Canadian Gaelic

Canadian Gaelic

Infobox language
name=Canadian Gaelic
nativename="Gàidhlig Chanaideanach"

pronunciation= [ˈkɑːlʲəˈ kanatanax]
region=limited to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia;
speakers=ca. 2,000 [ [ "Oifis Iomairtean na Gaidhlig/Office of Gaelic Affairs] ]
fam3=Insular Celtic
fam5=Scots Gaelic
script=Latin alphabet (Gaelic variant)
agency= [ Comhairle na Gàidhlig]

Canadian Gaelic (Gaelic: _gd. "Gàidhlig Chanaideanach", locally just Gaelic or The Gaelic) is the dialect of Scots Gaelic that has been spoken continuously for more than 200 years on Cape Breton Island and in isolated enclaves on the Nova Scotia mainland. To a lesser extent the language is also spoken on nearby Prince Edward Island, and by emigrant Gaels living in major Canadian cities such as Toronto. At its peak in the mid-19th century Gaelic, considered together with the closely-related Irish language, was the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French.cite web | last=Bumstead | first=J.M |year=2006 | title=Scots | url= | publisher="Multicultural Canada" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ] The language has sharply declined since that period, however, and is now nearly extinct. Recently efforts have been made to revitalise the language.


Early speakers

In 1621 King James VI of Scotland allowed privateer William Alexander to establish the first Scottish colony overseas. The group of Highlanders — all of whom were Gaelic-speaking — settled at Port Royal, on the western shore of Nova Scotia, but within a year the colony had failed. Subsequent attempts to relaunch it were cancelled when in 1631 the Treaty of "Saint-Germain-en-Laye" returned Nova Scotia to French rule. [cite web | last=Griffiths | first=N.E.S. | coauthors=John G. Reid |year=1992 | title=New Evidence on New Scotland, 1629 | url= | publisher="JSTOR Online Journal Archive" | accessdate=2006-11-02 ]

A half-century later in 1670 the Hudson's Bay Company was given exclusive trading rights to all North American lands draining into Hudson Bay — about 3.9 million km2 (an area larger than India). Many of the traders were Orcadians and Scottish Highlanders, the latter of whom brought Gaelic to the interior. Those who intermarried with the local First Nations people passed on their language, with the effect that by the mid-1700s there existed a sizeable population of Métis (mixed-race) traders with Scottish and aboriginal ancestry, and command of spoken Gaelic.cite web | last=Dickason | first=Olive P |year=2006 | title=Métis | url= | publisher="Multicultural Canada" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ]


Cape Breton remained the property of France until 1758 (although mainland Nova Scotia had belonged to Britain since 1711) when Fortress Louisbourg fell to the British, followed by the rest of New France in the ensuing Battle at the "Plaines d’Abraham". As a result of the conflict Highland regiments who fought for the British secured a reputation for tenacity and combat prowess. In turn the countryside itself secured a reputation among the Highlanders for its size, beauty, and wealth of natural resources. [cite web | author=unknown |year=2003 | title=Bras d'Or Lake | url= | publisher="Canoe Network" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ]

They would remember Canada when in 1762 the earliest of the "Fuadaich nan Gàidheal" (Scottish Highland Clearances) forced many Gaelic families off their ancestral lands. The first ship loaded with Hebridean colonists arrived on “St.-John’s Island” (Prince Edward Island) in 1770, with later ships following in 1772, and 1774. In 1773 a ship named “The Hector” landed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, with 169 settlers mostly originating from the Isle of Skye. [cite web | author=unknown |year=2005 | title=Hector Festival | url= | publisher="DeCoste Centre" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ] In 1784 the last barrier to Scottish settlement — a law restricting land-ownership on Cape Breton Island — was repealed, and soon both PEI and Nova Scotia were predominantly Gaelic-speaking.cite web | last=Kennedy | first=Michael |year=2002 | title=Gaelic Economic-impact Study | url= | publisher="Nova Scotia Museum" | accessdate=2006-08-30 |format=PDF] It is estimated more than 50 000 Gaelic settlers immigrated to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island between 1815 and 1870.

With the end of the American War of Independence, immigrants newly arrived from Scotland would soon be joined by Loyalist emigrants escaping persecution from American Partisans. These settlers arrived on a mass scale at the arable lands of British North America, with large numbers settling in Glengarry County in present-day Ontario, and in the Eastern Townships of Québec.

Red River colony

In 1812 Lord Selkirk of Scotland obtained 300 000 km2 to build a colony at the forks of the Red River, in what would become Manitoba. He brought over 70 Scottish settlers, many of whom spoke only Gaelic, and there established a small farming colony. The settlement soon attracted local First Nations groups, resulting in an unprecedented interaction of Scottish (Lowland, Highland, and Orkney), English, Cree, French, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, and Métis traditions all in close contact.cite web | author=unknown |year=2006 | title=Red River Colony | url= | publisher="The Canadian Encyclopædia" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ]

In the 1840s Toronto Reverend Dr John Black was sent to preach to the settlement, but "his lack of the Gaelic was at first a grievous disappointment" to parishioners. [cite web | last=Henderson | first=Anne Matheson |year=1968 | title=The Lord Selkirk Settlement at Red River | url= | publisher="The Manitoba Historical Society" | accessdate=2006-08-30 ] With continuing immigration the population of Scots colonists grew to more than 300, but by the 1860s the French-Métis outnumbered the Scots, and tensions between the two groups would prove a major factor in the ensuing Red River Rebellion.

