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INSIDE TRACK: Lost in translation: why Gaelic has a bad press

Earlier this month the Council of Europe published a report assessing the extent to which laws and practices in the UK are in line with the country's binding commitments under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The UK had ratified this in 2001.

The report was compiled by a Committee of Experts, based on information provided by the Government, independent sources and on-the-spot visits.

On Scots it said: "There is a need for an assessment of the number of Scots speakers as an essential basis for developing a comprehensive language policy."

While on Gaelic the development of BBC Alba was seen as a success, the report was clear that considerable practical difficulties remained in education, where there was still a serious shortage of teachers that needed resolute action to address.

But the report continued: "The Committee of Experts was concerned to learn that speakers of regional minority languages continued to be portrayed in a negative way in the media. No information was provided by the authorities about steps taken to combat this problem

"There is still a need to raise the awareness of the English-speaking majority about the UK, regional or minority languages as an integral part of the UK's cultural heritage."

Anyone who read the submission to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012 by Professor Kenneth MacKinnon, Honorary Professor of Language Policy and Planning in Aberdeen University's Celtic Department, will not be surprised by the committee's concerns.

He surveyed the press coverage in Scotland of Gaelic affairs over a 12-month period, charting the determination by some titles to link expenditure on Gaelic education to profligacy, which at times was seen to degenerate into inaccuracy, prejudice and mockery. Other measures were portrayed as attempts by the Scottish Government to ram the language down our throats

He concluded: "Reading through a year's trawl of the anti-Gaelic press items and 'knocking copy' was to say the least depressing.

"This was not only on account of the anti-Gaelic attitudes expressed which indicate an irrational but profound hostility to Gaelic education and to Gaelic more generally ... but also very much on account of the widespread ignorance of, or lack of basic knowledge of Scottish history."

To be fair, there does seem to be an awareness of the problem across all political parties, none of which is willing to champion an anti-Gaelic crusade. As Professor MacKinnon observed, the media tends to turn to the likes of the Taxpayers' Alliance or individual councillors for negative comments.

Responding to the report, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are working closely with the main Gaelic bodies and organisations to help promote Gaelic activities, disseminate positive stories and share articles relating to Gaelic in the media. This work has also seen the bodies help address any inaccuracies reported in the media and we are supportive of these steps."

Whether that will satisfy the committee is not yet clear.

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Education

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