Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

“Oral Literacies”

18/01/2021 Leave a comment

Following her major project on Reading Aloud, in which she included research on Gaelic as well as many other languages in England, Scotland, and Wales, Sam Duncan has now written a book about it. The title, “Oral literacies”, nicely encapsulates the challenge to many established orthodoxies around language and learning that Sam clearly, yet warmly articulates within its pages.

This is, in fact, the second substantial publication emerging from the project, following the special issue of Changing English last year which compiled a number of papers from the UCL symposium on the same topic. These included Gordon Wells’ paper on Island Voices, which focussed on the primacy of speech while freshly acknowledging the porosity of the boundary with written language.

While proponents of established language teaching regimes (and writers of census questions) may still find it appropriate to categorise linguistic behaviour in terms of a traditional “four skills” matrix, it’s refreshing to find research work which interrogates a rigid compartmentalisation of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Approaching, as she does, from a quite different perspective to that of Gaelic revitalisationism, it may nonetheless be significant for those engaged in the latter that “orality” features highly in Sam’s treatment.

And the book’s comprehensive index enables the selective reader to focus in on particular interests, such as Gaelic, psalm-singing, or indeed Island Voices!

Here’s the full back-cover description of the book.

This is the first book to focus exclusively on an examination of early 21st-century adult reading aloud. The dominant contemporary image of reading in much of the world is that of a silent, solitary activity. This book challenges this dominant discourse, acknowledging the diversity of reading practices that adults perform or experience in different communities, languages, contexts and phases of our lives, outlining potential educational implications and next steps for literacy teaching and research.

By documenting and analysing the diversity of oral reading practices that adults take part in (on- and offline), this book explores contemporary reading aloud as hugely varied, often invisible and yet quietly ubiquitous. Duncan discusses questions such as: What, where, how and why do adults read aloud, or listen to others reading? How do couples, families and groups use oral reading as a way of being together? When and why do adults read aloud at work? And why do some people read aloud in languages they may not speak or understand?

This book is key reading for advanced students, researchers and scholars of literacy practices and literacy education within education, applied linguistics and related areas.

There was an online launch at Lancaster University in early January, for which Sam wrote this blogpost:

The scholarship is meticulous throughout the book in its treatment of a fascinatingly wide-ranging and ambitious topic. Nonetheless, Sam’s writing style (of which the blogpost gives us an example) remains clear, approachable, and fundamentally humane – while pleasingly sprinkled with evocative surprises:

“… and in the background we might hear the sounds of Gaelic karaoke…”

The interested readership may well extend beyond the purely academic!


Categories: Community, Research

Stòras Beò: Màiri

01/12/2020 2 comments

Mary Robertson is another well-known Benbecula resident, here talking to fellow Baoghlach Archie Campbell for UHI’s Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal series of recordings capturing natural conversations between fluent Hebridean speakers of Gaelic.

In the first part, Mary talks about her family and her memories of her early schooldays in Torlum. Her father was a gamekeeper for the South Uist estate. Leaving home at 15 to get further training at Duncraig Castle was a shock. She describes the daily routine there. After that she worked in Edinburgh for two years before moving to Fort William to do hotel work, where she found more of an island community.

A wordlinked transcript alongside the embedded video is available here:

In the second part, Mary describes returning to Benbecula after losing her husband in an industrial accident, and the changes she noticed, particularly with the increased army presence and the work available through public schemes. She found work in the newly opened Sgoil Lìonacleit, where she continued till retirement. She is also involved with various charities and community groups, and her church involvement has entailed trips abroad to various countries. Her Gaelic interest also took her to Canada. She still dances and enjoys walking in various parts of the Highlands.

A wordlinked transcript alongside the embedded video is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Skye Meeting

26/11/2020 Leave a comment

Fios agus fiosrachadh:

Categories: Community, Research

Island Gaelic Conversations

02/11/2020 1 comment

Is there more to Gaelic development than a talking point for academic debate or social media clickbait? How can island voices be heard in discussions and decisions about the language they speak? The “Gaelic Crisis” book has stimulated a re-appraisal of the current situation, and makes suggestions for a new way forward.

A series of “GAELIC CONVERSATIONS – CÒMHRAIDHEAN GÀIDHLIG” is proposed around the islands.

