LAST week’s Mod in Stornoway brought forth the perennial debate on Gaelic. John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, defended the language and condemned the vitriol poured upon it, rightly so. A few comments were reminiscent of a minority of white Australians speaking about the Aboriginals a generation or more ago. At least with the Gaels it was only their language that was taken, not their children.

Suggestions that the modest resources would be better put into learning Mandarin are fanciful. There’s merit in learning Asian languages, given the importance of China. However, neither the language itself nor the cost is exclusive. The problem for English speakers isn’t which language to learn but learning any language at all.

Gaelic is in trouble; so are hundreds of minority languages around the globe. It’s not just animal and plant species that are being eliminated but tongues, too. Sadly, it’s the way of the modern world and mass communications exacerbate this.

It is hardly surprising when Gaelic is located between the two largest Anglophone communities on the planet, in the UK and the United States. Gaelic also lacks the funds of Welsh and the base of Irish, but they too face severe challenges. Moreover, as the French have discovered, English is taking over the EU, as Eastern Europe prefers the latter language to the former.

My name declares an ancestry that was Gaelic speaking, though I’m not. My paternal grandparents were native speakers but didn’t pass the language on to their children when they moved south for work. As with many Gaels, they saw English as being to the advantage of their children and their own language; almost as an impediment to their success. This is hardly surprising in many ways, given what the Highlands and Islands endured over centuries of suppression and even military occupation. A culture to be eradicated and the perception of the language was negative, even from within.

However, the language should be supported and for three good reasons. First, a crime was perpetrated against it. My own grandmother, born as the 20th century was approaching, was belted for speaking Gaelic in the playground. Yet it was the only language she knew as a young child when first she went to school. At the same time, Gaelic speaking adults were away fighting and sometimes dying for a British Empire. There’s a debt owed to the language and it should be paid.

Secondly, it is good for us all. As a recent study showed, it is valuable to the economy, with a figure of nearly £150 million put on its impact. English translations would neither suffice nor have the same resonance. The language sells and is entitled to a share.

Gaelic medium schools are popular, especially with Anglophone parents often with no link to the Highlands or Islands but seeking to improve the educational chances of their children. They’re conscious that learning more than one language aids development, and not just linguistically. Studies have also shown that learning a language can even delay the onset of dementia.

There are parts of our brain that were created for language and that, sadly, aren’t being utilised by most in this monoglot land. Supporting the learning of any language, Gaelic or Mandarin, stimulates that part of our cranium and can only benefit us all. There’s logic as well as an historic debt to learning Gaelic.

Finally, it’s also about knowing who we are in this fast-changing world. The language gives an insight into the past; it also aids an understanding of the present. For example, many place names would be incomprehensible without a translation from Gaelic. Huge tracts of history would be lost to ordinary people. Knowing what it means affords an appreciation of why and how events or places came about.

Moreover, as migration becomes the issue of our time, Gaelic even provides an appreciation of how peoples and languages have come about over the years. Years ago, I read the outstanding book “Breslau” by Norman Davies. He explained how the city for centuries was neither solely German nor Polish speaking but polyglot.

Peoples and languages ebbed and flowed. It was only later nation states that insisted on uniformity. Scotland was the same. The idea that some areas weren’t Gaelic speaking is nonsense. Equally, Welsh did predominate in parts and Scots was a language, not a dialect.

Scotland isn’t one single race, culture, religion or even language. Peoples have come over centuries from near and far. They’ve added to and helped fuse together this land. Gaelic is part of who we are and preserving affirms the promise about the land that we can also be.