Essentialism and Relativism in Gaelic and Sorbian Language Revival Discourses
Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh
Paper given by Konstanze Glaser on 30 January 2002
The project on which this paper is based belongs the wider field of identity studies. It investigates shifting concepts of nationality/ethnicity in the context of capitalist globalisation and European unification with reference to the Gaelic and the Sorbian communities.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that many of the dilemmas and conflicts experienced by Gaelic and Sorbian 'revivalists' are rooted in a fundamental contradiction between a modernist embrace of pluralist liberal agendas in relation to other groups, and a desire to contain centrifugal forces within their own communities for the sake of politically expedient 'unity' and 'authenticity'. It explains why the ancestral language is not only promoted as a prerequisite of the latter, but has become a battleground for modernisers and essentialisers in its own right.
Gaelic and Sorbian form enclaves in extremely influential, Germanic languages and are closely related to official languages of neighbouring countries (Irish in the case of Gaelic, Polish and Czech in the case of Sorbian). They cannot be dismissed as dialects of the surrounding dominant languages and constitute living reminders of an extensive presence of Gaeldom and Slavic culture in (what conquest and migration have turned into) Anglicised and Germanised parts of Europe.
Gaelic is one of the few surviving languages that make up the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family. When Gaelic arrived in what became known as Argyll it encountered Brythonic dialects in the South and the Central Lowlands, Pictish to the North and, at least in Southern Scotland, Latin. Since the 7th century, Gaelic has been under increasing pressure from Anglo-Saxon/Inglis/Scots/English, and from 793 to the 12th century it came under the influence of Norse. Contrasts between the vernacular forms of Irish and Scottish Gaelic may have arisen from the 10th century onwards, but at least amongst the literate members of Gaelic society mutual understanding was durably secured by the fact that Classical Common Gaelic enjoyed recognition on both sides of the North Channel until the 17th century.
Sorbian (Wendish) belongs to the western branch of the Slavic subfamily of Indo-European languages. It is a tiny remnant of what used to be a multitude of Slavonic languages and dialects that covered all of the now German speaking territory east of the river Elbe, small parts of what is now Poland or Czech territory and substantial stretches of land to the west of the Elbe. The presence of Slavic tribes in central Europe was a result of their expansion to the West in the first half of the 6th century. The Serbski reecny atlas [Sorbian language atlas] depicts the Sorbian language region as two core areas separated by a broad and internally varied intermediate zone. While there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between all currently used varieties of Sorbian, perfect comprehension of Upper Sorbian speech forms on the basis of Lower Sorbian skills and vice versa requires a systematic learning effort. Modern Sorbian comprises two written standards: Upper Sorbian, which is based on the dialect of Bautzen/Budyšin, and Lower Sorbian, which is derived from the dialect of Cottbus/Chosebuz.
In both cases, ethnic boundaries have for many centuries coincided with linguistic ones, and there is still a tendency amongst state officials and campaigners to conflate the two. On the ground, however, the concept of who is a 'Gael' or a 'Sorb' has been blurred and transformed by factors associated with modernisation as well as linguistic and cultural suppression. The total numbers of speakers are now assumed to lie well under 100 000 of whom less than half display a high degree of proficiency and even fewer have daily opportunities to use the language both privately and publicly. Monolingualism in the minority language is confined to infants, and the general pattern of language use ranges from a 'leaky' diglossia to the point where it is entirely symbolic and/or confined to specific occasions.
Gaelic is assumed to have declined from the end of the 11th century. After the Reformation (1560) the language became associated with backwardness, superstition and aggression, though texts from 16th century suggest rise of a competing paradigm which commended Gaelic society as a repository of important Scottish values.1 The earliest education acts date back to this period (1494/96) and set a pattern which was to be pursued for almost half a millennium. The social effects of colonial policies towards the Highlands and Hebrides were exacerbated by a gradual erosion of clan society. Rent increases and other financial burdens had detrimental implications for ordinary clan members' welfare. In extreme cases, economic pressures forced people into emigration, with a first major wave occurring in the 1730s. In the 18th century, commercialisation of the Highlands in favour of large-scale pastoral husbandry entered a phase which became known as the Clearances. Entire peasant communities were transferred from their traditional settlements (the baile) to individual holdings (crofts) along the cost, where kelp burning developed into a highly profitable industry. In some areas (e. g. in South Uist) people were encouraged to emigrate. The latter option became particularly relevant when the Highlands were hit by harvest failures (1772-3,1782-83, 1801-2) and after the Napoleonic Wars, when the kelp market collapsed and the tenantry ceased to be a source of profit to the land-owning class. In 1835/36 and 1845-47 potato crops were partly or entirely lost and many landlords failed to conform to the old ideal of the chief as trustee and provider.
The Clearances abated in the 1860s, but the migration and permanent re-location of Gaels to Britain's colonies and Lowland Scotland continued. Linguistic assimilation and inter-marriage with people born outside the Highlands were quite common even in the first generation, and many bilingual city-dwelling Gaels abandoned Gaelic worship for English services, especially if such a move was felt to increase their social status. Gaelic and Celtic societies had existed in Glasgow and Edinburgh since the early 1700s but they remained of little significance to ordinary, working-class Highlanders. Their philanthropic work had more to do with the integration of Highland children into English-speaking Lowland society than with the maintenance of an all-inclusive Highland identity.2
As the Highlands were opened up to modern economic development and seasonal migration became more common, linguistic attitudes began to reflect the cultural transition in which people found themselves caught up. Gaelic was associated with childhood, traditional arts and religious worship, English stood for emigration, employment, and prosperity.
Highland churches have been supportive of Gaelic in the sense that they have provided the prerequisites for Gaelic worship and offered Gaelic-medium services according to local demand and availability of Gaelic-speaking ministers. In terms of attitudes, matters have tended to be more complex. While the Kirk and its descendants have embraced and transformed Gaelic culture in a selective fashion to produce 'a distinct brand of culturally conditioned Highland evangelism', the Roman Catholic Church has shown 'significantly more awareness of the rites and rhythms of the secular community' and 'led the way in using vernacular Gaelic in the religious context'.3
As elsewhere in Europe, formal education was introduced to the Highlands in the context of religion. The most influential educational body during the 18th and 19th centuries was the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), who shared the politically dominant belief that the eradication of Gaelic was a prerequisite of 'civilising' the Highlands. Its curriculum was taught entirely in English until, in 1766, Gaelic became acceptable for elementary tuition, though merely as a tool for learning English. Education in line with the latter approach was also provided by the (more tolerant) parish schools and, in the 19th century, by the recently founded Gaelic School Societies. Interestingly, Gaelic education did not make people indifferent to English but strengthened a general trend towards bilinguality.4
The Education Act (1872) made education obligatory for both boys and girls. It did not even mention Gaelic. Monolingual English-speaking teachers became more common in the Highlands, and children who reverted to Gaelic were more likely to be stigmatised and punished. In 1885, relevant recommendations from the Napier Commission allowed Gaelic to become a subject, but examinations were not introduced until 1915.5 Until the middle of the 20th century, the authorities saw no benefit in bilinguality and continued to issue directions that helped to alienate children from their traditional language and culture.