“Alasdair Allan MSP is working with the authors of the study from the Soillse research team based at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and a cross-party group of MSPs and researchers including Kate Forbes MSP, Michael Russell MSP, Donald Cameron MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP, John Finnie MSP and Dr Michael Foxley.


As well as discussions about Gaelic usage in the home and community, the meetings will also gauge opinion on whether such ideas in the report such as a Gaelic community cooperative – Urras na Gàidhlig – could be an appropriate structure to coordinate and drive forward local development actions under the direct control of the Gaelic-speaking community.”

You can register to attend here. Written submissions are also welcomed.

Categories: Community, Research

Stòras Beò: Ailig

01/11/2020 Leave a comment

Moving on to Benbecula this month we feature Alick MacPhee from Nunton – Baile nan Cailleach – in our regular spotlight on contributors to Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal. Alick still lives in Nunton, and has three sons (Donald, Angus, and John), eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild. Here he talks to Archie Campbell, also a Benbecula man.

In the first part, Alick recalls his childhood in Nunton, and wartime schooling in Balivanich – Baile a’ Mhanaich – and then Torlum, including pranks in the playground, classroom, or garden, as well as crofting chores at home, and later with the peats. Leaving school at 14, he started his first paid job in the building trade at 16. He also recalls wartime memories of many different nationalities associated with the airport and POWs, including Australians, Poles, Germans and Italians. He talks too of the end-of-war celebrations and memories of the “Whisky Galore” SS Politician. He then spent some time in Glasgow.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the second part, Alick relates how he came back to the croft and then got work with a services company which took him and several friends out to St Kilda. He later got work with the Water Board, with whom he stayed until retirement. He also talks about recreational activities, including badminton and football, as well as dances and New Year customs and associated drinking practices. He describes how he met his wife, Margaret, and the details of their wedding, and tells a story of a commando who turned up in the Steadings. Discussion of army-community relations leads to reflection on the changes he’s seen in island life.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

“Living off the edge”

30/10/2020 1 comment

Conchúr Ó Giollagáin gave this talk online, and the recording is now available on YouTube. His title was “Living off the edge: The crisis in late modern ethnolinguistic diversity from the Gaelic perspective”, and the talk drew substantially from the findings of the recent publication “The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community”. This is a weighty report on the findings of Soillse’s very comprehensive Islands Gaelic Research Project. It’s a challenging read in many ways, with particular relevance for anyone interested in Gaelic language planning in the Hebrides. From that point of view it’s good to be able to hear Conchúr talk about the research and answer questions about the implications.

He had a lot of ground to cover in 40 minutes. If you missed it live here’s your chance to hear what he had to say – or indeed to listen again in case you feel the need.

Categories: Community, Research, Video

Gaelic virality: a snapshot

27/10/2020 1 comment

What’s a Gaelic community?

A lot of social media screentime has been spent on this question. Frequently, the discussion centres on the comparative treatment of those who have a dispersed or “network” connection with Gaelic – whether in an urban mainland “diaspora” setting, or indeed in a largely internet-mediated “virtual” sense – and those who live in geographically defined Hebridean communities where the density of Gaelic speakers by head of resident population is far higher.

Through its very name the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean project affirms the actual centrality of its so-called “peripheral” location to its function and focus. The islands are our geographical home. Even so, our work is primarily presented online, so our reach is not just Hebridean or even Scotland-wide, but truly international, and our interest is in serving all those who visit our posts and pages. Further, our linguistic focus is not just on Gaelic, or even Gaelic and English together, but increasingly multilingual and diverse.

For all these reasons we are driven to look beyond the zero-sum thinking often associated with a monolingual mindset. If paying Paul does not entail robbing Peter, then by the same token, taking care of Paul’s needs does not necessitate neglecting Peter’s. If the choice is recognised as false, then it should be possible to focus attention on either Peter or Paul as occasion demands without laying oneself open to a charge of “divisiveness”. Quite the contrary, in a situation where Peter’s own wellbeing is ultimately dependent on that of Paul, ignoring Paul’s evident distress will do Peter no good at all.

That’s quite a long pre-emptive preamble to the point of this post, which is to display some striking figures on visits to this site from the first three days of October. Regular visitors will have noted that recently we have been featuring different contributors to the UHI-led Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal project on the first day of each month. The Stòras Beò materials are a set of long-form video-recorded discussions between fluent speakers of Gaelic talking about their lives. As natural conversations they are intrinsically interesting. And beyond that, as examples of authentic speech they have many add-on applications for speakers, learners and researchers of Gaelic, including support for the current Gaelic Speech Recognition project being led by Edinburgh University, and planned contribution to the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic created by Glasgow University.

