Gaelic Language Academy
Looking forward to an academy:
1. Why does Gaelic need an academy?
The National Plan for Gaelic, which went before the Scottish Parliament in 2007, promises an academy for "corpus planning", ie, matters concerning the language as a language, such as spelling, words, grammar, idiom, language resources, dual language design, and new technology. As the leading language planning expert, Joshua Fishman, says, there are two main kinds of language planning, status planning and corpus planning - and they are closely related. The progress being made with the status of Gaelic has challenged the language to match the new opportunities; and the expansion in the areas of use of Gaelic has added to the status for the language. Status comes from the efforts of the language community and language supporters, from the Gaelic Language Act and public body Gaelic Language Plans, from a BBC radio station and BBC television channel, and so on. But also from a language which we can all speak and apply with confidence, suppleness, vigour, and verve; a language in the home or on the page, in education or at work.
2. What will be the breadth of activity of the academy?
Bòrd na Gàidhlig understands corpus planning by a broad definition. The Bòrd expects the academy to have an equally wide remit. This remit will take in standardisation issues, development issues, and support resources, and the dissemination of guidance, information and advice on these issues to the public.
Standardisation issues include such as spelling, terminology, names, and grammar:
How do we spell this?
What is the word for that?
What is the proper name for the town?
How do we compose a sentence for formal use?
Development issues include such as new words, styles, design, and translation:
What will we call it?
When should the different levels of language be used?
How does using two languages affect design?
Who can we get to translate this into Gaelic or English?
Support includes materials for lexicography, tuition, technical support, and language heritage and history:
Where can we find the standard word?
How can we learn the language of today?
What assistance can computers give us?
How can we enhance the richness of our Gaelic?
When was Gaelic widely spoken in such-and-such a place?
3. Who will the academy serve?
It will serve us all, if we have any involvement with the language. Its recommendations will impact on the Gaelic we encounter on the page, on the screen, and in our ears. They will help produce communication that is clear and flexible for us all. This is important for anyone communicating with the public, particularly if the audience includes folk outwith their home area; it is important for teaching staff and broadcasters, important for organisations offering services or goods, important for designers of posters or panels, important for authors and translators. And so on.
4. Will the academy run classes?
No. Unfortunately, there are now two ways of understanding "language academy". When language planners such as Bòrd na Gàidhlig speak about an academy, they mean a structure by which corpus planning can be progressed. But you will also see "language academy" used as a name for private language schools. That is not the kind of academy we have in mind.
"Bòrd na Gàidhlig will investigate the most suitable structure for a Gaelic language academy in order to ensure the relevance and consistency of Gaelic."
The National Plan for Gaelic 2007-2012, p35
5. Isn't Gaelic relevant enough already? Why would we want to change such a rich language?
Gaelic is indeed a rich language, as you would expect from a language with such an ancient history and replete heritage. But every living language changes constantly with each new technology or thought that comes its way, and with each twist made in it by the arts and by modern life. The question is not should there be changes, but in what direction will the changes head. The academy will steer a course which ensure that Gaelic gets the most out of its progress, to the benefit of its users, to the benefit of its learners, and to the benefit of the language itself.
6. Isn't the language consistent enough already? Why can't people keep their own dialect?
Though there have always been dialects, and differences in expressing ourselves will always exist, there is such a degree of unity in Scots Gaelic that these divergences are not greatly pronounced. However, there is a need for standard ways of communicating in Gaelic, and the more formal the circumstance, the more important it is that the style is appropriate for everyone. And today, Gaelic also has to be appropriate for technologies that interpret or generate language. Much work is already being done on how tools such as computers can help the Gaelic community with writing or translating, and with finding the right word or phrase. But as with signs and notices, there is a need for language that is simple, clear and widely understood. And the words that are in the language, and the ways in which they go together, have to be tagged electronically before Gaelic can be used in the latest devices.
7. English doesn't need an academy. Why does Gaelic have to be different?
It's not Gaelic that is different, but English. An academy-like structure is the norm for languages, whether widely used or minoritised. Academies now have a long history, with more and more being added to the number. For example, the Academy of the Arabic Language in Israel, established in 2007 by that country's parliament. Though English lacks an academy, that doesn't mean to say that it has no corpus planning. With the exceptional strength of English in the global economy and in cultural and technological industries, decisions affecting change in the language are made daily by public and private organisations in various countries. English is strong enough to cope with a variety of opinions until the industry or the media settle on the solution that suits them best. But other languages are not so fortunate, and Bòrd na Gàidhlig sees an opportunity to give the community itself more of a voice in the process. With the participation of community and academics (themselves part of the community) and organisations which serve them, agreement will more quickly be reached and will add more strength and status to the language.