Bilinguality continued to grow rapidly during the 20th century and everyday use of Gaelic receded further towards Scotland's north-western periphery. Intermarriage between Gaels and non-Gaels became more common even in the core region, and the purchase of shops and post offices by non-Gaelic speaking incomers reduced the use of Gaelic in the domain of shopping. The continuing exodus of young Gaelic speakers to the cities of the South caused Gaelic to became 'the language of a residual crofter working-class'6 within its homeland, while Glasgow in particular remained a centre of Gaelic organisations and networks. Since the 1980s the population of the Highlands has been on the rise again, but immigration has far exceeded natural growth and most communities of the fìor-Ghàidhealtachd have failed to reverse their negative demographic trends to the present day.
On the other hand, the 20th century is associated with initiatives that improved the socio-economic conditions in the Highlands and Islands and were ultimately conducive to what is widely referred to as the Gaelic Renaissance. The 'Gaelic Renaissance' is quite clearly a language-centred movement whose main missions has been the re-invention of Gaelic as a modern language which belongs to all Scots, and, indeed, to Europe and humanity as a whole. It started out with local initiatives during the 1970s, followed by more systematic planning and lobbying in the 1980s, which not only achieved clearer government recognition of the importance of Gaelic but prepared the ground for a substantial expansion of Gaelic television and Gaelic-medium education in the early 1990s. Such achievements have been matched by a rise in the numbers of individuals engaging with the Gaelic language in one way or other. 1981 saw the first ever recorded increase in the number and proportion of Gaelic speakers in the Highlands.
By 1991, however, the number of self-declared Gaelic speakers had declined to 65,978, and predictions for 2001 are as low as 50 000. The 1991 Census also confirmed the long-standing correlation between age cohorts and speaker numbers: the younger the age group, the smaller the number of speakers. To replace the speakers who pass away each year the number of individuals who reach fluency over the same period needs to increase by a factor of 5-6.7
Language has played a variety of roles in relation to Gaelic identity. First of all, Gaelic has served as a reminder of an original genetic and cultural link of indigenous Highlanders to the traditional Gaelic-speaking community of Ireland. Gaels have celebrated this link as a confirmation of their share in a rich cultural heritage and as a source of Pan-Celtic sensibilities, but there has never been a serious attempt to (re)establish a political union between them and their Irish counterparts. At the same time, Gaelic has functioned as a boundary marker towards the Lowlands. The Gaelic term Gàidhealtachd still is translated as both 'Gaeldom' and 'Highlands' even though the continued retreat of Gaelic language ability and language use to the Western periphery and a growing share of 'Highland' natives whose biographies were only marginally affected by the region's traditional language and culture have made the composite meaning of the term Gàidhealtachd problematical.
Non-Gaelic-speaking Scotland displayed an enduring tendency to put the region's heritage into the shadow of the achievements of Anglo-Saxon modernity and used the 'barbarity' - 'civility' dichotomy to deprecate and partially eradicate the language itself. Scotland's Gaelic component was cast into a relatively sympathetic light during the Romantic period, but the Highlander remained an inferior 'Other'. What sounded like a benevolent rehabilitation of Gaelic language and culture was just another incidence of misrepresentation, and it produced a conceptual template that is still being used to sell the country to tourists. Gaelic society was effectively consigned to history the moment it became acknowledged by Scotland's elite.
The Land League movement of the 1880s and the subsequent foundation of An Comunn Gaidhealach (The Highland Association) were the closest Gaelic society has ever produced to a serious political movement but the primary concern of activists at that time was security of tenure. Radicals such as John Murdoch (editor of The Highlander and secretary of the Gaelic Society of Inverness) and Prof. John Stuart Blackie were convinced that 'the fortunes of Gaelic were indivisible from the fortunes of the crofters' and that in order to retain 'the qualities of their ancestors ... the crofters had to keep as sure a grip on their language as on their land'8, but cultural rights were part of a larger socio-economic project, rather than a classic nationalist one. In contrast to the Irish-Ireland movement, An Comunn Gaidhealach and subsequently established Gaelic organisations never considered the incursions of Britain's cultural imperialism a sufficient reason to initiate a separatist movement or campaign for a re-Celticisation of Scotland as a whole.
We have little evidence of how the Sorbian-speaking population developed in relation to its German-speaking neighbours prior to the 19th century, but there is little doubt that events like the resettlement of German-speaking peasants in Lusatia during the 13th -15th centuries and the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) weakened the position of Sorbian in relation to German. There have been sufficiently long periods for the Sorbian speaking population to recover its previous size and, indeed, surpass it, but it never regained its original strength in relative terms. Since the late 1800s, numbers of Sorbian speakers have continuously declined in relative as well as absolute terms.
The Sorbs became a minority in Lusatia in the first half of the 19th century, and language shift occurred both along the boundaries of the bilingual terrain and internally, where it spread out in wave-like formations from predominantly German-speaking towns.
