Mitchif vs. French vs. English

The McDonald Family mcdonald at ISN.NET
Sun Mar 7 00:23:09 UTC 1999

At 02:54 PM 3/6/1999 -0800, terry glavin <transmontanus at GULFISLANDS.COM> wrote:
>great little thread here. i read recently that gaelic was the second
>language in canada, before french, around the turn of the century, and
>during laurier's administration (i believe it was laurier's) there was a
>private members' bill in the house of commons, which failed only barely,
>that would have established gaelic with english and french as an official

Gaelic has traditionally been a fairly important language in Atlantic
Canada, particularly in Cape Breton, where there seem to still be some
native speakers. On PEI, though, it died out three generations ago -- when
my maternal grandmother was born, her parents, who were in the second
generation of Gaelic speakers on PEI, the first generation either immigrants
or children of immigrants, still spoke Gaelic at home. They never taught it
to my grandmother, unfortunately, probably because of the low status that
Scots Gaelic traditionally has. Now while Cape Bretoners are trying to
revive their Gaelic, PEI's Gaelic community is almost certainly dead. (Scots
Gaelic, anyway: A professor of mine at UPEI, one Colmán O'Hír, is teaching
an Irish-language course to thirty students.)


At 12:01 AM 3/7/1999 -0800, Inge Genee <inge.genee at ULETH.CA> wrote:

>> All the main British figures in BC were by and large Scots or Irish (or
>> Welsh) - even if they were American in character.  "Anglo-Saxon" is a term
>> bandied about rather loosely to describe "British Canadian" culture, but in
>> reality it was a Scots-dominated effort....
>>....  The Gaelic presence in BC remains strong even today
>> with a large expatriate population
>I'm not sure about the details of who and when exactly immigrated into
>the West from "Celtic" areas of the British Isles, but we must not forget
>that they are unlikely to have all spoken a Celtic language: people from
>the Scottish lowlands are likely to have spoken Lowland Scots rather than
>Scottish Gaelic, and people from the eastern parts of Ireland presumably
>often spoke English as their first language, not Irish. Before we are
>surprised about a possible surprisingly small number of "Celtic" loans in
>CJ, we need to have detailed information about which languages were
>spoken exactly by the new arrivals.

That is a very important point -- the languages spoken by the Irish and
Scots weren't uniformly Irish and Gaelic, particularly for the poor Irish
and Scots who had to flee to North America after their economy collapsed in
the first half of the 19th century. Scots, in the Middle Ages, might have
become a language as distinct from English as Danish is from Swedish, but
for some odd reason, a literary standard was never established through the
publication of a vernacular Bible. As Genee points out, the eastern half of
Ireland was quite anglicized, even though before the Famine, there were four
million (!) native speakers of Irish.

Upon arrival in North America, the Celtic languages -- particularly Irish
and Gaelic -- weren't particularly high-status. The same Irish professor I
mentioned above said that the priests tried to make the children ignorant of
Irish, so they wouldn't be hindered in their search for work, either in
Britain or in America. The Irish language in Ireland rapidly declined after
that point; the Irish language in North America went down much more steeply.
Gaelic in Canada might have done better than Irish in the US, simply because
Canada was much less densely populated, and more rural -- Gaelic-speakers
weren't subject to the same pressure to adopt the English language simply
because they were more isolated from the main Anglophone centres.

I've seen references in several books to the effect that Irish didn't make
as much of an impact on US English as one might expect by the number of
Irish-Americans because the Irish language was valued much less than, say,
German, or Italian. The same kind of phenomena may have operated in regards
to CJ, perhaps even more so, since probably every British subject who made
it to the Pacific coast of North America spoke English.

>Interestingly, although linguists now assume there must have been
>widespread biligualism in Britain after the Anglo-Saxon invasions between
>British Celtic and the new Anglo-Saxon tongue, very few confirmed Celtic
>loans appear in English.

That _does_ surprise me. One thing I'd like to know is the relative
populations of the British Celts and the Germanic invaders in the 5th and
6th century. If Britain was thinly populated relative to the Germanic
settlers, then that might account for the lack of Celtic loanwords dating
back to the invasion of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.

>Inge Genee

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