Gaelic in a Digital World

This an English translation of the original post “Gàidhlig ann an Saoghal Digiteach

In this century, the internet is at the heart of almost every part of everyone’s life.  It’s a resource of knowledge and information that is deeper and wider than anything that’s ever been before it.

If Gaelic can use the internet effectively then it could significantly help the status of the language and give a better chance to thousands of people to get involved with the language and its culture.

One difficulty I have as a student is finding books and other resources to use when I am researching topics to do with Gaelic – such as the Highland Clearances or poetry.  Luckily, I have a great library nearby that does the job, but still I’m limited to only one or two books on more specific topics and often these are in the “Heavy Demand” section – which means that I only have the items on loan for one day before I have to return them.  It’s not nearly as easy for everyone to travel to such a library as I have here at the University of Aberdeen, though, and this limitation leave almost everybody outside the universities that teach Gaelic in a bind if they want to learn more about the language.  It’s not an easy job researching Gaelic’s culture.

The internet can deal with this issue to an extent.  If there was an official project, as they have begun in Norway, when libraries across the country with Gaelic books published their materials in a digital form then it would be far easier for people to read about the language.  Imagine how good it would be to type in the name of a poem on a web page and it would come up on screen in front of you straight away.  Imagine how good it would be to put in something like “the Clearances” and a list of books related to the clearances would appear.  It would be such a good thing for everyone with an interest in the language and it would help Gaelic leapfrog English in terms of ease of academic research.  Such a project would cost a lot of money, and I’d expect that some of that cost will be beared by those that use it, but it would give jobs to those involved as well as bringing an exceptional service to the language.

There are good places online at the moment where you can find out about Gaelic.  There is a good list of online dictionaries on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s website where you can find translations from Dwelly’s, Stòr-Data etc.  Tobar an Dualchais is very good to learn about songs and poetry with over 30,000 recordings from people across Scotland to listen to.  Am Baile is another good resource – focussing on the Highlands with recordings and written pieces too.  The BBC also has a few good pages that are helpful when researching in the language – especially Làrach nam Bàrd (Page of the Poets) where you will find plenty of poetry and related information.  They are not as easy as I’d like them to be to navigate, though – and there is nothing as large as books and novels on any of them.

With the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Reddit – small communities have been built around Gaelic.  These are so fragmented though that they are not as useful or successful as they could be.  There is not one single place where Gaelic speakers can meet online.   It would be good if there was a social network for Gaelic where everything would be in the language.  There could be translations for learners and other special features related to the language – such as profile information on your level of Gaelic and how long you have learned/spoken the language.  This would give people a place to develop their writing skills and would be a great way of encouraging people to use the language outside of work or school.  Social networks wouldn’t be just a waste of time then!

Even though the Government should give equal respect to Gaelic as it does to English, as ordered by the Gaelic Act 2005, this hasn’t happened online.  There isn’t the same level of service if you go to the Scottish Government or Highland Council websites in Gaelic.  A prominent example is the Government’s white paper on Scottish independence: a 670 page document in English and a 45 page PDF in Gaelic.  Gaelic only received a summary, as did 12 other languages.  That’s not equal respect.  There is still a long way to go for the Government to bring their English and Gaelic website to the same level.

Like everything else, these projects I’m suggesting cost money and also time.  I’m not certain, but I’d imagine that the number of people who could develop such websites for Gaelic is also quite low.  I hope when I graduate soon (relatively speaking) that I have some time to take on one or two of these projects relating to Gaelic.  The Gaelic internet is like a new land that is unsettled and untamed at the moment – but it could be a big, diverse and thriving community if we just start building it.

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