Posting first here on WordPress, the central website around which our various social media channels orbit, it’s normal practice for Island Voices to place links on our Twitter account and Facebook page on following days as a way of encouraging new and returning visitors to visit this site. This month it was the turn of Dòmhnall Caol (Donald MacDonald) from Baleshare to be featured.

The following figure shows the WordPress analytics for October 1st-3rd, with some annotations indicative of differential responses from what might be loosely defined as “networked” and “islands-based” Facebook interest groups.

Visits to Guthan nan Eilean WordPress site, 1st-3rd October

Here’s the timeline in more detail:


The WordPress post “Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall” was shared from the FB page to three prominent Gaelic interest groups: Gàidhlig na h-Alba ☯ Scottish Gaelic, Gàidhlig na h-Alba ~ Scottish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic Speakers Unite!. On that day these groups had a combined total membership of 12232 (with a probability of significant crossmembership).

By the end of the day there had been 98 recorded visits to the WordPress site.

This, as would be expected on the first day of a new post, is a significantly higher figure (around 2.5 times) than the daily average of about 40 WordPress visits up until that point in 2020.


The same WordPress post “Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall” was shared 24 hours later from the FB page to two Uist-focused pages/groups: North Uist Appreciation Society – NUAS (page), and South Uist/Uibhist a Deas Appreciation Society – SUAS (group). The total on that day for page-followers and group-members was 12020 (with a probability of significant crossmembership).

By the end of the day there had been 822 visits to WordPress, more than 20 times the daily average for the year.


Following spontaneous sharing of the previous month’s post “Stòras Beò: Aonghas” as a follow-up by NUAS, it was then also posted in the SUAS group.

By the end of the day there had been 667 visits to WordPress, more than 16 times the daily average.


Of course, a strict warning should be issued against any bald assertion, based on just these figures, that Facebook followers who have an island connection are multiple times more likely to take an active interest in a post on Gaelic than those whose interest in the language does not have this geographic link. This is just a snapshot in time with no control for all sorts of variables too numerous to list in a blogpost. Nevertheless, it surely points to some kind of effect, which will probably be explicable – at least in part – by reference to the significant importance of a geographical community connection to Gaelic, as it is used in the islands, in stimulating online engagement with it.

If that basic point is conceded, then any indication that the islands’ connection with Gaelic is in serious trouble, for which the recent “Gaelic Crisis” report provides ample quantitative evidence, surely deserves close attention, including from those speakers and other well-wishers whose connection is remote or “virtual”. Certainly, there is little sign from this small snapshot that any hope of fully compensatory numbers of new speakers emerging from geographically displaced and dispersed networks is likely to be easily fulfilled.

From an Island Voices point of view, we can at least take comfort from the indication that our positive “insular focus” is appreciated by the local community, while maintaining our commitment to inclusively showcasing these islands’ unique linguistic character and versatility on a worldwide stage. It would surely be zero-sum thinking, of a kind Gaelic advocates routinely reject, to view the recent urgent “call to arms” to inject new energy into Gaelic revival efforts at island community level as some kind of competitive threat to more dispersed interests. The one should feed the other.

The MSP for the Western Isles has announced a series of online meetings for various island communities to discuss ways forward for Gaelic in coming days. The link is here.

Categories: Community, Research

Gaelic Hebrides point the multilingual way

16/10/2020 Leave a comment

The University of the Highlands and Islands takes inspiration from Island Voices.

Perhaps a surprise to some, but not to us!

Here’s how it all comes back to Benbecula…

The tweeted press release touches on a couple of international projects that are being taken forward by UHI’s Language Sciences Institute. It doesn’t have the space to describe in detail how each builds on experience first gained in the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean project, and the closely linked development of Clilstore at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. Both of these have grown from originally European Union-funded initiatives.

Island Voices followers who have time and inclination to read a bit more may find the additional information below of interest.

