THE Courier reported earlier this month on East Lothian Council putting together its first Gaelic language plan. Here are two of the letters we received on the issue following the story:

MARIE Sharp reports (June 10) how East Lothian Council will, over the next five years, ensure new and replacement bilingual street signages and that its online communications will become translatable into Gaelic.

As the originators of such an approach since 2010, the 1745 Battle Trust sees that as a significant step.

But, if it has to have any significant meaning for us across the county and for our visitors, we believe it must be coherently focused.

And let’s begin by noting that except for two centuries after Scots’ victory over the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Carham in 1018, Gaelic was scarcely ever spoken in East Lothian until September/November 1745. That was when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army of some 2,500 Gaelic-speaking Highlanders were in residence.

It was this fact that led the trust to introduce its bilingual signages and interpretation boards around the battlefield. We have also used Gaelic at our exhibitions and in publications, especially for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry because many of the emigrant ancestors of those telling their tales spoke Gaelic and sustained the language in Nova Scotia, the US, Australia and New Zealand. And we have gone, and will continue to go, further, honouring Gaelic song and poetry and literature that has connection with the Prince’s victory at Prestonpans in 1745. The Gaelic scholar Dolina Maclennan is one of our trustees and is leading three workshops this summer at the first bilingual exhibition at the John Gray Centre, which we are organising. All our activities in Prestonpans Town Hall, where we have a five-year lease, will also be bilingual, starting on June 26-27 with the Orders of Battle.

What we have been able to achieve at the trust can certainly be emulated at Blindwells, which is being built absolutely on the battlefield’s Riggonhead Defile. The Highlanders walked at night (admittedly in silence!) along that route from Tranent to their astonishing victory on September 21, 1745. We are ambitious that not only will street names and signage be bilingual but that proper interpretation will be in place so that those arriving in their new homes will understand exactly why. Hargreaves are already constructing The Prince’s Loch and we have plans afoot for Scotland’s first statue of the Prince there too.

This recitation of our activities thus far is intended to boldly advance the case that the most welcome initiatives with the Gaelic language in East Lothian are likely to be those with demonstrable relevance and where their presence is fully explained.

Dr Gordon Prestoungrange

Joint Chairman, Battle of Prestonpans [1745] Heritage Trust

East Lothian Courier:

AS A LOVER of language, I believe efforts to safeguard the future of Gaelic are to be commended. However, there is no sense at all in giving it undue prominence in East Lothian, as the council is set to do (Courier, June 10).

Gaelic has precious little heritage in East Lothian, where Scots has always dominated. Indeed, Gaelic has next to no history in huge swathes of the country. It’s not a true ‘national’ language like Welsh and is predominantly centred on the Highlands and Islands. Preserving it in those areas and giving it equal prominence to English is a great idea. But trying to foist it on places it has never been a prominent language makes no more sense than trying to export Doric to the Western Isles.

Yes, there are some places in East Lothian with names of Gaelic origin, suggesting that there is at least some Gaelic history here. There are also places in the county with names of Norse origin. Does that mean we should start teaching children Norse, putting Norse on road signs and in the council’s logo?

Ultimately, the aim of road signs should be to quickly and clearly convey meaning to road users. Dual-language signs certainly serve this purpose in areas where two languages are widely spoken. That’s simply not the case here. There are barely any Gaelic speakers in East Lothian – and none at all who aren’t fluent in English. Indeed, if a second language were to be chosen, the likes of Polish or Urdu are much more widely spoken and so would make far more sense.

Let’s do everything we can to preserve Gaelic – but let’s do that where it’s part of the local culture and heritage; that’s not in East Lothian.

Name and address supplied