The “Irish” and “Scottish Gaelic” Question

“Gàidhlig agus “Gaeilge” (“Scottish Gaelic” and “Irish”)! What could be meant by “Gàidhlig  agus Gaeilge”? These are merely two forms of the same word used in different regions – Scotland and much of Ireland respectively – to mean the same thing, the Gaelic language – all of it. So what is the purpose of contrasting them?. Some people are using them to mean “Scottish Gaelic” and “Irish” respectively, but that is the English-Speakers way of thinking about it. That’s not the way the native Gaelic-Speakers think. To them, it is all the one thing – “the Gaelic”.

If they are from Scotland, they call their  language “Gàidhlig”, and they call the Irish part of it “Gàidhlig Éirinneach”. If they are from Ulster, they call their language “Gaedhlig”, and “Scottish Gaelic” is “Gaedhlig na hAlban”. If they are from Munster, they call it “Gaolainn”. If they are from Connacht, or from Official Caighdeán-land, they call it  “Gaeilge”.

But to someone thinking primarily in English, the usual concepts are “Scottish Gaelic” and “Irish”, regarded wrongly as different languages, The proper term “Gaelic” is still available to signify their commonality, but, for nationalistic political reasons is being less used in English and has become of secondary rank. But in Gaelic itself, the commonality is the primary concept, and it is called by one of the regional forms given above for the term “Gaelic”, while the names of the different varieties (“Gàidhlig Éirinneach, Gaeilge na hAlban, Gàidhlig Uladh and Gaeilge na Mumhan) are secondary.

To hear someone thinking in English while speaking Gaelic, and copying the primary distinction of English by contrasting “Gàidhlig” and “Gaeilge”,  native Gaelic-speaking persons, such as my relatives in Islay, wouldn’t understand it – the idea that they are different languages is foreign, (or at least not primary ) to them. And when they catch on to what is intended, the usage is  annoying.

It is great when Gaelic -speaking people from Ireland and Scotland get together. But how often do we hear people at these events talking about “Gàidhlig agus “Gaeilge”?. They are supposed to be bringing these two groups together, and they start off by creating a psychological division between the two, which never existed in Gaelic, only in English. The contrast they are trying to express is actually a political one, not between forms of speech, but between “Eirinn agus Alba”, Ireland and Scotland and that is totally wrong.

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