One of the most inimical circumstances for the stability of the language has been the administrative division of the Sorbian-speaking territory. It has been shown to have significantly delayed the emergence of a single Sorbian cultural centre and common national identity. It was only during the Napoleonic period (early 1800s), that the Sorbs experienced temporary administrative unity. The allocation of northern Lusatia to Prussia at the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) meant that that 80% of the Sorbian population were caught inside a state where opportunities to use their native tongue became increasingly restricted. From approximately 1830 personal names and place names were Germanised and many cultural and nationalist activities were successfully curtailed. Rising social inequality and hardship across German-speaking Europe engendered a sense of betrayal and despair amongst the poor that culminated in March Revolution (1948). Many of the modest political gains of the uprisings were either short-lived or became irrelevant, including a clause in the constitution of the German National Assembly (1848) that granted democratic rights to Slavic minorities. They were followed by widespread resignation and, for a substantial number of Germans and Sorbs, overseas emigration.9
In the middle of the 19th century, anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic propaganda became more prominent on the political stage. Hoping to expand their sphere of influence into eastern Europe, Prussia's ruling classes embraced racist pseudo-theories that resembled the familiar colonialist dichotomy of 'barbarity' vs. 'civilisation'. Slavs were portrayed as primitive, lazy, devoid of a culture and history of their own, and - with reference to the pan-Slavic movement - potentially threatening. The Sorbian language and more broadly Sorbian culture were publicly denigrated as backward and undesirable, and outspoken Sorbian intellectuals found themselves accused of betraying their fatherland.10 Open discrimination increased with the Reichsgründung, the unification of Germany under Bismarck in 1871. Firmly committed to the idea of a strong and ethnically homogeneous German nation state, the Prussian government issued policies that were extremely hostile towards its various ethnic minorities. The publication of Sorbian journals and newspapers became increasingly difficult, and in 1875 Prussia issued a general ban of Sorbian classes at schools in Lower and Protestant Upper Lusatia. Sorbian parishes were allocated German priests and teachers, while their Sorbian counterparts had to resume their duties in German communities. Another factor conducive to rapid assimilation was Prussia's compulsory military service. Sorbian men were exposed to chauvinist indoctrination and became bilingual as a matter of necessity.
Language shift during the 19th century was also a result of economic change. Open-cast coal mining and a rapidly expanding textile and glass industry caused many Sorbs to give up agriculture and find employment in linguistically mixed or predominantly German environments. Increasing demand for industrial labour attracted German- and Polish-speaking workers, whose presence altered the ethnic composition of many Sorbian villages.
It was only after WWI that the Sorbs were finally acknowledged as an ethnic, linguistic and cultural minority. The constitution of the Weimar Republic stated that linguistic minorities were not to be impeded in their cultural development, especially with regard to the use of their native languages in education, internal administration and legal procedures, but such a declaration did not amount legally enforceable rights (leave alone active support) and was interpreted accordingly. 1920 saw the establishment of the Wendenabteilung - a government department responsible for monitoring the Sorbs and for promoting their further assimilation.11
Despite its official recognition Sorbian experienced a rapid prestige loss not only in the eyes of German speakers but also in the eyes of many Sorbs. German represented modernity and industry, Sorbian was associated with family life, religion and tradition. Sorbian education was kept to a minimum. As a result, students found it hard to understand and produce texts in more formal registers. At the same time, the need to have good skills in German became so compelling that some parents decided to help their children acquire the language early by using it in the home.12
The Nazi regime initially defined the Sorbs as 'Wendish speaking Germans' (wendisch sprechende Deutsche), their language as a German dialect and their traditions as derivatives of German folklore. Assimilation measures during the Third Reich ranged from arrests of suspect individuals (especially Sorbian communists, trade union leaders, journalists and representatives of Sorbian organisations) and the eviction of Sorbian teachers and clergy members from Lusatia to the (further) Germanisation of personal and place names and, in 1937, an official ban of the Sorbian umbrella organisation Domowina (founded 1912) and all expressions of Sorbian national awareness and culture. There was no explicit law against the use of Sorbian for personal communication but especially outside the Catholic enclave the persistent denigration, prevention and disruption of organised Sorbian life had equivalent effects. In 1940 the Sorbian population was re-classified as Slavs and earmarked for resettlement and/or dispersal across the Reich as a 'leaderless people of labourers'. Fortunately, the course of history preempted a Sorbian chapter in Hitler's agenda of genocide, but it did not prevent the death of individual Sorbs in concentration camps and the loss of Sorbian men forced to fight for Nazi Germany during the war.13
The post-war years saw a romantic upsurge of pan-Slavic solidarity and radical strategic suggestions including the full-scale allocation of Lusatia to Czechoslovakia, the transfer of Sorbs to areas vacated by expelled Sudeten Germans, the conversion of Lusatia into an autonomous Sorbian enclave with delegates to the UN and the creation of a neutral region under the protection of two or more Slavic states. None of these options found sufficient favour with diplomatic circles, and it was, in any case, quite unlikely that the entire Sorbian population would have united behind any single one.
In 1948 and 1950 the parliaments of Saxony and Brandenburg passed Acts for the Protection of the Rights of the Sorbs (Gesetz zur Wahrung der Rechte der Sorben), which gave equal status to Sorbian and German in public life, courts and administration and it guaranteed Sorbian-medium education and special cultural institutions. In return, the Domowina (the Sorbian community's official representative body) had to acknowledge that the interests of the Sorbs would best be served 'by working in close co-operation with the German people'. A demographically problematic factor associated with the immediate post-war period was the arrival of ethnic Germans from Silesia and other 'lost' territories to the East.
The legacy of the GDR with regard to the ethnic vitality of the Sorbs is a very mixed one. In many respects the actual conditions for the maintenance of the Sorbian language and culture in eastern Germany and since 1945 were remarkable and surpassed by far what had been offered to Sorbian speakers under previous political regimes. Sorbian publishing and the community's wider cultural and artistic life benefited from continuing financial support. In parts of Upper Lusatia it became possible to receive one's education through Sorbian from the kindergarten stage to the Abitur and, as a subject, even beyond. The early 1950s saw an ambitious attempt to make Lusatia fully bilingual. Volunteers from all walks of life were temporarily released from their jobs to learn the language and, if relevant, familiarise themselves with its history and cultural context.
Genuine ethnic self-determination, however, was never an option. The general line with regard to the Sorbs from the 1960s onwards may not have aimed at accelerating assimilation, but it turned the maintenance of a Sorbian identity into a private issue. The implementation of a partial, but constitutionally guaranteed, cultural autonomy was obstructed by
centralistic political, economic and ideological structures;
the half-hearted manner in which the official policy of equal rights was applied;
the partial or complete devastation of (144) Sorbian villages for open cast coal extraction, which required the re-settlement of more than 22 000 individuals;
anti-Sorbian sentiments amongst the German population of Lusatia;
a failure by the state to compensate for assimilation pressures that arose from changing ethno-demographic circumstances (ie large-scale agriculture and further industrialisation, which forced more and more Sorbs into ethnically mixed work environments).
