pound;2 million boost will break new ground for Gaelic

First ever historical dictionary of the language may take 25 years to complete

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Teachers heralded a major boost to the study of Scottish Gaelic today with the announcement of a pound;2 million funding package to support the creation of the first ever historical dictionary of the language.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has committed the money to help deliver the groundbreaking work, which will be the first authoritative and comprehensive dictionary to fully document the Gaelic language. As such, it will provide an essential resource for learners of Gaelic in Scottish schools.

The dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, Faclair na Gaidhlig, will be a free online resource and will contain not only the meanings but also the origins of some 30 million words - and for the first time fully explain the meaning and history of the language.

Professor Boyd Robertson, convener of the Faclair na Gaidhlig steering committee and principal of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, a Gaelic-language college, said that dictionaries for primary and secondary could be produced, as well as a thesaurus and other resources.

Professor Robertson, a former principal teacher and lecturer in Gaelic, also pointed out that as an online resource, the dictionary could be updated constantly to allow for changes in language and its usage, as well as in technology.

Those hoping to put their orders in for the new dictionary any time soon will be disappointed - the expected completion date of the full document is expected to be 25 years. But regular instalments will be published online before then as work is finished.

Anne McPhail, the headteacher of Edinburgh's first dedicated Gaelic school, Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pairce, due to open next month, said that the project would be "very good for the status of the language" and would enrich the resources available for students and teachers.

She said it would be especially valuable in primary schools to help young people to understand and interpret the language in Gaelic songs and poetry. It would also support teachers, she said. "Part of their professional development is to develop their own Gaelic, and for that it will be very useful," she said.

The newly announced funding for Faclair na Gaidhlig is part of the Scottish government's efforts to secure the survival of Gaelic.

The national Gaelic Language Plan 2012-17 aims to increase the number of people learning and speaking the language, but only weeks ago figures from the annual report of Bord na Gaidhlig, which works to promote the language, showed that the ambitious target to double the number of children entering P1 Gaelic education was still some way off, with 428 children having started primary school in Gaelic-medium education in 2012- 13. The five-year target is to boost numbers from 400 to 800 by 2017.

Welcoming the funding council's announcement, first minister Alex Salmond said: "We're committed to working with a range of other public bodies to create a secure future for the Gaelic language. The dictionary initiative will play an important part in that work and I'm delighted that this extra funding has been identified to drive forward the project."

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland and a Gaelic speaker, said: "The sad truth is, schools, universities and colleges could have done much more to ensure we didn't see the decline of Gaelic we have.

"That's why it's great to see long overdue investment going into the language, and hopefully it will mark the start of a reversal of that trend."

The project is managed by Sabhal Mor Ostaig UHI in partnership with the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. Even with sufficient funding and a team of about 10 lexicographers, it could take approximately 25 years to complete because of the sheer volume of work involved, said project coordinator Lorna Pike. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, took 70 years to create, she said.

With the project currently in its foundation phase, 94 sample entries have been compiled, each accompanied by compilation instructions to train future lexicographers, ranging in length from 24 to 212 pages.


Photo credit: David Gordon

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