Scots-Gaelic rivalry is pointless

A letter from Derrick McClure in The Herald today.

THE old canard about Gaelic and not Scots being the “real” language of the Scots, re-hashed today by Ewan Macintyre (Letters, December 6), should have been laid to rest decades ago. Scotland throughout its history has been a plurilingual kingdom, starting when Kenneth MacAlpin united the Brythonic-speaking Picts with the Goidelic-speaking Scots. Galloway and Strathclyde (also Brythonic-speaking), the Lothians (Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon-speaking), the northern mainland (Norse-speaking) and the Western Isles (Gaelic-speaking) were added by successive kings; and French had been adopted as a court language by the time of the first War of Independence.

The Gaelic language was never called “Scots”: that myth too should be well and truly dead. The people known to the Romans as Scoti and to the Saxons as Scottas were Gaelic-speaking, and their language was referred to in Latin as lingua Scotorum, translated into the vernacular as “the Scottis langage” – the language of the Scots. Mr Macintyre asks why the Northern English dialect of the southern and eastern parts of the kingdom came to be known as “Scottis”. For the simple reason that it had become the language of the kings, the government and administration, and the brilliant national literary culture.

A key point here, in view of the importance of Scotland’s credentials as a European nation in the arguments for independence, is that it was through Scots and not through Gaelic that Scotland became culturally an integral part of Europe. No-one with any knowledge of the subject can doubt the scope and quality of our Gaelic literature; but Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns are mainstream European poets as Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir and Alasdair Mac Mhaighistir Alasdair, their near-contemporaries and at least their equals in poetic merit, are not.

Pointless rivalries in the cultural independence movement are as unnecessary and potentially as harmful as in the political. Gaelic and Scots are both languages of Scotland, and vehicles of literatures of which any nation could be proud.

The original letter.

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