The only major institution to offer a Sorbian identity that was not entwined with SED ideology was the church, though it was only in Catholic Upper Lusatia that patriotic priests were able to avert a major decline in national confidence. In the late 1980s, two thirds of the Domowina's office holders were members of the SED, and there was a widespread perception even amongst the German population that willingness to co-operate separated Sorbian officials and activists from 'true' Sorbs and Wends ('echte' or 'richtige' Sorben and Wenden). The ambiguous nature of the GDR's Sorbenpolitik has been captured in the claim that the Sorbs habe been 'promoted to death' (zu Tode gefördert) and in the metaphor of a 'gradual burial' (langsames Zu-Grabe-Tragen). Even so, Sorbs encountered envy and resentment in sections of the local German population, who stigmatised them as pampered and politically co-opted.
Since 1990, when political totalitarianism gave way to capitalist economic authoritarianism, Sorbian national survival has come at a much higher price. To save a minority culture in defiance of economic and financial laws requires a much larger supply of idealism than outwitting the GDR authorities for the sake of greater autonomy. 'In the GDR', an Upper Sorbian language campaigner remarked, 'we gave the language commodity value. People who learned Sorbian at school stood a very good chance of being offered a job in Lusatia ... At present, culture has no commodity value and that will lead to its demise.'
Between 1990 and 1998 the Domowina publishing house cut its staff by 47%, and the number of published titles (academic and fiction) has fallen by 52% (from 70 in 1990 to 34 in 1997).14 The total number of children participating in Sorbian classes dropped by almost a third to about 4400 (1997), and the two Sorbian Gymnasien can no longer generate the sense of purpose, community and intimacy which made them such effective agents of Sorbian culture and identity during the GDR period.15 The majority of children growing up in Lusatia today will probably be forced to accept training and jobs outside the region, and this is not the only harmful effect of the region's unemployment rate of roughly 20%. Martin Walde reported that some people perceive the region's economic weakness as a symptom of inferior abilities amongst the indigenous population, which undermines pride and interest in Lusatia's cultural heritage.16
Another factor that works against the regeneration of Sorbian self-confidence and a forward-looking Sorbian identity are intimidation by far-right extremists and a more widely shared hostility towards migrant workers from Eastern European. Hoyerswerda/Wojerecy was one of the first towns in the former GDR to make it into the news headlines for its neo-Nazi scene. Interviewees reported continued anti-Sorbian comments amongst local Germans, of direct verbal attacks and anti-Sorbian graffiti.
The emergence of a national consciousness amongst the Sorbian-speaking population had at its ideological roots Pietism, the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement. All three traditions contained values and rationales which could be cited in support of an equal status of Sorbian in relation to other languages. Johann Gottfried Herder and his followers described humanity as a mosaic of original ethnic communities making specific contributions, rather than a hierarchy of competing tribes and civilisations. They insisted that cultures, rather than imposed political structures, are the foundation of nationhood, and that individual cultures were ultimately rooted in individual languages. Herder took a great personal interest in Slavic cultures in general and in small ethnic groups in particular, and his humanistic philosophy was enthusiastically embraced it that part of the world.
The Sorbian National Renaissance was a classic example of what Anthony Smith called 'demotic ethno-nationalism', i. e. national self-assertion through the 'vernacular mobilisation of a passive ethnie, and the politicisation of its cultural heritage through the cultivation of its poetic spaces and the commemoration of its golden ages'.17 Demands to demonstrate the expressive capacities of Sorbian in relation to other languages were confidently met with the translation of renowned pieces of European literature (including Klopstock's Messias and Pope's Essay on Men), while the wealth and the beauty of the Sorbian tongue were documented in volumes of folk tales, songs and verse, which were increasingly supplemented with collections of new poetry.
Encouraged by national movements amongst adjacent Slavic communities and the creation of the German Kulturnation, the Sorbian nation was (re)discovered and (re)constituted from the grassroots up. Folklore (the oral tradition) served as a primary ingredient of national high culture and a distinct national identity, and maintaining one's ancestral language was not just a strategy of resistance but judged essential to the survival of the Sorbs as Sorbs.
The ethnic Other has consistently been the German(ic)-speaking section of the local population (colonisers, settlers, incomers of other types as well as Germanised Sorbs), but the liberation of the Sorbian people was not necessarily sought in a parochial rejection of everything German(ic). Sorbian intellectuals seemed to perceive the artistic and intellectual achievements of their German counterparts as something very close to home, and advocated mutual exchange.
To the present day, the Sorbian language is acknowledged across the whole of Lusatia as a symbol of past and present struggles for national recognition and cultural autonomy, and as I pointed out above it has been an essential ingredient of organised and informal Sorbian cultural life since 1945.
The most noteworthy aspect, if we compare the Sorbian with the Gaelic case, is a strong tendency to talk about native speakers of Sorbian as a distinct ethnic entity, i. e. as a 'people' (or 'nation') who co-exist and interact with the majority group but think of themselves as opposed to them, or as mediators between Germans and fellow-Slavs. The Pan-Slavic strand of the grand narrative prevented Sorbian identity from becoming dissolved in a linguistically ambiguous regional identity, while the systematic study and (at times very purist) modernisation of the Sorbian language endowed the two standard varieties with the prestige of 'high' culture. The legacy of the Sorbian Renaissance has remained a powerful inspiration and ideological resource for contemporary efforts to revitalise the culture and promote a positive Sorbian identity.
Ethnic and national identities across Europe have undergone considerable changes both in the way they have been experienced and the way they have been theorised. Modernisation has diversified the continent's ethnic communities socio-economically, linguistically, religiously and, over many generations of intermarriage, biologically. Herder's conflation of language, culture and nationhood has not only been rendered implausible by the ideological and practical consequences of urbanisation, colonialism and globalisation but largely been discredited as conceptually vague and unfalsifiable, while the underlying ideal of ethno-cultural diversity is widely discussed and emphatically promoted.18
Language has remained and arguably become more central to the two identities at the level of 'grand narratives' but been weakened as an ethnic marker at the level the individual. Boundaries which are objectively created by Gaelic and Sorbian skills run right across the two communities, where they result in dichotomies such as 'heartlands vs. periphery', 'elite vs. grassroots' and 'native speakers vs. "learners"'.
There is evidence of an increasing number of individuals of other backgrounds who may come to feel somewhat Gaelic and Sorbian through voluntary active association and symbolically relevant experiences. Boundaries also run through individuals. Being a Gael or a Sorb does not by definition exclude all other national and ethnic identities, and to a rising degree ethnic belonging is perceived to be the result of conscious choices rather than a self-evident, inherited condition. It is increasingly experienced as relative, contextual, ambiguous and negotiable.
