A heritage of words
A big breakthrough in Gaelic-medium education is how Donald John Macleod, Highland Region's adviser, describes the first illustrated dictionary for children entirely in the language.
Mo Chiad Fhaclair, is intended for Primary 4 pupils and above. It will allow them to learn dictionary skills as well as definitions of words and their spelling, which is as notoriously tricky in Gaelic as in English.
The main difference from previous dictionaries is that no reference is made back to English. In other words, "buth" is not defined as "shop". Instead, the meaning of what a shop or buth is appears in simple Gaelic. Dr Macleod has a stake in commending the project: he was chairman of the instigating body, the primary review group, which comprises representatives of all the education authorities offering Gaelic education. Highland Region was given the responsibility of carrying forward the idea, and so he and his colleagues had the job of deciding the words to be included and the definitions.
They turned to the Celtic department of Aberdeen University, where a student, Moray Watson, was encouraged to undertake an MLitt thesis on primary Gaelic dictionaries. As well as investigating what the Welsh and others had done, Mr Watson visited Gaelic-medium classes, reading the children's notebooks and listening to their class work and conversations.
From his observations, he and Dr Macleod's group drew up a list of 1,000 words and their definitions for the dictionary. These were sent to a few pilot schools which made suggestions for clearer meanings and drew attention to missing common words.
Finance from the local authorities has allowed Acair, the Gaelic publishing house in Stornoway, to produce a high quality book in full colour modelled on the First Oxford Dictionary, with a distinguished designer and illustrator, Julie Park. Acair hopes that at Pounds 12.99 it will have wide general appeal as well as being distributed by education authorities to their Gaelic classes.