Gaelic in Canada (was Re: Mitchif vs. French vs. English

Mike Cleven ironmtn at BIGFOOT.COM
Wed Mar 10 07:44:28 UTC 1999

At 04:23 PM 3/9/99 +0100, Henry Kammler wrote:
>>         Silver Donald Cameron a (now) well-established Cape Breton writer,
>> though from Ontario originally, said he got his introduction to Cape
>> Breton when he went to a country music fair just after he moved there. A
>> comedian got up on stage and told a joke in Gaelic and 500 people
>> cracked up laughing.
>>         I was at a cigar dinner in Halifax a few years ago where the guest
>> of honour was a Scottish baronet. He was president of a distillery and
>> gave a speech about its history and how the whiskey is made. They were
>> able to get him for the dinner because he is a Gaelic preservationist and
>> flies to Nova Scotia frequently to meet the Gaelic speakers. A baronet by
>> birth, he's been knighted in his own right for his work preserving the
>> Gaelic language.
>If Gaelic is so vital in Canada it would seem logical that Celtic Canadians
>help the Irish preserve their language for in Ireland Gaelic is *endangered*
>and facing extinction. Three dialects are still spoken (which are not all
>represented by the compulsory school Gaelic -- and this in turn is apparently
>not too popular among the students) and there are even some children that
>speak it but on a whole the number of L1-speakers probably does not exceed
>20,000. The fact that Irish is one of the official languages of the European
>Community (you find Gaelic text in every European passport) and that it is
>taught in Irish schools sheds some light on how strong processes of language
>assimilation are and how hard it is to reverse them.

By "vital" I guess you mean "alive" - rather than important.  Well, it's
Scots (rather than Irish) Gaelic we're talking about and it's only alive in
certain small areas and is not so widely-known as it apparently was at the
turn of the (last) century in other parts of the country (the ruling
"Chateau Clique" of Quebec were almost entirely hard-core Scots).  Until
perhaps very recently, there were supposed to be more Canadians with Scots
Gaelic as L1 than there were in Scotland (nearly entirely only in the
Hebrides, I think).  There's a bit of a "national revival" of the auld
tongue that's a spin-off from the Maritime-Celtic music boom, but it's just
another thread in the complex quilt of Canadian multiculturalism.
Canadians have, however, participated in the development of Gaelic
curriculum in Scotland, and I think there's been numerous cultural
exchanges (other than but including the medium of the Highland Games).  I
mentioned the possibility that Scots almost became a Canadian official
language to a friend today, and his immediate reaction (he's a Grant, by
the way, i.e. a Calgary/Montana Scot) was that "thank god they didn't; just
more division and inter-ethnic friction, etc.").

I don't think Irish was ever "in fashion" in Canada, and I'm pretty sure
that the Irish speakers that do exist in Canada are direct from the
Gaeltacht and not native-born Canadians, despite the large number of Irish
who worked on the railway and the large Irish populations of the Maritimes
and in certain parts of Quebec.  The Irish linguistic revival, of course,
was heavily tied into the Irish liberation movement and therefore
associated with the Fenian Brotherhood, so it wouldn't have been
politically wise to actively use Irish in Canada of the late 19th Century.

Mike Cleven
ironmtn at

The thunderbolt steers all things.
                           - Herakleitos

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