Due to the large extent to which Gaels and Sorbs have adopted the cultural norms of the societal mainstream and effectively become part of it, the semantic content of terms like 'Gaeldom' and 'Serbstwo' has almost entirely been reduced to symbolic practices and what one could describe as residual mental heritage (values and outlooks), while the public upgrading of the language and related cultural practices into assets of the whole country or region (i. e. Scotland/Lusatia) means that such practices are likely to lose some of their boundary creating potential.
Both the Gaelic and the Sorbian setting offer evidence of two major definitional paradigms, which correspond at a basic level to the ways ethno-cultural difference has been identified (and constructed) by anthropologists and cultural theorists: an essentialising, purist one and a dynamic, situationalist one. The remainder of this paper is devoted to the implications of either approach for conceptualisation of Gaelic/Sorbian culture and for the maintenance of group boundaries.
What I call the essentialist paradigm is rooted in the scientistic, positivist approach to social reality which underpinned theories of ethno-cultural diversity during the Enlightenment and the Romantic period. It assumes a fairly stable code of practices and historic experiences that serves a self-reproducing group as an eternal frame of reference. The most obvious explanation for the enduring popularity of the essentialist model is an elementary desire for certainty, clarity and stability. It has an enduring legacy within the Sorbian community as Sorbian nationhood was modelled on the German Kulturnation. In the Gaelic context, Herder's and Humboldt's ideas entered public consciousness through the reinvention of the Gael as Scotland's Celt. Highlandism has been rejected by leading Gaelic intellectuals as a self-serving and subtly denigrating figment of the Lowland bourgeoisie's imagination, but my research confirmed that elements of the underlying dichotomy (Celt vs. Anglo-Saxon) are periodically reinvoked by artists and other cultural activists.
A Glasgow-born native speaker, for example, presented me with John Lorne Campbell's dichotomy of a 'Gaelic' and an 'English' consciousness, which is a variation on the theme of a Celtic and an Anglo-Saxon half-world promoted by Matthew Arnold and Ernest Renan.19 According to Campbell and co-author Trevor H. Hall the 'Gaelic' consciousness possesses 'historical continuity and religious sense' and could thus be said 'to exist in a vertical plane', whereas its Western counterpart existed 'in a horizontal plane' because it was 'dominated by scientific materialism and a concern with contemporary happenings'.20
I encountered statements along the lines of 'two languages - two perspectives on the world' in both the Gaelic and the Sorbian setting, and it became increasingly clear that they had less to do with specific metaphysical assumptions than with the fact that for many speakers the two languages are simply associated with different spheres of their lives. The pattern described by Gaels and Sorbs is familiar from other diglossic settings. To the traditional native speaker, I was told by one, Gaelic is connected to 'the kitchen sink', i. e. to 'the home, emotional matters' and 'elementary things', while English embodied public, abstract, functional matters.
Unsurprisingly, the private/public dimension of the 'two worlds' dichotomy tends to be compounded by a rural/urban one. One Lewis-born informant explained:
'Gaeldom means first of all community; Gaelic is associated with superior social values. But are they really still there? ... It is sad that the old social networks, people knowing their neighbours and the exchange of surplus products ... do no longer exist. In the old days one would put on the tea and go out for a bit of a ceilidh. Now people are more occupied with themselves, myself included.'
Fundamental differences between the Sorbian and the German outlook are often explained by reference to the greater Slavic Kulturkreis:
The mentality of the Sorbs is conditioned by many factors, not just by the language. Many features apply to Slavs more generally, such as hospitality and poverty, the faith ... emotional exuberance and spontaneity, fondness of children and greater sensitivity.
Erwin Strittmatter's biographic novel Der Laden [The Store] depicts a bi-cultural milieu in which the Sorbian characters are associated with myths, folk tales and other sources of wisdom. The best known contemporary exponents of the rural aspect of Serbstwo are a small group of mostly elderly women who perform a diverse repertoire of regional Sorbian songs and anecdotes with great vigour and down-to-earth humour. A fellow researcher reported with reference to central Lusatia that the experience of rural labour, low incomes and low prestige is widely regarded as a key component of being a 'real' Sorb. Apparently, one of her interviewees explicitly denied that urban-based Sorbian intellectuals are entitled to refer to themselves as Sorbs.21
The purist, essentialising perspective imposes a strictly preservative approach to the 'maintenance of culture', which explains its emphasis on retrospection, precision and context awareness. Within this paradigm, cultural continuity self-evidently requires linguistic continuity since surviving fragments of what is categorised as 'genuine' Gaelic and Sorbian culture (old songs, stories, poetry etc.) must be preserved in their 'original' form.
At a public debate at Glasgow's Celtic Connections (1999) the musician Savourna Stevenson likened 'tradition' to an essential oil. She claimed to get access to the 'essence' of the Gaelic tradition by going back to traditional fiddle and piping tunes, and lamented that Scotland's 'real tradition' had been damaged by the 'tartan and haggis tradition'.22 Authentic Gaelic song was said to be the preserve of individuals who had a 'deep' and 'idiomatic' understanding of the language and the sound of 'authentic' Celtic music in their ears. Donald Macleod praised the late Kitty MacLeod Gregson as a great 'traditional' artist not just because of her adherence to unaccompanied singing and her 'life-long love-affair with Gaelic philology, history and literature', but with reference to the circumstances under which she had learned her songs: hearing drunken men sing them on the bus, in céilidh-houses (people's homes, not purpose-built facilities), from the luadh (when it was still alive), from the fisher-girls during their visits to the native islands and so on. He probably shares Iain Crichton Smith's view that celebrations of Gaelic song in city venues signify stagnation and decline, rather than continuity:
[T]he songs sung at modern ceilidhs ... have become nostalgic exercises, a method of freezing time, of stopping the real traffic of Sauchiehall Street, a magic evocation of a lost island in the middle of the city. The traditional ceilidh which was held in the village ceilidh house was a celebration of the happenings of the village, it was alive, it was a diary and a repeated record. The ceilidh as it is now practised is ... a memorial, a tombstone on what has once been, pipes playing in a graveyard.23
In the Sorbian context I encountered this logic not only in relation to song but also with regard to Sorbian dance and the national dress. One of the most elaborate exercises in essentialising perfectionism are old-fashioned Sorbian wedding processions, which have become a regular feature of village festivals. They too are presented as successfully preserved heritage, even though they are mere performances and thus the equivalent of museum pieces. Revealingly, these folkloristic wedding processions are not popular in Upper Lusatia where proper Sorbian wedding ceremonies can still be encountered. The very existence of movements for the preservation of traditions can be taken as a sign that Gaelic and Sorbian culture no longer exist and evolve 'naturally' and self-sufficiently, because, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, 'where the old ways are alive, traditions need be neither revived nor invented'.24
