On consecutive days in the last week of April Gordon Wells recorded a series of Gaelic conversations with famed writer and entertainer Norman Maclean, in which Norman spoke reflectively of his memories and impressions of Gaelic life in Glasgow and the Hebrides from the middle of the Twentieth Century up to the present day.
The five videos, ranging between 35 and 55 minutes in length, will soon be posted online. Word for word transcriptions will be made available simultaneously on Clilstore, enabling instant one-click vocabulary checking for Gaelic learners*. All in all there are 27,000 words and over three and a half hours of listening material in this collection, forming a unique new resource for serious study by learners and researchers. But Norman is a master raconteur, and there are plenty songs, jokes, and stories along the way. So, while it’s certainly an education, entertainment galore is also guaranteed for the more casual listener!
Over the week the conversations ranged over a wide variety of topics. In broad terms, however, each day had a different central focus:
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The “Saoghal Thormoid” project is a collaboration between Soillse, the inter-university research partnership which funded the recordings through its Small Research Fund, and Guthan nan Eilean (Island Voices). All recordings are free to access.
*Clilstore also provides links to automatic Google Translate versions via the “unit info” tab. While machine translation from Gaelic to English is still at a very rudimentary stage, these versions can give at least an impression of the gist of the conversations for those viewers who have yet to start learning the language of Eden…
Eskoziar Uharteetako Ahotsak Proiektuak (Guthan nan Eilean) Irlandari bisita egiten dio. Dokumentalaren moldaera hau euskaraz dago. Irlandako eta Eskoziako gaelikoz zenbait elkarrizketa ere entzun daitezke, euskarazko azpitituluekin.
Tha ùidh aig na Basgaich ann an cànan (no cànain?) nan Gàidheal! Seo film eile aig Guthan nan Eilean air a bheil tionndadh Bascais a-nis. Chaidh “Lursail alferrak” a dhèanamh mar-thà.
Film aithriseach goirid ann am Bascais airson luchd-ionnsachaidh air feannagan ann an Uibhist.
A short documentary in Basque for language learners on making lazybeds in Uist.
We’ve already done Peatcutting in Polish. Now, as a follow-up to the Donostia visit, and with grateful thanks to Jon Mentxakatorre Odriozola, Island Voices can proudly add Basque to our languages portfolio!
Island Voices contributor Catherine Eunson crossed paths with Professor Alan Riach at this year’s StAnza poetry festival in Saint Andrews, where Alan was giving a reading of his newly published, and highly acclaimed, English version of the classic Gaelic poem ‘Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill’ (‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’) by Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair.
In the poem the birlinn in question sets sail from Loch Eynort, South Uist.
“Let’s do it”, said Alan.
With these difficult negotiations completed, and financial assistance from Stòras Uibhist, an attractive and bilingual evening programme of poetry and music took place at Kildonan Museum on July 19th, with Alan’s readings complemented by various contributions from local residents and other visiting musicians.
Prior to the event Alan was also able to visit the shores of Loch Eynort where he gave an appetising foretaste of the feast to come:
(Follow this link if you would like to read while you listen.)
The following longer clip shows the final part of the evening, as the birlinn weathers a fierce storm and safely reaches Carrickfergus.
(Follow this link if you would like to read the Gaelic verses that Bill presents.)
The readings were further enhanced with the illustrations that Alexander Moffat had provided for the book. A selection is reproduced here, with his kind permission. (Click to enlarge.)
It’s probably not that often that South Uist plays host to an eminent professor of Scottish Literature, but as Alan pointed out at the end of the evening, its success was owed in no small part to the contributions of other performers. So thanks are also due to Anndra MacIsaac, Marion Morrison, Catherine Eunson, Fiona Mackenzie, Bill Innes, Morag Wells, Alasdair MacIntyre, Rosie Mapplebeck, and Pauline Prior-Pitt.
Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair lived and worked in the 18th century, and is widely regarded as one of the finest ever Gaelic poets. He was also first cousin to Flora MacDonald, and directly involved in the events of 1745 and its aftermath. His most famous work was an epic poem which describes a difficult sea voyage from Locheynort in South Uist to Carrickfergus in Ireland. It is entitled, ‘Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill’ (The Birlinn of Clan Ranald), and, this year, it has been given a new and lively translation by Professor Alan Riach, of the department of Scottish Literature in Strathclyde University.
Alan will be coming to South Uist to read from his translation and talk about the description and drama of the poem. Come along and hear him at 7 pm, Tuesday 19th July at Kildonan Museum, where a replica of a birlinn sits outside the museum. Bill Innes will also be taking part, and reading some of the original poem in Gaelic.
The summer issue of NATECLA’s journal “Language Issues” takes a look at Community Languages, and features an article on Guthan nan Eilean/Island Voices by Gordon Wells. “Sharing Gaelic Voices: Peatcutting in Polish or Surfing in Sindhi?” can be viewed as a Gaelic-focussed companion to, and update of, the 2012 project description (written from an ESOL point of view) in the British Council’s “Innovations in ELT for Migrants and Refugees”.
Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin of the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the Soillse inter-university research network, adds another perspective: “Guthan nan Eilean may also be seen as creative initial steps in an emerging agenda of documentation of natural language… The project demonstrates how the community of speakers can take a pro-active and productive role… in this vital task.”
Regular readers will have noticed that a “Peatcutting in Polish” video already exists, as an example of the potential for “re-purposing” that is among the issues discussed in the article.
Perhaps more examples will be forthcoming in the months ahead?
It can also be accessed here.
Gordon Wells was delighted to give a short presentation on Island Voices to the Hitzargiak Congress, held in the Basque Country on June 23rd and 24th. There was a very full programme over the two days of the congress, with the first full roundtable discussion focussing on Oral Heritage. Always happy to assert the “Primacy of Speech”, Gordon was also pleased to learn of broadly similar projects working in Alsatian, Basque, and Galician.
“Writing is, of course, a very important skill and an intriguing facet of linguistic behaviour”, he said, in his opening remarks (simultaneously interpreted in three other languages!). “But it is still, nonetheless, a kind of accoutrement to the essence of language, which is realised in its most elemental form through speech. And in the context of language endangerment, I suggest we must take care to continue supporting ordinary talk, because if we lose recognisable speech we lose the essential medium through which to maintain language.”