WI more widely spoken Canadian Gaelic?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by rfmcdonald, Jun 27, 2017.

  1. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    This afternoon, I dropped by the Toronto Reference Library to browse its shelves. As one would expect, Toronto's central library has a very large collection of materials in languages other than English, ready for lenders to pick up. Out of curiosity, I stopped by to see what the Scots Gaelic collection looked like.

    [​IMG]

    There were two shelves of Frisian-language materials above the shelf of Gaelic books, and the Frisian shelves were packed.

    This is a sort of afterthought to the death of Gaelic as a living language in Canada. I grew up in the Maritimes, in the province of Prince Edward Island. In that province, now overwhelmingly populated by speakers of English, Canadian Gaelic was once very widely spoken. It was even the main language of, among others, my maternal grandmother’s family. She did not speak the language, though, her parents choosing not to teach it to her. They said that they did not want their many children to learn their neighbourhood gossip.

    [​IMG]

    (The Matheson family lived in the east of what this map calls Eilean Eòin.)

    Canadian Gaelic did not persist, not even in the Atlantic Canadian territories where it had been most successfully transplanted, even though it was a (distant) third among European languages spoken in Canada. My feeling is that the speakers of the language did not value it. Part of this may have had to do with the very different statuses of the French and Gaelic languages internationally. French was a high-status language that was a prestigious and credible rival to English, while Gaelic was a much more obscure language looked down upon by almost everyone--including many speakers of Gaelic--with at most hundreds of thousands of speakers. Canada’s Francophone minorities did face oppression, but their language and their community’s existence was something their Anglophone neighbours could more easily accept as legitimate, and that Francophones themselves accepted as legitimate.

    This leads to the tendency of speakers of Canadian Gaelic were not committed to the survival of their language. I mentioned above that my maternal grandmother’s parents decided not to transmit the language to their children. In this, occurring soon after the turn of the 20th century, they were far from alone. Speakers of Canadian Gaelic were generally quick to discard this language for an English that was seen as more useful. The survival of the language was not seen as especially important: For a Gaelic-speaking Protestant, for instance, the bond of Protestantism that united them with an Anglophone Protestant was more important than the bond of language that united them with a Gaelic-speaking Catholic. In Gaelic Canada, there was just nothing at all like the push for survivance across the spectrum in French Canada that helped Canadian Francophones survive in a wider country that was--at best--disinterested in the survival of its largest minority.

    Fragmented, without any elite interested in preserving the language and its associated culture or a general population likely to support such an elite, the Canadian Gaelic community was bound to go under. And so, in the course of the 20th century, it did, the smaller and more isolated communities going before the larger ones. There are still, I am told, native speakers of Gaelic in Cape Breton, long the heartland of Gaelic Canada, and there is a substantial push to revive the language’s teaching and use in public life in Nova Scotia. I fear this is too little, too late. The time for that was a century ago, likely earlier. If that incentive to give Gaelic official status and a role in public life had been active in the mid-19th century, who knows what might have come of this?

    (For further reading on the history of Gaelic in Prince Edward Island, I strongly recommend Dr. Michael Kennedy’s preface (PDF format) to John Shaw’s 1987 recordings of the last creators of Gaelic on Prince Edward Island.)

    Was the death of Gaelic as a widely-spoken language in Canada inevitable? Or, was there any possibility of a revival movement, of a renewed valorization of Scots Gaelic? I have wondered in the past if having Cape Breton remain a province separate from Nova Scotia, thus creating a polity populated mainly by Gaelic speakers, might create some kind of incentive for Gaelic to be politically useful.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. thekingsguard Founder of Korsgaardianism

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    An independent Maritimes perhaps, from a balkanized or rump Canada - promoting Gaelic and Gaelic culure as a way to make themselves more distinctive from Ontario.
     
  3. JackLumber Mildly belligerent Canuck

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    Hmmm perhaps if you could tie Gealic speaking with anti-Americanism, even way over here in B.C. with heavier american cultural influence the phrase "What are you? American?" Is a genuine jab that is thrown at people (for numerous reason, I use it on people who don't know even the basics of French for example).
     
  4. Tomislav Addai Well-Known Member

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    Nova Scotia could have pressed on Gaelic identity the way Quebec went Francophone
     
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  5. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    There is absolutely no reason why anti-Americanism would, or even could, play a significant role in the survival of Scots Gaelic in Atlantic Canada. If the language is not perceived as being meaningfully useful, then it will die out.

    The problem with this is that, even at Scots Gaelic's peak, Nova Scotia was not entirely Scots Gaelic-speaking. The island of Cape Breton was majority Gaelic-speaking, perhaps even into the 20th century, but mainland Nova Scotia was quite ethnically diverse. In the province as a whole, speakers of Scots Gaelic were a minority. This is why I suggested spinning off Cape Breton as a separate province, so as to create a polity where speakers of Scots Gaelic would predominate.
     
  6. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    That might actually go some of the way, but I think you would still need more of a framework. That, or a migration to the Maritimes that was much more solidly composed of speakers of Scots Gaelic.
     
  7. Indicus Raianus Indicorum Gone Fishin'

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    Create a Maritimes Union, and then have it restrict immigration, though I don't think there'd be much immigration there anyways because *Canada and the US would have much more open land.
     
  8. JackLumber Mildly belligerent Canuck

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    Making the language a strong indicator of not being American would change how it's perceived by any potential Canadian polity, as it would soundly be a useful too in nation building.
     