Linguistic competence is allocated a crucial role in essentialist concepts of culture and cultural continuity. It enters the picture as an access tool in the search for the 'purest' version of a given practice, and as an element of authenticity. The oral tradition and literary genres that strongly depend on form are not even expected to survive a full lexico-grammatical shift towards the majority language. Statements by Sorley MacLean and John MacInnes, and, for Sorbian, Jurij Brezan and Jurij Koch, convey the conviction that the shift to English/German would not only involve the demise of distinct musical, associational and aesthetic patterns, it would impose a 'foreign' set of rules and interpretations.25
Loyalty to the ancestral language can also make it more likely that Gaelic/Sorbian practices continue to be perceived as Gaelic/Sorbian. Celtic music is clearly no longer the preserve of traditional Gaelic speakers, Irish speakers, Bretons. As festivals of Celtic music such as the Festival Interceltique de Lorient and Glasgow's Celtic Connections illustrate, the various original strands of 'Celtic music' have been blended, diversified and reinvented as an open-ended international genre comparable to Blues and Jazz.26 Many Sorbian traditions are practised in the form of village festivals, which have social aspects that are equally attractive to Sorbs and Germans. Unless the language boundary is maintained such events are bound to engender a sense of ownership in both groups and lose their ethnic dimension. According to Ludwig Elle,27 the Upper Sorbian tradition of chodojtypalenje ('witch burning') is no longer relevant to the formation of individual Sorbian identities for this very reason, while Madlena Norberg referred to practices in Lower Lusatia that have either come to an end, or have turned German-medium and are now perceived as dörflich (rural, rustic), rather than Sorbian.28
Iain Crichton Smith addressed the state of his native language and culture throughout his life's work. In the previously essay 'Real People in a Real Place' he compared the potential loss of his mother tongue to the loss of his homeland and even to (spiritual, cultural) death.29
An equivalent picture has been conveyed in the Sorbian context by the writer and journalist Jurij Koch. Praising the crucial contribution of Sorbian journalists to the maintenance of a distinct Sorbian identity he argued in the Lower Sorbian weekly Nowy Casnik:
'Sorbian journalists are involved in the dramatic rescue of an entire culture. And that depends on the Sorbian word. Without the spoken Sorbian word a people ... will be without a language; without the written Sorbian word it will be without a face. Without Sorbs the Germans too will be poorer; with one fewer dot of colour in the landscape, with the grey spreading further, the country, Europe, the world will be a more boring place.'
Essentialism is also evident in attitudes towards language itself. Proponents of the 'two languages' - 'two windows on the world' tend to ignore that meaning and interpretation are not reducible to the verbal aspect of communication, but a function of local cultural practices (of which language is but one component) and contexts. Like culture, language is a metaphor, a 'useful fiction' implying boundedness and homogeneity.30 Disputes over 'languages' and 'dialects', or 'correct' and 'corrupt' language varieties can never be conclusively resolved because the determination of internal and external language boundaries is to a large extent an arbitrary, political decision.
The normalisation of small languages may be a worthy, democratising cause, but it runs against one of the very reasons for which these idioms are said to be valued and defended. More often than not, language revitalisation efforts rearrange semantic maps in such a way that no dramatically new thought styles are required of adult learners. Frank E. Thompson presented this tendency as a caveat against an over-reliance on 'learners' whose 'psyche' was unlikely to be 'tuned into the cultural ethos of the Gael'.31 Others point out that native speakers have themselves contributed to their alienation from traditional systems of knowledge. Sharon Macdonald, for example, has noted with reference to Edwin Ardener's analysis of the Welsh, Irish and Gaelic colour spectrums (and the subdivision of the year into seasons) that modernisation pressure has caused particular sections of the Gaelic vocabulary to approximate English (and wider European) patterns.32 William Gillies has pointed to shifts in ordinary everyday usage, which he fears do not just dilute Gaelic but put it at risk of becoming a 'ghost language'.33
If Europe's small languages are valued for the diversity of their semantic maps (i. e. the different ways in which they 'carve up reality') language planners would be ill-advised to (re)invent a Gaelic/Sorbian word for every so-called 'gap' (relative to English/German) and give as much credence and validity to the Gaelic/Sorbian produced by learners as to varieties that are rooted in the historic experience of the traditional speaker community. The obvious drawback of a purist and preservationist attitude is the risk of alienation, of imposing upon traditional speakers a variety that feels artificial, rather than authentic, to them.34
Clì (who represent learners and fluent second-language users of Gaelic) seem to go to the other extreme by advocating developments that allow for a 'wider diversity in the language's general culture'. A year ago they argued in Cothrom that no-one should let his or her lack of a 'traditional' Gaelic background stand in the way of using the language confidently and creatively:
If Gaelic is to grow again, it is to be a language with a truly national outlook once more, it requires many cultures. Interpret your home culture and experience your own lifestyle through Gaelic. Cut the leash on the language!35
The dynamic, situationalist approach is a creative, pragmatic response to multiplicity and hybridity and, it seems to me, an exercise in creating boundedness without boundaries. It looks to ethnic heritages not for protection from ambiguity but for 'alternative' solutions to the challenges of contemporary life.
Focusing on subjectivity, choice and dialogue, its proponents treat ethno-cultural identities as situationally contingent and negotiable rather than as an inherited set of ideal-type patterns that have gradually been eroded and should be reclaimed, preserved and/or revived. It acknowledges that even in past centuries, Gaelic and Sorbian culture comprised various strands and levels, and that new social conditions entail new ways of 'being Gaelic' or 'Sorbian'.
Within the dynamic paradigm Gaelic and Sorbian heritage in the shape of (old-style) poetry, dance, traditional dress and such like would be dismissed as symbolism rather than 'living tradition'. While familiarity with history and 'heritage' is an important element of competence, such artifacts are not assumed to set a template for modern-day expressions of Gaelic/Sorbian identities, just as the speech styles of previous centuries are not considered an eternal yardstick of Gaelic/Sorbian verbal culture. Here, authenticity is borne out by perspective rather than form (though form may be argued to be constitutive of perspective), and 'perspective' is admitted to shift every new generation. Gaelic and Sorbian culture are turned into far more open-ended and adaptable concepts, which allows proponents of this paradigm to recognise 'Gaelicness' and 'Sorbianness' in new artistic genres and fields (broadcasting, visual arts etc.).
