THE Scottish Government is launching a drive to get more people to talk Gaelic – in the heart of Doric country.
SNP ministers have asked Aberdeenshire Council to find ways to revive the ancient language after it emerged the region had the fastest-rising number of speakers in the country.
Last night, some critics questioned the investment in Gaelic when local dialect Doric is still very much alive all over the area.
The use of Gaelic largely died out in Aberdeenshire in the late 1600s and is more commonly heard on the west coast, in the Highlands and across the Hebrides.
The last speaker of Deeside Gaelic died three decades ago, in 1984. The 2011 census recorded 1,397 Gaelic speakers in Aberdeenshire – up just over 500 on the 2001 figure.
Dr Michelle McLeod, senior lecturer in Gaelic at Aberdeen University, said the history of Scottish Gaelic was firmly placed in the north-east, with the earliest written example contained in the notes of a manuscript from the monastery of Deer, thought to have been written in the 12th Century.
She added that a number of place names in Aberdeenshire, including Braemar (Bràigh Mhàrr, the Summit of Marr) confirmed that Gaelic was spoken in the area for a sustained period.
But Matthew Fitt, the Scots language author who translated Asterix and the Picts into Scots, including Doric, questioned the need for the Gaelic plan.
“People will have the right to ask, where’s Aberdeenshire Council’s Doric strategy?
“If Doric is not valued even in its own heartland in the same way as Gaelic, it will send mixed-messages to proud Doric speakers about how Scotland views their language.”
Doric doyen Robbie Shepherd, however, backed the plan. He said: “I am totally for it. With the influx of people to Aberdeenshire now, they are not all farm servants and Doric speakers. Coming from the west coast, they deserve to keep their own tongue – as much as we deserve to keep ours.”
Dr McLeod said: “While linguists generally believe that Gaelic ceased to be commonly spoken on the east coast of Aberdeenshire by around 1600, the last native speaker of Deeside Gaelic died as recently as 1984.
“Around Highland and western Aberdeenshire there was evidence of Doric and Gaelic bilingualism in certain parishes right through the 19th Century.
“All over Scotland there is renewed interest in Gaelic language and it is appropriate that Aberdeenshire Council should follow suit.
“Clearly, any provision should not be to the detriment of any other linguistic or cultural group. Aberdeenshire Council’s plan is not about forcing Gaelic on those who do not wish to speak it or learn it, it is about providing improved opportunities for those in the council area who do wish to use it or learn it and it is about recognising part of the linguistic heritage of this area.
“While the modern Gaelic native-speaking heartland may now be in the western islands of Scotland, Gaelic belongs to all of Scotland and the Scottish Government recognises that in law.”
A spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said: “We are one of a number of organisations asked to develop a Gaelic language plan.
“We will do so in consultation with communities and ensure that it is proportionate to the requirements of the area.
“Although Doric does not form part of the required framework under the legislation, we are taking steps to ensure it is reflected where relevant, along with other languages.”
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