8. Will the academy be similar to all other planning academies?
No. Every academy is unique, with major differences among them. Some focus largely on keeping a language true to its roots, some seek to raise the status of its literature, some aim to coordinate the borrowing of international terms, and so forth. Gaelic requires an academy that will meet its own needs and the needs of its speech community, and which seizes opportunities presented by widespread new technologies. No other academy will be quite the same.
"[An] Academy to initiate and co-ordinate corpus planning. This will monitor and assess changes in the language and co-ordinate the creation and implementation of new and correct forms of Gaelic."
The National Plan for Gaelic 2007-2012, p47
9. There have been projects which have looked at some of these issues already. Has that work been to no avail?
No. The academy will be building on excellent work that has already been done, and that is being done now. The academy will be coordinating this work and ensuring that the foundations which have been laid are robust enough for the current needs of Gaelic and to meet the wishes of its community. The gaps will be filled, and the existing corpus will be updated and expanded as required. The remit of the academy will incorporate projects that are currently under way, though the exact nature of the relationship between them and the academy has to be determined. Projects such as the Gaelic Orthographic Conventions (GOC) for guidance on spelling, Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ~ Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland (AÀA) for a national gazetteer and guidance on place-names, An Seotal for terminology in school texts, An Dearbhair spell-checker by TELI for Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Dewey cataloguing system in Gaelic by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), Faclair na Gàidhlig for a history of Gaelic words, Am Faclair Beag for the Dwelly dictionary and other examples of language use, Bòrd na Gàidhlig's database of translators and interpreters, translation memory software for the University of the Highlands and Islands, Gaelic interface for browsers by Akerbeltz, the publications of the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, and many others.
10. What will the academy be seeking for the language?
Bòrd na Gàidhlig expects that the academy will adopt a scientific approach which includes identifying popular practice, and will balance views of what should be, with an understanding of the reality. Issues such as suitability for dual language presentation, facilitation of learning and consistency of rules will have to be borne in mind, but not at the expense of the language's substance, flexibility and variety.
11. Who will make the decisions for the academy?
It is expected that the academy proper will be a selection of fluent and knowledgeable speakers drawn from academia, education, broadcasting and the written arts and crafts. They will be assisted by a staff with appropriate training or experience in language matters. The academy shouldn't be afraid to consult with non-Gaelic-speaking specialists when assistance would be beneficial. And there will be a need for a conduit for the views and knowledge of corporate users on what would help them in their line of work.
12. Gaelic is important to me; but will the academy listen to my views?
Certainly it will. In a way, we are all part of the academy. Corpus decisions are pointless, no matter how "right" or how "good" they might be, if Gaelic users reject them. New technology opens up the possibility for the academy to consult with the community throughout its work, and Bòrd na Gàidhlig intends this to be the practice. With the assistance of experts in language and in computing, the Bòrd is looking at the best and most open way of achieving this through the internet. This does not mean that the most fluent Gaelic speakers and the people closest to a topic under consideration should not, or will not, have a big say, but it does mean that others too will have an input. There should also be the opportunity to review decisions reached by the academy, with a period during which such conclusions can be reassessed after being tested by actual use.
13. This is all very well; but it will cost money. How will the academy be paid for?
Progress will not come for free, but neither is the money to pay for it plentiful, and status and acquisition planning will require a large proportion of the funding available from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and other sources. Not all that folk are hoping for will come at once, but the academy will not be starting from scratch. There are already people working in professional capacities in Gaelic corpus planning, with a fair number of resources available or in preparation, and there are research activities under way. These are costs that are already being met, and by directing these activities towards the aims of the academy, a big initial step will be taken for no substantial extra cost. In order to keep running costs as low as possible and to avoid duplication, the Bòrd is looking at utilising an existing structure or structures to cover the administrative and communication roles.
14. I find this all very interesting. How can I make my views known on the plans for an academy?
Bòrd na Gàidhlig will be going out to public consultation in 2012, over its plans for a language academy. We will greatly welcome and value your views when this is underway, but in the meantime you can also send comments on what you would like to see in a Gaelic academy to the Bòrd's Research and Corpus Planning Manager, Peadar Morgan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.