Indigenous culture is approached as a source of coping strategies. Fragments of practices and collective memories are re-packaged and supplemented to defend wider Gaelic and Sorbian interests in today's social, political and ethical struggles and the imagined past informs various imagined futures.
In the Gaelic context this tendency is born out in variations of the 'community' theme (i. e. the endorsement of egalitarian/socialist principles36 and in the encouragement of endogenous development, which has repeatedly been endorsed by the previously quoted Donald Macleod. According to two instalments of his column in the West Highland Free Press,37 he would not even want to see the region pin its future on tourism for fear that the indigenous culture would develop in response to related commercial pressure rather than 'according to its own inner impulses': 'Defining ourselves as a nation of caterers', he said, 'exposes us to a serious risk of ethnic degeneracy'. Declaring it 'more important to keep our own young than to attract tourists' he advised a society in which local people return to land uses that served the Highland population well until the Clearances and invoked the proverbial right of each person to a deer from the hill, a tree from the forest and a salmon from the river.
Another variation on the theme was Donald William Stewart's address to the Scotto-Irish Youth Parliament (2000), which expicitly conveys the hope that Gaelic and specific historic perspective of the Gaels will allow people to contain the incursions of an externally imposed capitalist order:
'With Gaelic', the author says, 'we can look obliquely at consumer culture. With a majority language like Gaelic as well as the other language we tend not to believe every word we hear in English-language adverts. We may participate in consumer culture but at other times we can stand back from it all and make a more detached and rational judgment ... We are not quite so likely to listen to every message issuing from commercial interests and that is encouraging.'
In the Sorbian context, the ecological theme has become a prominent element of ethnic identity discourses amongst members of the intelligentsia. Jurij Koch, who has been protesting against the destruction of Lusatia's rural communities since the late 1970s, has suggested that the threat of further open-cast coal extraction automatically places the Sorbs behind the quest for alternative energy sources.38 He has published a collection of essays on the subject in which he credits minorities such as the Sorbs with 'a third eye' and describes the outgoing 20th century as a period in which all those who are 'small' (i. e. who constitute ethnic, social or biological minorities) rise to significance.39
To an even greater extent than in the Gaelic context, the cultural Other and contemporary 'enemy' is identified as Western materialism and rapidly spreading 'American' media culture. It has, indeed, been argued that recent social change reflects not so much a cultural shift as a loss of culture. Counterpoised to the neo-liberal populist package of the global media, the Sorbian heritage is discursively re-cast as a superior moral order, as 'culture' in the sense of civilisation. Sorbian culture is defended as a set of ethical and aesthetic commitments, as a source of dignity, mental growth and community. One interviewee in Lower Lusatia presented the remarkable efforts US-Americans put into tracing their family roots as evidence of such alienation: 'Many of them are in search for their roots and identity because they haven't actually got any.'
Cultural gate-keepers who subscribe to the dynamic paradigm could construe a radical shift from Gaelic/Sorbian-medium literature to English/German-medium literature as a logical implication of wider cultural change. They would point to distinct usages of the English or German lexico-grammatical system as evidence of continuity. What would amount to the demise of a particular cultural universe for essentialists could be interpreted as a modification within the dynamic paradigm.
Several informants described Erwin Strittmatter's novel Der Laden [The Store] as Sorbian literature because his exposure to Wendish during his childhood allegedly manifests itself in his usage of German. One of them even asserted that Strittmatter's use of German 'is more Wendish than the Wendish of many Wendish-writing authors'. The Irish poet Theo Dorgan, who publishes only in English, has talked about a 'syntactical ghost' of Celtic languages that 'lives not just in Irish English but also in Scots and Welsh'.40
Sociolinguistic research and analyses of post-colonial literatures have demonstrated in various ethnographic contexts, that a 'nativisation' of majority languages is a valid strategy for minorities to maintain important features of their traditional communicative system beyond the loss of ancestral lexico-grammatical patterns.41 The creation of a recognisably Gaelic or Sorbian mode of majority language use is a mission which some of Scotland's and Lusatia's bilingual poets have embraced in an experimental spirit, but the data corpus of my study suggests that the Gaelic and Sorbian elites are unconvinced that innovative engagement with the dominant language could repair the damage of abandoning Gaelic and Sorbian at the lexical and grammatical level.
The two paradigms are also to some degree responsible for competing discourses on the texture and boundaries of the Gaelic and Sorbian community. While both of them allocate educated native speakers a privileged position in Gaelic and Sorbian affairs, the essentialist perspective fosters 'heartlandism', while the dynamic, situationalist model allows a (conditional) 'free for all'.
In the Sorbian case in particular we find evidence of essentialism in tensions between sections of the grassroots and the intelligentsia, which are reinforced by differences in language use (i. e. dialect vs standard/colloquial standard). Discourses that portray the Lower Sorbian vernacular as oppressed not only by German and Upper Sorbian, but by the related standard variety have turned the term wendisch into an antonym of niedersorbisch, which implies that one can be 'Wendish speaker' without being a 'Sorbian speaker' and, by extrapolation, a 'Wend' without being a 'Sorb'.
For many people in Lower Lusatia, the latter term evokes negative aspects of the Sorbian experience during the GDR period such as the political straitjacketing of the Domowina or Upper Sorbian hegemony. 1999 saw the foundation of PONASCHEMU, an independent organisation dedicated to the 'authentic' preservation and promotion of Wendish dialects, customs and traditions. In the eyes of Upper Sorbs explicit demands to raise the profile of the area's 'Wendish' heritage tend to look parochial and sectarian, and the proposed orthographic reforms have been criticised to a return to the past.
Essentialism is conducive to a model of selfhood in which Gaelic/Sorbian is perceived to have an almost physical presence in native speakers' minds and hearts and in their relationship to one another, which influences their relationship to learners. Even at the point of fluency, learners continue to be labelled to as 'learners' and the conflation of Gaelic language and Gaelic identity with regard to these people has triggered comments along the lines of 'Learning the language doesn't mean knowing the culture', or he or she 'will never be a real Gael.' A dedicated museum curator in rural Lower Lusatia told me that fluent speakers from Upper Lusatia had criticised her lack of Sorbian and effectively questioned her position in the museum by asserting that 'individuals who do not understand much Sorbian are not competent enough to speak publicly on Sorbian-related subjects'.
The essentialist outlook makes it generally more difficult for incomers to become insiders than the dynamic one as it is holistic and fundamentalist where the dynamic approach would be specific and relativist. The latter allows individuals to think of themselves as members of the Gaelic/Sorbian community as long as they show genuine interest and commitment and engage in adequate social behaviour, which may, but need not, require ability in the ancestral language.
