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  1. #1
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    A Family Story (Myth?) and Question about Gaelic Languages

    I am very fortunate to know a lot about my paternal Grandfather's early life and family. He was a Presbyterian minister and I guess use to writing a sermon every week so when he retired well into his 70's he started a memoir. It is very detailed about his family history and early life but unfortunately he became to ill to carry on before he got much beyond his childhood.

    He was born in Clachnaharry just outside Inverness. His father was a seaman and shipwright and English speaking. His mother was from Ross-Shire and grew up a native Gaelic speaker. She must have been a smart and educated lady because he mentions that she was not only fluent but literate in both languages. He mentions in his youth a lot of young people from the Highlands were moving to Glasgow for work and his mother used to both write and read letters back and forth, in both languages, for neighbouring families who were less literate. In any case my Grandfather grew up with a lot of exposure to Gaelic and by all accounts spoke it fairly well.

    As a young man (and here the story gets fuzzy because it is beyond his written record) he moved following many friends from his youth to Glasgow to work in the shipyards. He saw no future in this work and so also studied at night in a Bible College. He became a Presbyterian Minister. Surprising to me, but his first Kirk on his own was in Wales. During this time he married his sweetheart from Glasgow, my Grandmother. I have an old marble clock which was presented to him on the occasion of his marriage by his Welsh congregation.

    Now here is where we may move from fact to fancy. My eldest Aunt was born in Wales and had memory of those days (my Grandfather later moved back to a church in Glasgow and then eventually on to Canada). She use to say that her father got along very well with the Welsh miners in the congregation because he could speak to them in Welsh. Could this be a fact or just an embellished story by a young girl who loved her father?

    My research would indicate the languages were too different for mutual understanding but I am only basing this on dry reading with no actual understanding of either Scots Gaelic or Welsh as living languages.

    Any insight would be appreciated.

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  3. #2
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    Not surprisingly, since the two languages were the same 3,000 years ago, there are many words (nearly) in common but they are not mutually intelligible nowadays.
    e.g. mor (Gaelic) = mawr (Welsh) = big
    beag = bach = small
    taigh = ty = house
    cu = ci = dog
    abhain = afon = river

    and so on. Of course, your Grandfather might have picked up some Welsh quite quickly.

    Alan
    Last edited by neloon; 22nd February 19 at 07:26 AM.

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  5. #3
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    If it's proven that he lived in Wales for a while, preaching in the kirk there, and your aunt was born there, why would you doubt her story that he could speak Welsh? I would actually be surprised if he couldn't.

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  7. #4
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    Not exactly the same thing but my grandfather was a Church of Scotland missionary who went to Palestine. Within a few years he spoke both Arabic and Hebrew. It was expected.
    President, Clan Buchanan Society International

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  9. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdinSteve View Post
    *Snip* As for a Gaelic speaker becoming fluent in Welsh, I have some doubts. Welsh, in common with Latin, pronounces every letter in a word whereas Gaelic is quite different with so many letters silent. There is certainly connections such as “aber” where Abertawe in Wales corresonds to Aberdeen in Scotland. Other coincidences are words such as “gareg” meaning rock in Welsh and “ Carrick” in Scotland but these are probably more related to the Brythonic peoples inhabiting these areas.
    Ah yes, those are differences in the two languages, but what you correctly posit omits consideration of the natural inclination and ear some folks have for languages. I've studied five and speak three (obviously, some better than others) but have had similar experiences with people being delighted with my sorry attempts at their language that nonetheless allowed us to communicate well and earned me much probably over-generous respect.

    That kind of natural inclination would fit in with the OP's story rather nicely.
    Rev'd Father Bill White: Retired Parish Priest & Elementary Headmaster, lover of God, people (most of them!) dogs, joy, humour & clarity. Legion Padre, theologian, teacher, philosopher, linguist, dreamer, traditionalist, bon-vivant, encourager of hearts & souls & a firm believer in dignity, decency, & duty. A proud Sinclair.

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  11. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdinSteve View Post
    Welsh, in common with Latin, pronounces every letter in a word whereas Gaelic is quite different with so many letters silent.
    Neither of these statements is strictly speaking true but this is a matter of orthography not the spoken forms of the languages. Gaelic uses "h" to change the pronunciation of a preceding consonant (as does English in very confusing ways - "though - trough - plough - thought" etc.). This makes Gaelic seem full of "h"s where Welsh uses a different letter to signify the altered sound e.g "big Mary" is "Mair fawr" in Welsh but "Màiri mhòir" in Gaelic - in both cases the initial "m" of "mor/mawr" is lenited because she is feminine but Gaelic keeps the "m" whereas Welsh converts to "f" and both are pronounced "v". Hope that's not too technical!

    Alan

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  13. #7
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    The Q is offline Oops, it seems this member needs to update their email address
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    I've noticed that people brought up speaking more than one language , find it much easier to learn other languages quite quickly.
    My brother brought up speaking Gaelic and English took and passed with distinction 6th year studies in Russian having not done any Russian before.

    I would suggest with having a built in ability with languages, he would have learnt very rapidly.
    Also remember very little other entertainment than the radio and meeting people especially in his job..

    Finally one point, the coal mines are in South Wales, that area is majority English speaking and has been for centuries..
    Even today with enforced Welsh language teaching ( as a subject) in Welsh schools if you spoke Welsh to most in South Wales they would reply Dydw i ddim yn siarad Cymraeg
    if I've copied that right it's Welsh for I don't speak Welsh...
    Last edited by The Q; 23rd February 19 at 01:14 AM.
    "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give"
    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill

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  15. #8
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    Thank you everyone. This all makes me wish I had paid more attention to family stories when my parents and grandparents were still alive. I don' think he lived in Wales all that long, maybe five years, I know my eldest aunt and I think my uncle were born there. He then moved back to Scotland and two more aunts were born there. He started working for a Missionary Society in Glasgow and they eventually sent him to the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Alberta where he looked after the peoples spiritual needs (not sure they needed it) and my Grandmother taught school. My father who was their youngest child was born there. My Grandfather later moved on to Ontario and up in his career. He retired from one of the largest Presbyterian Churches in Toronto. He certainly had a full and interesting life. I wish I knew more of it.

    Living in a country with two official languages, and where dozens can be heard on the street everyday, I am quite aware some people are much better than others at picking up another language. It is also possible (even likely) that his Welsh was very rudimentary but enough to impress a little girl. If he did have an aptitude I now wonder how much Cree he may have picked up? I wish I had inherited this talent. I notice when I am in the French parts of Canada and I address someone in that language. They always switch quickly to English. My French must be very painful to their ears.

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  17. #9
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    He would have had the bible in Welsh, most likely, which would have been a help in becoming fluent quite quickly.

    Anne the Pleater
    I presume to dictate to no man what he shall eat or drink or wherewithal he shall be clothed."
    -- The Hon. Stuart Ruaidri Erskine, The Kilt & How to Wear It, 1901.

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  19. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Singlemalt View Post

    Living in a country with two official languages, and where dozens can be heard on the street everyday, I am quite aware some people are much better than others at picking up another language. It is also possible (even likely) that his Welsh was very rudimentary but enough to impress a little girl. If he did have an aptitude I now wonder how much Cree he may have picked up? I wish I had inherited this talent. I notice when I am in the French parts of Canada and I address someone in that language. They always switch quickly to English. My French must be very painful to their ears.

    The last time I tried to order a couple of coffees and doughnuts at Tim Hortons in french the girl looked rather perplexed and asked 'English?'. I replied in the affirmative and she beckoned over to a bilingual server, much to the relief of us all!

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