How to turn the tide: the policy implications emergent from comparing a ‘post-vernacular FLP’ to a ‘pro-Gaelic FLP’

Abstract

This paper compares the sociolinguistic trajectory of a ‘latent’ speaker mother to that of a ‘new’ speaker mother. Drawing on Shandler (TDR 48(1):19–43, 2004), it introduces the term ‘post-vernacular FLP’ as a means to conceptualise the latent speaker mother’s emblematic use of Gaelic with her child as a ‘seed’ from which language revitalisation can be cultivated, rather than a terminus. The paper discusses how the latent speaker mother’s current ideological landscape in many ways encapsulates the tepidity of the older generation’s ideologies. This contrasts to the new speaker mother, who has undergone the ideological transformation necessary to take an activist stance towards the language and implement a ‘pro-Gaelic’ FLP. The paper then considers the linguistic confidence barrier as described by both mothers, particularly in terms of using child-directed speech in Gaelic, and shows how the new speaker mother overcame this particular barrier. The paper concludes by discussing the policy implications of this analysis, and poses the crucial question: what specific on-the-ground measures can be taken to transform post-vernacular FLPs to pro-Gaelic FLPs?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Both speakers were given code names.

  2. 2.

    Jenny can also be considered a ‘heritage speaker’ as per Armstrong’s (2013) definition of a heritage speaker as someone who has a direct familial connection to the language and who often had a level of exposure (albeit minimal) to the language in the home, but then undertook formal opportunities to learn and use the language. The choice to use ‘new’ speaker here is because we feel it better encapsulates the difference between the two speakers, especially since Jenny grew up in Glasgow and her Gaelic-speaking family members are from the Isle of Skye, not Lewis (see Smith-Christmas, 2018 a discussion of the importance of ‘place’ and new speakers of Gaelic).

  3. 3.

    Lewis is the largest (both in terms of population and landmass) as well as the northernmost of these islands.

  4. 4.

    Population approximately 6000.

  5. 5.

    The word ‘unit’ is used here because with a few exceptions, GME exists only as ‘units’ within wider English-medium schools.

  6. 6.

    The other reason was the fact that the family was living in Switzerland at the time.

  7. 7.

    Jenny’s husband has been learning Gaelic and can participate to some extent in Jenny’s pro-Gaelic FLP.

  8. 8.

    Shonagh’s husband was raised in Stornoway in an English-speaking household and Shonagh characterises her husband as ‘easy-oasy’ (i.e. he does not care either way) about whether their son acquires any Gaelic.

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Acknowledgements

This research that forms the basis of this article was made possible by the Irish Research Council [Grant Number GOIPD/2016/644]. The research was also supported by Soillse. The writing of this article was also supported by a fellowship with the Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage under the ‘Sustaining Minoritized Languages in Europe’ (‘SMiLE’ initiative). We would also like to thank our anonymous reviewers and James Costa for reading an earlier draft of this article. Any mistakes are of course our own.

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Smith-Christmas, C., NicLeòid, S.L. How to turn the tide: the policy implications emergent from comparing a ‘post-vernacular FLP’ to a ‘pro-Gaelic FLP’. Lang Policy 19, 575–593 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-019-09541-0

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Keywords

  • Family language policy
  • Post-vernacular
  • New speakers
  • Latent speakers
  • Scottish Gaelic