Home > CALL, Community, UGC, Video > Mother Tongues and Other Tongues

Mother Tongues and Other Tongues

From the beginning Guthan nan Eilean/Island Voices has been a “more than monolingual” project. In the early days the balance between English and Gaelic video production was deliberately kept strictly equal in terms of numbers. Naturally enough, that approach would not necessarily protect the project from criticism from either side of any partisan argument which presented language competence (or language resourcing) from a “zero-sum” perspective, in which anything that “Paul” may gain must be marked down as a loss for “Peter”. But that was neither our philosophy nor experience. We found technical “economies of scale” in putting together single picture sequences which could be used interchangeably between the two languages. Also, and perhaps more significantly from a language support point of view, in circumstances where contributors might be underconfident in speaking on camera in one of their languages, it was often the case that a run-through first in the other might be all the encouragement they needed to then repeat the exercise in their supposedly “weaker” tongue.

In later years, as community members and groups began to engage more proactively with the project and with less of a need for “prompting”, the division between English and Gaelic materials (audio and video) undoubtedly swung over markedly to the Gaelic side. In a context of creeping English language dominance in all aspects of community life, this may be viewed as an entirely understandable and justified attempt, by those with a local interest in “mother tongue maintenance”, at some kind of counterbalancing support for the “weakening” language.

All the while, the research/reports page has been accumulating a series of reports and articles that document the developing context in which the project has been operating, and/or describe how the project has responded to that context. The term “bilingualism” can cover many different meanings, and certainly deserves close interrogation whenever it is invoked in support of particular social approaches or policy proposals to do with language use or learning. That being said, this project has consistently maintained a positive stance on the potential benefits of engaging with more than one language. The 2012 British Council book chapter (p153) and 2016 Language Issues article, in particular, explore the development of this approach over the duration of the project in some detail.

In the broadest terms it means recognising the interrelatedness and interdependence of seemingly separate languages and communities, and seeking judiciously to strengthen or exploit these for mutual benefit. It is in this context that the “Sharing Gaelic Voices” theme has emerged over the past year or so, to the extent that a new page for “Other Tongues” has now been created on this site, where our videos in languages other than English and Gaelic, voiced by contributors near and far, are gathered in one place. No doubt, there are powerful forces at work and complex issues at stake wherever languages are in contact, and the production of a few extra videos may have little material impact of itself on a tangled web of interlocking competences, loyalties, and social and economic pressures. But even if we are just reminded for a moment that one person’s “mother tongue” will be somebody else’s “other tongue”, and vice-versa, then we may be contributing in some way to the development of a more open mindset and a willingness to question previously narrower, maybe even “monolingual”, lines of thinking, whether that be at policy-making or community level, or indeed within ourselves.

Worthwhile activity, then. But also fun! Any other budding voiceover artists out there?

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Categories: CALL, Community, UGC, Video

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