Eighteen Years of Island Voices

Le Gordon Wells

New Island Voices compositePNGcrop

The beginnings of the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean project can be traced back to 2005 and the original European POOLS project in which Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO) played a key co-ordinating role, with Gordon Wells appointed as Project Officer. It’s been a fascinating journey ever since, from the bilingual English and Gaelic recording of the first Craigard documentary video onward, in an ever growing and diversifying collection of “slices of  life and work in the 21st Century Hebrides” combined with thoughts and reflections from both community members and interested observers.

Now in its eighteenth year, and fully independent of SMO, the project may be said to be “coming of age”, so Gordon has compiled a detailed report on its history and content to give an account of progress so far: “Island Voices – Guthan nan Eilean: Hebridean Language Capture and Curation, 2005-2023”.

From the summary:

“This article provides a comprehensive description of the Island Voices/Guthan nan Eilean language capture and curation project as it stood in Spring 2023. The introduction presents information on its main features and aims, the linguistic rationale focussing on the primacy of speech and the salience of bilingualism, and the Hebridean community context in which the project operates. This is followed by a detailed account of the project contents and chronology, divided into four separate sections or phases: Staff-led Production; Participatory Production; Multilingual Diversification; and Research Alignment. In conclusion, connections to further research and development projects and opportunities are sketched out, and some final reflections question a polarising juxtaposition of local versus global interests, while pointing towards responsibilities alongside the opportunities this kind of work entails.

Describing a primarily oral project through written text presents a challenge. Copious footnotes point to online samples of the materials discussed, and readers are encouraged to engage through screen as well as page in order to extract full benefit. The article is bookended by a preamble and postscript which offer written exemplification from short, transcribed extracts.”

And from the conclusion:

“There may be a lesson here for applied and socio-linguistic professionals. In a meaningfully socially aware mission, the development and display of academic and linguistic prowess should surely show and serve a genuine community connection and purpose. Such, at least, are the principles which the Island Voices project aspires to uphold. The project trajectory, while linguistically guided, thus aims at inclusiveness in content organisation and presentation, remains open to new inputs, and has an undefined end-point still over the horizon.”

Watch this space, a chàirdean! Agus cumaibh cluas ri claisneachd…

Tadhail air Island Voices – Guthan nan Eilean

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Beryl Bailey Symposium

Le Gordon Wells

Here’s welcome news of an exciting event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) at the University of the West Indies, with whom the University of the Highlands and Islands recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the back of joint work on Mediating Multilingualism with the Language Sciences Institute (LSI).

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This symposium is livestreamed on the Braadkyaas Jamiekan YouTube channel – the JLU’s media platform which provides a community-facing link for speakers of Jamaican, in much the same way as Island Voices has aimed to bridge gaps between academic linguists and vernacular Gaelic speakers in the Hebrides.

Any successful language revitalisation or normalisation strategy or plan will not be developed in isolation from the real world around it. That is surely a truism, yet worth repeating in a context where the detailed and demanding practical work entailed requires careful, even microscopic, attention to the actual “facts on the ground”. For best results in a highly challenging task the critical linguistic gaze must surely still be both inward and outward. Insofar as Island Voices can contribute to a wider appreciation and re-valuing of the Gaelic language in hopeful anticipation of renewed community use, that is why this project, alongside its local Hebridean capture and curation work, has from the start been multilingual in orientation, and actively seized any opportunity to build links with other language communities who might find their own continuity or development under similar threat.

The applied linguistic collaboration between the JLU and the LSI has included the creation of Jamaican versions of various Island Voices films alongside other foundational media and corpus work, in the hope that this Hebridean-Caribbean language link can be further developed going forward. Creole linguistics and the languages of the Caribbean tell an illuminating story, which pioneering Jamaican linguist Beryl Bailey helped uncover. It contrasts interestingly with that of Scottish Gaelic. Nevertheless fruitful links, perhaps particularly in relation to oral and bilingual skills and resources, are there to be seen, explored, and developed. This event is open to all comers. Happy 20th Birthday, JLU!

Tadhail air Island Voices – Guthan nan Eilean

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