bookmark_borderTypesetting Gaelic in Gaelic type

Gaelic in Gadelica.
Gaelic in Gadelica.
In Ireland, Gaelic type is widely used for writing Irish (although mainly for decorative purposes these days, if I’m not mistaken). On the other hand, it’s hardly ever used in Scotland, although Irish and Scottish Gaelic are very closely related.

However, I thought it’d be nice to be able to typeset Gaelic in Gaelic type using TeX/LaTeX/XeLaTeX.

After a big of googling, I found a very nice font called Gadelica.

This is a beautiful OpenType font (and it supports the grave accents used in Scottish Gaelic, not just the acute ones used in Irish), but there is a slight problem: It assumes that the dotted letters (e.g., ‘?’ instead of ‘ch’) have been coded in Unicode rather than using the normal digraphs.

To solve this, I created a TECkit mapping (see below for the complete mapping file). Once you’ve compiled it, you can now easily create a XeLaTeX document and select font and mapping with \setromanfont[Mapping=gadelica]{Gadelica}, and you can now input the normal ligatures. For instance, the second line in the illustration above is simply given as Dh’fheuch am faic mi fear a’ bhàta in the source file.

Here’s the complete mapping file, (compile with teckit_compile

LHSName "Gadelica"


U+0062 U+0068 <> U+1E03 ;bh
U+0063 U+0068 <> U+010B ;ch
U+0064 U+0068 <> U+1E0B ;dh
U+0066 U+0068 <> U+1E1F ;fh
U+0067 U+0068 <> U+0121 ;gh
U+006D U+0068 <> U+1E41 ;mh
U+0070 U+0068 <> U+1E57 ;ph
U+0073 U+0068 <> U+1E61 ;sh
U+0074 U+0068 <> U+1E6B ;th
U+0042 U+0048 <> U+1E02 ;BH
U+0043 U+0048 <> U+010A ;CH
U+0044 U+0048 <> U+1E0A ;DH
U+0046 U+0048 <> U+1E1E ;FH
U+0047 U+0048 <> U+0120 ;GH
U+004D U+0048 <> U+1E40 ;MH
U+0050 U+0048 <> U+1E56 ;PH
U+0053 U+0048 <> U+1E60 ;SH
U+0054 U+0048 <> U+1E6A ;TH
U+0053 U+0048 <> U+1E60 ;SH
U+0054 U+0048 <> U+1E6A ;TH
U+0042 U+0068 <> U+1E02 ;Bh
U+0043 U+0068 <> U+010A ;Ch
U+0044 U+0068 <> U+1E0A ;Dh
U+0046 U+0068 <> U+1E1E ;Fh
U+0047 U+0068 <> U+0120 ;Gh
U+004D U+0068 <> U+1E40 ;Mh
U+0050 U+0068 <> U+1E56 ;Ph
U+0053 U+0068 <> U+1E60 ;Sh
U+0054 U+0068 <> U+1E6A ;Th

; Some stuff from
U+002D U+002D <> U+2013 ; -- -> en dash
U+002D U+002D U+002D <> U+2014 ; --- -> em dash

U+0027 <> U+2019 ; ' -> right single quote
U+0027 U+0027 <> U+201D ; '' -> right double quote
U+0022 > U+201D ; " -> right double quote

U+0060 <> U+2018 ; ` -> left single quote
U+0060 U+0060 <> U+201C ; `` -> left double quote

bookmark_borderPaying for journalism

Scotsman Hotel
Scotsman Hotel, a photo by buhny on Flickr.
Today The Scotsman announced that they will make a quarter of their editorial staff redundant, and The Telegraph have decided to set up a paywall. On a more positive note, Wings over Scotland’s fundraiser exceeded its ambitious goal, raising more than £30k.

It’s clear that traditional journalism is in danger. However, I’m not really sure that the solution consists of paywalls, fundraisers, intrusive ads etc.

The things is that in the “old” days (about ten years ago), I spent something like £1 a day on buying newspapers (slightly less on workdays and slightly more on Sundays).

However, the advent of blogs and free newspaper websites has changed my behaviour — instead of reading all of one newspaper, I’m now reading 5% of 20.

The money I can spend on reading news hasn’t gone up, so there’s no way I can spend anything near £1 a day for news. On the other hand, if I had to pay 5p per article or blog posting, I probably wouldn’t spend much more than I used to, and everybody would be happy.

The problem is how to do it. I’m not going to set up subscriptions with direct debits or credit card details separately for the 50-100 news sites that I occasionally visit.

The only solution I can think of is a way for newspapers and quality blogs everywhere to create a payment system together, whereby reading a news article triggers a payment from the reader to the writer of 5p or so. The system would then add up all the small payments and send the reader a monthly bill.

However, it isn’t a perfect solution. Many websites would remain outwith this system (most small blogs and the BBC spring to mind), and there will always be a temptation for users to go for the free websites.

bookmark_borderUnderstanding and speaking Scots and English

Stooshie an Stramash
Stooshie an Stramash, a photo by Scots Language Centre on Flickr.
Scot Independence Podcast 19 is an interesting chat with Michael Hance from the Scots Language Centre.

At one point they discuss what should be done to improve the prospects for Scots, and one thing Michael stresses is that schools should stop telling kids Scots words are wrong.

I have a lot of sympathy for this view, but as a foreign learner of Scots I have some concerns, too.

