and displaying with pride, but it’s certainly getting there, and more and more HEIs are embracing the idea as well. Err…hyperlink.
If your PhD involves different languages, then good for you! If you’re learning a language as part of your PhD then you’re doing something that will enrich your life, guaranteed. You can read new books, talk with new people and see them relax into their own tongue, and watch weird films you’ve never heard of. Impress your friends with it. Confuse your enemies with it. Enrich your museum exhibits with it.
Who knows, you might even earn a few brownie points if you’re applying for funding 😉
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