  9. thekingsguard Founder of Korsgaardianism

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    @Indicus may have the right of it - while the USA and rump Canada may allow open immigration, the Maritimes are much more selective - open doors only for Irish, Scots and Welsh, with preference for Gaelic speakers.
     
  10. The Gunslinger NQLA agent

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    If the Maritimes becomes its own country Canada won't have any qualms about looks for westward immigrants there, something they were loathe to do in OTL over concerns about repopulating the area. Probably results in a more wealthy but somewhat emptier Maritimes.
     
  11. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    I could see Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island (as a separate province) end up bilingual in English and Canadian Gaelic. But it definitely seems difficult to keep the language widely spoken, unless there's some of Gaelic cultural revival movement, which would probably have to happen on both sides of the Atlantic.
     
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  12. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    For that to happen, you would have to radically change the nature of immigration from the British Isles to Canada, to somehow shift the very largely Anglophone flow of migrants from the British Isles to British North America radically towards speakers of Celtic languages. Especially given the relatively low status of Celtic languages in the 19th century British Isles, expecting thoroughly Anglophone migrants and descendants of Anglophone migrants to adopt a relatively obscure Celtic language would be off.

    Even in the unlikely event of a mostly Gaelic-speaking "English" Canada ("British Canada" might be better in this context), I do not think that this linguistic difference necessarily would connect to anti-Americanism. As noted in (for instance) Chodos and Hamivitch's 1991 classic Quebec and the American Dream, the durable linguistic difference between Québec and the United States has made Canada's Francophone-majority province among the least anti-American in Canada, simply because this durable difference goes a long way towards undermining the traditional Canadian insecurity vis-a-vis our larger neighbour. English Canadians are not quite sure how they are distinct from Americans, but Québécois just have to open their mouths and start talking to know their difference.

    The Maritimes, as British colonies, did not have their own immigration policies. They did happen to become particularly popular destinations for Celtic migrants, but that was as much happenstance as anything else. I suppose it's imaginable there might have been more systematic plans to plant settlements of whatever origin in the territories concerned.

    Welsh immigration to Canada was practically a non-event until the 20th century, substantially because there were so few Welsh around. This immigration would have little effect on speakers of Goidelic Celtic languages like Scots Gaelic, given the lack of intelligibility between any Gaelic and Welsh.

    There was more Irish immigration, but Kennedy's preface makes the point that speakers of Irish and Scots Gaelic generally did not perceive a shared community, that if anything speakers of Irish were surprised Scots Gaelic's speakers still had an attachment to their language.

    That is another thing. Even though Scots Gaelic was quite strong in Atlantic Canada particularly, these colonies were of necessity smaller and much younger than the traditional centres. Perhaps if there was some sort of planned relocation ... ?
     
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  13. Indicus Raianus Indicorum Gone Fishin'

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    I think less overall immigration to the Maritimes makes it more likely to survive in stronger numbers, and if it's separated from the rest of British North America, suddenly immigrants will be bypassing the Maritimes in favour of the Northwest Territories.

    And this means higher concentrations of Gaelic speakers, which makes survival more likely.
     
  14. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    Maybe? Gaelic survived most strongly on Cape Breton, which because of its coal ended up having the only thing like a complex industrial economy in the Maritimes, even attracting some measure of immigrants. On Prince Edward Island, which stopped attracting large numbers of immigrants from the 1850s on, Gaelic was substantially more advanced in its decline--the last native speakers seem to have died some time in the 1980s.
     
  15. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    What I wonder is if there would be a way to create a cultural reason to have immigrants to the industrial regions of Cape Breton take up speaking Gaelic in large numbers.

    But I do think that if an independent Maritimes would be able to preserve and possibly expand Gaelic culture, and be able to firmly establish it as a second language.
     
  16. funnyhat Well-Known Member

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    I don't think that is realistic. You are not realistically going to get anglophones in the rest of Canada to speak a language that is dying out in Great Britain itself, just out of spite for the USA. (Canada rejected most of the US spelling reforms ; that was about as far as it was going to go.)

    The Gaelic-speaking area has to be doing its own thing. It would probably be best off not being united with Canada. Even then it is tricky as
     
  17. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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    Political independence strikes me as orthogonal to the issue of speakers wanting to preserve their native language. As I noted in the original post, most of the speakers seem not to have cared about it: Religion was a more important marker of identity than language. If that's what first-language speakers of Scots Gaelic think, why would potential second-language speakers be interested?

    The idea of disproportionately Gaelic-speaking immigration to Canada does interest me, mind.

    The Gaelic-speaking area has to be doing its own thing. It would probably be best off not being united with Canada. Even then it is tricky as[/QUOTE]

    Being attached to a larger polity by no means that a small language community must be marginalized. Icelandic and Faroese survived centuries of union with a much larger and wealthier Denmark, to name one example not at random.
     
  18. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    That's probably part of the problem here. I guess you would need some sort of national revival like in Europe in the 19th century, maybe combined with a religious revival (some new Protestant denomination?).

    Iceland and the Faroes are pretty isolated from Denmark. Even if Canada is geographically focused on the St. Lawrence River, with the Maritimes as an afterthought, it's much closer and able to exert more influence.
     
  19. Indicus Raianus Indicorum Gone Fishin'

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    It should, of course, be noted that Icelandic and Faroese have been spoken by most people on Iceland and the Faroe Islands. On the other hand, Canadian Gaelic was spoken alongside English throughout its history, and Canadian Gaelic speakers lived alongside monolingual English speakers.
     
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  20. rfmcdonald Well-Known Member

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