Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Flagging up Gaelic

One of the best things about learning Gaelic is that it is unlike learning almost any other living language in the world.

The perception of Gaelic is a complex subject that I am sure a professor could write a thesis about. It's something that goes beyond the remit of a Learner's Blog.

However, even little old me had a question that stumped everyone when my employer launched a new uniform and new design of name badge for its front line staff. A lovely touch they decided upon was to put flags on name badges to represent the languages that the wearer speaks, in order to give people visual reassurance that you can communicate with them in (hopefully at least one) language that they would be comfortable using.

French and Dutch are straighforward enough. The languages are pretty much indelibly linked to France and the Netherlands.

However, the spanner in the works came with Gàidhlig. What flag represents that?

I asked respected Academics and Agencies, and in all cases was met by an uncomfortable shuffling and a 'Hmm, not sure. We'll get back to you.' Nobody did.

All I did manage to find out is that there were only two companies in Scotland who gave Gaelic-speaking customer-facing employees badges to wear if they wished to do so. These badges carried the text 'Tha Gàidhlig agam' which is great, but didn't fit the design brief in this case.

Slowly it dawned on me that this was probably the first case of its kind - at least until someone can come along and claim otherwise. In other words, maybe this was the first case of a Gaelic speaker in a Customer Services role wishing to display a 'Gaelic flag' on a name badge.

As such, we decided upon the Saltire. Admittedly, it's not technically 'correct,' as the Saltire represents Scotland, not just the Gàidhealtachd. In the same manner, the Union Jack represents the UK, not just the English speakers, but these flags do the job they're meant to do.

This brings me nicely on to the promotion and use of Gaelic in the big wide world. In my short and limited experience, it does appear that many native fluent speakers don't really bother to use their Gaelic on people they don't know. It's almost as if it's a precious thing that has to be kept in the box for special occasions. Meanwhile, us Learners/New Speakers seize every chance we get to speak Gaelic, and speak it we do.

Despite the fact my job is based in London, I treat my passengers to a blast of Gaelic when we set off:

'A chàirdean, madainn mhath/feasgar math. 'S e Anndra an t-ainm a th' orm, agus 's e ur manaidsear trèana a th' annam. Fàilte air bord Eurostar a' dol a Pharis/a Lunnain/a Dhisneyland/dhan Bhruiseal. Tha mi a' guidhe tùras math dhuibh.'

It's brief enough not to annoy those not interested, but long enough to make any Gaelic speakers feel at home and warmly welcome,  especially in an environment where this wouldn't be expected.

'Putting it out there' has only resulted in positive events. I met M and her family from the Isle of Lewis after they nearly choked on their breakfast in disbelief on their way to Disneyland. We keep in touch and have become good friends. Recently I took Dougal to M's daughter's school near Stornoway to show the kids the Cool Dog on a Motorbike.

Linguists take an interest of course, but another bonus is that it's also a great ice breaker for people who simply want to have a chat. 'What was that 'other' language you spoke?' people will often ask, and off I rattle excitedly about Scottish Gàidhlig as if someone has just lit my blue touch paper.

It's all good. The only other Gaelic announcements I've heard so far are the pre-recorded ones on CalMac Ferries. One skipper once slipped 'Madainn mhath' into his welcome, but that's been about it. I've not heard any other individual make general customer announcements in Gaelic yet. However, there is one person doing so on a train out of London. It would be great if more people did so and took Gaelic outside into the everyday world.


  1. Gabh seo http://www.gaelic.ca/gaeliclogo.html

  2. I hope I'm on your train when I go down to Paris on Thursday, Anndra! Would love to meet another learner in the flesh!

    1. Sorry I missed you! And sorry it's taken so long to reply...I must find out how to get notified when someone leaves a comment :-/