When I moved to Scotland in 2002, I couldn’t understand half of my Scottish colleagues at all (the other half had such a posh pronunciation that I could just about follow what they were saying). It only lasted a few weeks before I was more or less able to understand them, but it just shows that a strong Scottish pronunciation of English (we’re not talking about Scots here!) is enough to complete confound a foreigner. It’s also obvious that my parents are still struggling to understand their daughter-in-law and their grandchildren (when they aren’t speaking Danish, of course), although they have such a posh pronunciation that some Scots think they’re English.

After getting used to the Scottish pronunciation of English, building up a decent vocabulary of Scots work took a long time (and there are still many I don’t know).

The reason I’m mentioning this is because Scottish people often forget how hard is is to understand Scots if you haven’t lived in Scotland. It can be very difficult even if you’re a native speaker of English, and it’s practically impossible if you’re a non-native speaker.

If we start encouraging young people to speak Scots in public, the effect will be that they will find it harder and harder to use their language abroad. It would be a bit absurd if Scotland became the only place in Europe where nobody speaks English.

I guess the solution would be to encourage Scots/English bilingualism. I’m not sure whether that should be done through English-as-a-foreign-language lessons at school, or whether there’s another way.

I guess Scotland could learn some lessons from Switzerland:

Unlike most regional languages in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language of all social levels in industrial cities, as well as in the countryside. Using dialect conveys neither social nor educational inferiority and is done with pride. There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is demanded or polite, e.g., in education (but not during breaks in school lessons, where the teachers will speak in dialect with students), in multilingual parliaments (the federal parliaments and a few cantonal and municipal ones), in the main news broadcast or in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a “medial diglossia”, since the spoken language is mainly the dialect, whereas the written language is mainly Standard German.

bookmark_borderWhat the Scottish Highlands could have been like

Scotland - Grampian Highlands
Scotland – Grampian Highlands, a photo by Humpalumpa on Flickr.
Iain Macwhirter recently wrote an interesting blog posting comparing the Scottish Highlands with the French Pyrenees.

He’s bemoaning how the latter is still populated and full of affordable housing. As he ways, “[o]ne of the reasons I love the Pyrenees is that it’s what I imagine the Highlands of Scotland would have been like had the people not been cleared from the land to make way for sheep and deer.”

This sentiment reminded me of a song by Màiri Mhór nan Oran that we learnt when I attended the Gaelic summer school at the University of Edinburgh a few years before I moved to Scotland. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but I still remember her despair at seeing perfectly viable farms with replaced with sheep.

I don’t know how realistic it would be to reverse the process, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The Central Belt is overcrowded, and it would be great if people started moving back to the Highlands.

bookmark_borderAm bu chòir do dh’Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeilich?

Should Scotland be an independent country?
Should Scotland be an independent country?
I’ve been wondering for a wee while how to express the official referendum question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, in Scottish Gaelic. A few enquiries on Twitter didn’t get me anywhere.

I had this idea that the way to express “should” would be through some obscure verb form, but when I finally looked it up in my copy of “Scottish Gaelic in Three Months” today, I learnt that it’s expressed as bu chòir do “it’s proper for”.

With that information in hand, it didn’t take me long to find a BBC blog page which gives the question as Am bu chòir do dh’Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeilich?

Although I have no way to verify it, this looks correct to me. The structure is as follows:

Am bu chòir do dh’ Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeilich
Q is proper for Scotland to be country independent

(I’m not entirely sure about the na. I believe it means “in her” here — “in his” would lenite the following word, and the genitive form of the definitely article would require the genitive form of dùthaich — and I suspect it’s here to bind together the infinitive with the rest, but I must admit I don’t remember the details.)

If the government provided ballot papers in Gaelic, too, they would presumably then look as follows:

Am bu chòir do dh’Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeilich?

  • Bu chòir
  • Cha bu chòir

I wonder whether it would change the number of Yes and No votes if the question in English had been “Is it proper for Scotland to be an independent country?” too…

bookmark_borderBurns in real Scots

Burns wrote his poems in Scots, but he generally used English orthography.

For instance, here’s a bit of Auld Lang Syne together with its pronunciation in IPA (thanks to Wikipedia):

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n n?.v?? br?xt t? m?in?
??d o??ld ?.kw?n.t?ns bi f??.?ot,
?n o??l l?? s?in?
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
?n ðe?rz ? ho??n, m? tr?s.t? fi??!
?? ?i?z ? ho??n ? ð?in!
?n wi?l tak ? r?xt ??d w?.l? wo??xt,
f?? o?l? la? s?in.

NY - Albany: Washington Park - Burns Monument
NY – Albany: Washington Park – Burns Monument, a photo by wallyg on Flickr.
It’s not obviously if you don’t know Scots that hand and right should be pronounced at /ho??n/ and /r?xt/ (rather than RP /hænd/ and /ra?t/) — one might (wrongly) assume that only words that are spelt differently should be pronounced differently from standard English with a Scottish accent.

Sadly, these days even Scots find it hard to liberate themselves from English when they recite or sing the Bard’s poems.

For instance, if you go to BBC’s page about A man’s a man for a’ that, there are a good number of renditions of the poem. However, none of them are likely to resemble how Burns himself would have pronounced it. Even fairly basic words such as head is pronounced as /h?d/ rather than /hid/ by most of them.

Have we got to the point where most people in Scotland are unable to pronounce the words shared between English and Scots in Scots rather than English when they haven’t been spelt in a way to indicate the difference? If so, somebody needs to republish Rabbie Burns’s poems in Scots orthography before people get irrevocably used to the English pronunciation.