Taisce bheo na nGael/Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal” is a joint Irish/Scottish Gaelic ethnographic retrieval project in which community-based expert speakers are recorded in their own homes. The first stage of the Scottish side of the project was completed shortly before lockdown began. There are now 15 hours of video material with Clilstore transcriptions on the Institute’s website, with access open to all. Project partners are now testing out alternative ways of making recordings online, in case continuing lockdown restrictions mean the Irish recording stage needs to be tackled in a different way.

The same issue has also arisen with the Institute’s “Mediating Multilingualism” project in India, in partnership with Amity University Haryana and the Indian network of Centres for Endangered Languages. With COVID-19 continuing to cause severe disruption to university-based activities there (including fieldwork), the project team has already been trialling the production of home-based recordings for publication on the same, highly flexible, online Clilstore platform. Six Indian languages have been recently added to its linguistic range. Some of these are featured in the short Gaelic film (subtitled in English) “Dà Dhùthaich Iomadh Cànan/Two Lands Many Languages” produced by the UHI team after visiting Shillong in North-East India at the end of 2019 (the International Year of Indigenous Languages). This is also available to view online on the project’s webpage.

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, UGC, Video

Stòras Beò: Alasdair

14/10/2020 Leave a comment

Happy Birthday to Alasdair Crois Mòraig!

Belying Alasdair MacDonald’s youthful looks and demeanour, we’re reliably informed that 14th October 2020 is a particularly special day, marking the completion of his 80th year. We can only wish him many more happy returns!

We mark the day by featuring his own contributions to the Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal collection, in conversation with Archie Campbell. Alasdair has his own inimitable style in rich North Uist Gaelic, and we’re grateful for his daughter Kirsty’s help with one or two words in the transcripts that had left earlier scribes rather scratching their heads…

In the first part, Alasdair talks about his life-time commitment to crofting on North Uist, which his son is now continuing. His first schooling was in Carinish, with his fondest memory being of getting out into the garden, followed by Bayhead, and one year in Inverness, which he didn’t like. On returning to Uist he has worked his croft full-time ever since. He recalls the house-visiting customs of earlier times. His wife, Annie, is from Broughty Ferry, but Alasdair would find it difficult to live somewhere else if it wasn’t by the sea. He’s seen many changes since the time crofters would work with horses, and he explains fertilising and storage practices using seaweed and potatoes.

The wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the second part, Alasdair remarks on developments since the 60s, such as the advent of tractors for horses, the Baleshare causeway, local government reorganisation, and European Union development funds. He also talks about a visit to New Zealand and the evident Gaelic influence in its recent history. The conversation shifts to discussion of changes in the Uist physical environment. Shipwrecks are also talked about and the cargo they might yield. Alasdair explains the history of the name Crois Mòraig, and talks about the strength of Gaelic in the community, and reflects on the rhythm of the seasons experienced through crofting.

The wordlinked transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video

Stòras Beò: Dòmhnall

01/10/2020 1 comment

We continue our exploration of the North Uist cluster in Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal with Donald MacDonald – “Dòmhnall Caol” – from Baleshare. As we’ll hear, Donald was a well-travelled man in Europe and the Middle East before settling back home to full-time crofting. Talking to Archie Campbell in measured tones, Donald takes his time to give a detailed account of his adventures.

Here, in the first part, Donald recalls his schooling and first job. Going to primary school in Baleshare he found he made faster progress with a Gaelic-speaking teacher. Illness interrupted his education at Bayhead, before he spent 5 years in Inverness, where he encountered some hostility as a “teuchter”, and experienced a distancing from his family. A happier memory was of salmon poaching in Lewis on his way home, where he started work in a bank before being transferred to Glasgow.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the second part, Donald recalls giving up his job in Glasgow, and then poignantly describes how his father saw him off at the quay in Lochmaddy as he set off on his travels round Europe. He recounts various adventures with various travelling companions, before arriving in Turkey. Troubles at the time between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus caused difficulties with the post.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

In the third and final part, Donald describes his adventures crossing to the West Bank from Syria to spend time in a kibbutz. He was then called home in light of his father’s serious illness, which meant that Donald had to take over responsibility for the croftwork. Working several crofts together he made a living for a while selling cattle and beef, with partners in Elgin and customers in Ardnamurchan. While his father was alive they would also host Gaelic learners. Following a mini-stroke he no longer keeps cattle, but a neighbour continues to use his land.

A wordlinked transcript is available here:

Categories: CALL, Community, Research, Video
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