06 November 2019

S5M-18960 UN Year of Indigenous Languages and European Day of Languages

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18960, in the name of Angus MacDonald, on the United Nations year of indigenous languages and European day of languages. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 2019 is the UN Year of Indigenous Languages, and that the European Day of Languages will take place on 26 September; acknowledges the strong contribution that indigenous languages bring to Scotland’s rich and varied culture; notes that it is through language that we communicate with the world, define identity, express history and culture, learn, defend human rights and participate in all aspects of society; believes that, through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression; notes that language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation and sustainable development; praises the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig for its efforts to promote, encourage and grow indigenous Gaelic language and culture through supporting local learning groups and events, as well as supporting the national Gaelic Language Plan and providing support for Gaelic-medium education; highlights the work of the Scots Language Centre in promoting and encouraging Scots and the regional dialects of the language throughout Scotland and, in doing so, raising the understanding of Scots, Doric and Lallans and how Scotland's language came to be; notes the work of the Scots Language Society in its efforts to promote and encourage the Scots leid, best known for its “Lallans” journal and annual “Sangschaw”, which is a competition of singing and writing in Scots equivalent to the Scottish Gaelic Mod or Welsh Eisteddfod; understands that the Council of Europe declared 26 September the annual Day of Languages after the success of the European Year of Languages in 2001, and is marked across all 47 member states of the Council of Europe; recognises that the aims of the European Day of Languages are to alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding, promoting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered, and encouraging lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, professional needs, purposes of mobility or pleasure and exchanges; considers that Scotland’s colourful, multicultural society is only enhanced by the languages that bridge its diverse communities together, from Polish, Indian, Chinese, Italian and many more to the languages of Scotland’s culture in Scots and Gaelic; believes that, by celebrating the European Day of Languages, people are promoting the objectives of raising awareness of Europe’s rich linguistic diversity, the need to diversify the range of languages people learn and the need for people to develop some degree of proficiency in two languages or more to be able to play their full part in democratic citizenship in Europe, while fully understanding that language skills are a necessity and a right for everyone; notes the calls for people to celebrate both the 2019 UN Year of Indigenous Languages and the European Day of Languages across all communities in Scotland, and looks forward to celebrating Scotland’s indigenous languages and what it considers Scotland’s diversity and acceptance of other cultures in the future.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Angus MacDonald, not only on lodging the longest-ever motion in the Parliament but, more important, on securing the debate.

I thank my intern Anna, who is bilingual English and Mexican Spanish, for providing my speaking notes for tonight. She is familiar with bilingualism.

I want to pick up on a point that John Finnie made. My mother was born in Dalmeny Street, in Leith, in 1909, to a Gaelic native speaker father and an Anglophone mother. She learned Gaelic to some degree before she went to school, but when she went to school she was punished if she used Gaelic. She left school with no Gaelic. It is ironic that she became a language teacher, teaching French and German, although she had no Gaelic. That has been the message down the ages.

I am very much looking forward to hearing from Peter Chapman, whose Doric far surpasses my trivial amount of the language. It is worth making the point that Doric is, I think, a language in its own right. It is as close to—or as distant from—English as Norwegian is to Swedish, and Norwegian and Swedish are recognised as separate languages. It might be time for Doric to have similar recognition.

I join other members in congratulating Bòrd na Gàidhlig on its successful work in promoting Gaelic and, in particular, for facilitating access to Gaelic for people at an early age. The number of people who speak Gaelic is stabilising, after a period of particular difficulty, and there is an increase in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20. If Gaelic becomes a language of the young, we can see a future for it, so I hope that that trend continues. We know that Gaelic is the key to Highland culture, heritage, tradition and society.

We have other languages that sort of dribble into our perception. Just a mile outside my constituency is the town of New Pitsligo, which has the alternative name Cyaak, which is Brythonic—it is really Welsh. We have a long history of many different languages in Scotland.

Teaching is important, if we are to preserve our traditions, but individuals can play their part, too. Expressions that we inherited from our ancestors are important, and it is good to use the oral tradition to pass them down.

Multilingualism is a key European value and a crucial component of economic growth and social cohesion, but not all Governments agree that that is the case. We have been particularly disappointed by the failure to allow into Scotland at first asking some Gaelic teachers from places elsewhere that use Gaelic. I hope that we will not see a repetition of that. There is an acute shortage of qualified Gaelic teachers, and we do not need further barriers to teachers coming here to help.

In September, the Scots language awards made an excellent contribution to that area of policy and gave much deserved recognition to the many talented writers, performers and educators who work in Scots.

On the doorstep of the Parliament, outside the Canongate kirk, there is a recent statue of Robert Fergusson. I will close with one verse of his nine-verse poem “Braid Claith”. It was published in 1773 and is directed at us politicians and our potential arrogance.

“Ye wha are fain to hae your name
Wrote in the bonny book of fame,
Let merit nae pretension claim
To laurel’d wreath,
But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,
In gude Braid Claith.”

In the 21st century, we can learn a lot from the Scots language, even if we have to go back to the 18th century. Robert Burns described Robert Fergusson as

“my elder brother in the muse”.


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