The continuing association between the Selkirk colonists and surrounding First Nations groups evolved into a unique contact dialect. Used primarily by the Anglo- and Scots-Métis traders, the “Red River Dialect” or "Bungee" was a mixture of Gaelic and English with many terms borrowed from the local native languages. Whether the dialect was a trade pidgin or a fully developed mixed language is unknown. Today the Scots-Métis have largely been absorbed by the more dominant French-Métis culture, and the Bungee dialect is most likely extinct.

Nineteenth century

By 1850 Gaelic was the third most-common mother tongue in British North America after English and French, and is believed to have been spoken by more than 200,000 British North Americans at that time. A large population who spoke the related Irish Gaelic immigrated to Scots Gaelic communities and to Irish settlements in Newfoundland. In PEI and Cape Breton there were large areas of Gaelic monolingualism, and communities of Gaelic-speakers had established themselves in northeastern Nova Scotia (around Pictou and Antigonish); in Glengarry, Stormont, Grey, and Bruce Counties in Ontario; in the Codroy Valley of Newfoundland; in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Eastern Quebec.

At the time of Confederation in 1867 the most common mother-tongue among the Fathers of Confederation was Gaelic. [cite web | author=unknown |year=2006 | title=National Flag of Canada Day February 15 | url= | publisher="Department of Canadian Heritage" | accessdate=2006-04-26 ] In 1890, Tòmas Raibeart Mac Aonghais, an independent Senator from British Columbia (born Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton Island) tabled a bill entitled “An Act to Provide for the Use of Gaelic in Official Proceedings.” He cited the ten Scottish and eight Irish senators who spoke Gaelic, and thirty-two members of the House of Commons who spoke either Scots- or Irish Gaelic. The bill was defeated 42–7. Despite the widespread disregard by government on Gaelic issues, records exist of at least one criminal trial conducted entirely in Gaelic, c.1880–1900 in Baddeck, and presided over by Chief Justice Seumas Mac Dhòmhnaill.

Linguistic features

The pronunciation of Canadian Gaelic has diverged in several ways from the standard Gaelic spoken in Scotland.cite web | last=MacAulay | first=Donald | coauthors=J. Gleasure, C. Ó Baoill |year=1996 | title=Festschrift for Professor D.S. Thomson | url= | publisher="Scottish Gaelic Studies 17, University of Aberdeen" | accessdate=2006-09-12 |format=PDF] Gaelic terms unique to Canada exist, though research on the exact number is deficient. The language has also had a considerable and well-known effect on Cape Breton English.


*IPA|/ ʟ / → IPA|/ w /:The most common Canadian Gaelic shibboleth, where broad “ l ” is pronounced as “ w.” This form was well-known in Western Scotland where it was called the "“glug Eigeach”" (“Eigg cluck”), for its putative use among speakers from the Isle of Eigg.

*IPA|/ ɴ / → IPA|/ m /:When “ n ” occurs after a rounded vowel, speakers tend to pronounce it as “ m.”

*IPA|/ ɴ / → IPA|/ w /:This form is limited mostly to the plural ending “-annan,” wherein the first ” n‘s ” are pronounced as ” w.”

*IPA|/ r / → IPA|/ ʃ /:This change occurs frequently in many Scotland dialects when “ r ” is realised next to specific consonants; however such conditions are not necessary in Canadian Gaelic, where ” r ” is pronounced as “ sh” regardless of surrounding sounds.


Notes and references



* [ Gaelic Economic-impact Study] Languageicon|gd|Gaelic en icon
* [ Gaelic Preservation Strategy] Languageicon|gd|Gaelic en icon
* [ Scottish Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts]
* [ Gàidhlig Placenames in Nova Scotia]
* [ Gaelic Placenames of Scotland and Canada]
* [ Nova Scotia Gaelic Visual Archives]
* [ Highland Village in Cape Breton]
* [ Gaelic in Prince Edward Island]
* [ "Leugh Seo" Gaelic Collection of the Cape Breton Library] Languageicon|gd|Gaelic en icon
* [ Cape Breton Cèilidh] fr icon en icon
* [ St Francis Xavier University Gaelic Resources] Languageicon|gd|Gaelic fr icon en icon
*"Se’ Ceap Breatainn Tir Mo Graidh". [ Part One] and [ Part Two] . Scottish documentary on Canadian Gaelic-speaking community . Languageicon|gd|Gaelic
* [ "Aiseirigh Nan Gàidheal"] . Canadian Gaelic radio show. Languageicon|gd|Gaelic en icon

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