A study of Gaelic language and culture in Cape Breton's Barra Gaidhealtachd

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MacNeil, Vincent
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The purpose of this study of Gaelic language and culture in Cape Breton's Barra Gaidhealtachd is to discover trends in the loss of the Gaelic language and culture in this community and to identify what will be lost as a result. While estimated numbers of Gaelic speakers indicate that in the 1800s there were approximately one hundred thousand speakers, today there are few living people for whom Gaelic is a first language in Nova Scotia. The type of Gaelic most commonly spoken in Cape Breton is Scottish Gaelic which is currently an endangered language. This study focuses specifically on communities in Cape Breton which were settled by people from Barra, Scotland, but the research has implications for the Gaelic community of Nova Scotia as a whole. For this investigation, five Gaelic speakers from Cape Breton's Barra Gaidhealtachd were interviewed and extensive archival research was conducted at the Beaton Institute in Sydney, Cape Breton. Four trends that contributed to the decline of the Gaelic language include: government policies towards Gaelic language, depopulation of rural areas, the movement of English into Gaelic communities, and the passing of the last Gaelic monolinguals. Much more then a language stands to be lost if the Barra dialect dies out in this community. For example, language loss is connected to the loss of worldview and culture and also to the blas (taste) of the language. The impact of the outside English world on Gaelic speakers' confidence in the language is explored, as is the role of the Nova Scotian government, in terms of its support of the language and lack thereof at different historical moments.
Social life , Study and teaching , customs , Dialects , Intellectual life , Cape Breton Island , Scottish Gaelic language , Scots , Nova Scotia