Why Bella Caledonia is launching Scots and Gaelic strands

New Scots and Gaelic strands of Bella Caledonia's publishing will contribute to a cultural and linguistic revival in Scotland.

Mike Small
1 November 2015

Photo by Picapica/Wikimedia Commons

Scotland's political resurgence has been preceded (and driven) by a cultural one, for the past thirty years primarily through theatre, literature and poetry.

The defence of selfhood, identity and culture through language is a universal experience in struggles for self-determination. It's no different in Scotland.

This week we at Bella Caledonia were pleased to announce a new strand of publishing dedicated to celebrating our culture through Scots and Gaelic.

Our Gaelic editor, Ruairidh Maciver commented "Bella will draw on and contribute to the rich linguistic landscape in Scotland, representing voices from what Iain Crichton Smith memorably called ‘our three-voiced country.’ Maciver is supported by two other commissioning editors working in Ayrshire and Glasgow, Daibhidh Rothach and Rhona Dhòmhnallach, who will be writing for us and commissioning new content.

Matthew Fitt, publisher of a ground-breaking series that celebrates Scots language for kids, and Billy Kay, writer, broadcaster and language activist head our Scots team.

We start from three connected ideas. First that the two languages are not in opposition, but part of a cultural continuum. Second, neither belongs in geographical isolation. They are not to be consigned to the North East or to Ayrshire or to the Gaeltacht. As last months opening of the capitals first dedicated Gaelic school with 30 Gaelic-speaking staff and the curriculum shows, language reclamation is thriving. Third, the language celebration is is not about 'heritage', but a contemporary living, often urban phenomenon.

As writer James Kelman has put it: "Since the 18th century the cultural and linguistic movement of the Scottish bourgeoisie and ruling elite is total assimilation to Britishness where Englishness is the controlling interest. Scotland has its own languages too, and these are ‘living languages’, kept alive by people using them who, generally, are working class. Scottish literary artists have worked in these languages for centuries. Even where the writers are not themselves working class in origin the subject matter of the work is, as we see in some of the writings of Walter Scott or R.L. Stevenson."

Although the content will be the same as the English-language , comment, analysis and opinion. Of course language revival, protection and celebration has a political edge. Whilst the referendum was lost because the economic argument failed, as read through the lens of a hostile media, a large part of the population still suffer from a measure of (at best) cultural cringe and at worst cultural self-loathing.

This lack of confidence often translates to political dependency. If you are ignorant of your own culture or consider it to be third-rate why would you entertain the idea of running your own affairs? As Thom Cross explored earlier this week, Scottish arts is still suffering from an 'Eye-Popping lack of diversity'.

Celebrating the rich diversity of our indigenous languages in a contemporary context is an antidote to that.
From Struileag to Oi Polloi, from Hamish MacDonald's appointment as Scriever to Liz Lochhead's appointment as Makar, from Martyn Bennet to Itchy Coo, Scotland has been embracing a new understanding of itself, often in the face of internal opposition, Anglicisation and decades of undermining and inferiorisation.

Language revival stands alongside the land movement as part of reclaiming Scotland. Dùthchas is the Gaelic word for entitlement which reflects the view that “all the members of a clan or a community were entitled, simply by virtue of their belonging to such entities, permanently to occupy the land on which they lived”. That people should have access to their own languages stands side by side this notion.

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