A Gaelic poet remarked, for example, that as far as he was concerned, 'if you are able to hold a conversation in Gaelic and sing in a Gaelic choir you are a Gael of some sort.' An Upper Sorbian broadcaster gave a similar, though slightly more qualified, response. In his view, acceptance of people who learn Sorbian and campaign for its survival depends above all on the person's motives. He claimed to 'draw his hat with admiration' to learners of Sorbian and to wish them every possible support - 'provided they don't just do so for a nice post at the [Sorbian] Institute and their commitment to the Sorbs is not confined to the Sorbian intelligentsia'. The most extreme example of a liberal definition of minority group membership is Germany's Sorbian-related legislation. According to Brandenburg's and Saxony's Sorbian Acts, any individual who professes to be Sorb will be recognised as such by the state and must not be discriminated against on these grounds. It is congenial to 'hodgepodge' multiculturalism - rather than mosaic multiculturalism, which envisages the reproduction of cultural universes and communities as distinctly demarcated blocks.42
In the case of the essentialist model (which treats cultures as finite templates) the reproduction of old practices is likely to be pursued to such an extreme that artists have nothing individual to add and the various subsystems of a culture draw on one another rather than on issues of the day. The result will not be a revived culture but a synchretistic and involute one, which engenders stagnation, artificiality and alienation.43 Some would argue, however, that an open-minded bi-cultural approach assists the very process that the artist or tradition bearer is supposed to counteract, i. e. step-by-step assimilation followed by general cultural hybridisation and, eventually, the loss of distinctiveness.
The downside of the dynamic approach consists in the fact that it makes Gaelic and Sorbian activists vulnerable to accusations of instrumentalism, which fuels assimilationalist claims that they are not (or no longer) different enough to deserve the status (and 'privileges') of a national minority. To reduce cultural difference to discourse and symbolism potentially undermines a minority's claim to 'otherness' and their prospects of corresponding financial and institutional support. The very concept of a Gaelic/Sorbian community could, in principle, be deconstructed to the stage where it becomes meaningless. One person's 'revival' would stand against another person's 'invention' and non-ethnic collectivities (such as football clubs) could be held up as a functionally equivalent networks that deserve just as much recognition and protection.
Turning language maintenance into an overriding mission - which appears to be the philosophy of leading Gaelic and Sorbian organisations - incorporates elements from both paradigms. It acknowledges the ancestral code as an evident link to historic fixed points and a unique, inalienable aspect of modern Gaeldom/Sorbianness, but it promotes it in ways that are much more reminiscent of regionalism and new social movements than of classic ethno-nationalist projects. Which paradigm should be promoted in dealings with decision makers and the wider public depends on reasons for which one wants to see the language survive. If the preservation of cultures and nations as clearly delineated 'blocks' is desired one would adopt an essentialising line of argument. If one merely wants to see (some form of) Gaelic being spoken several more generations down the line one could afford to embrace the hodge-podge model of cultural diversity. The greatest challenge consists in determining which balance between the two works most effectively in which setting.
2 Ian R. MacDonald, Glasgow's Gaelic Churches. Highland Religion in an urban setting 1690-1995 (Edinburgh, Knox Press, 1995), p. 44; Charles W. J. Withers, Urban Highlanders. Highland-Lowland Migration and Urban Gaelic Culture 1700-1900, (East Linton, Tuckwell Press, 1998), pp. 168-70. ^
7 Kenneth MacKinnon, 'Can the Heartlands hold? Prospects of post-modern speech communities in the Celtic Homelands', presented at the 11th International Congress of Celtic Studies, University College Cork, 25-31 July 1999 (p. 1). ^
9 Jan Šolta, Wirtschaft, Kultur und Nationalität. Ein Studienband zur sorbischen Geschichte [Economics, Culture and Nationality. A Reader on Sorbian History] (Bautzen, Domowina-Verlag, 1990), pp. 118f, 155. ^
12 Karin Bott-Bodenhausen, ed., Sprachverfolgung in der NS-Zeit. Sorbische Zeitzeugen berichten [Language Persecution During the Nazi Period. Sorbian Witnesses Report], Letopis, 44 (1997), special issue, pp. 22 and 33f. ^
13 Karin Bott-Bodenhausen, ed., Sprachverfolgung in der NS-Zeit. Sorbische Zeitzeugen berichten [Language Persecution During the Nazi Period. Sorbian Witnesses Report], Letopis, 44 (1997), Sonderheft [special issue], pp. 29ff. ^
15 Bericht der Sächsischen Staatsregierung zur Lage des sorbischen Volkes 1997 [Report by the Government of Saxony on the Situation of the Sorbian People in 1997], (Dresden, Sächsisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst , 1997), p. 69; Elka Tschernokoshewa, ed., So langsam wirds Zeit. Bericht der unabhängigen Expertenkommission zu den kulturellen Perspektiven der Sorben in Deutschland. [It's about Time. Report on the Prospects of the Sorbs in Germany Submitted by the Independent Commission of Experts] (Bonn, ARCult, 1994), p. 113. ^
16 M. Walde, 'Die katholischen Sorben in Deutschland' [The Catholic Sorbs in Germany] in Identität und Ethnizität [Identity and Ethnicity], edited by Wolfgang Greive (Rehburg-Loccum, Evangelische Akademie Loccum, 1994), p. 171. ^
21 Ines Neumann, '"Man konnte sich ja nicht mal in die Stadt trauen". Deutungen und Wertungen des Sorbischen' in Skizzen aus der Lausitz. Region und Lebenswelt im Umbruch [Sketches from Lusatia. A Region and Lifeworld in Transition], edited by the Institut f¨r Europäische Ethnologie der Humbold-Universität zu Berlin and Sorbisches Institut e. V., Bautzen (Cologne, Böhlau Verlag, 1993), p. 214. ^
24 Eric Hobsbawm, 'Introduction: Inventing Traditions', in The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge, CUP, 1983), p. 8; Ludwig Elle, Sorbische Kultur und ihre Rezipienten. Ergebnisse einer ethnosoziologischen Befragung [Sorbian Culture and its Recipients. Findings of an Ethnosociological Survey], (Bautzen, Domowina-Verlag, 1992), p. 65. ^
25 'I am quite sure that Scottish Gaelic has as much beauty, variety, strength and magnificence of sound as ancient Greek or any Western European language. Metrically Gaelic can do anything English has done, but the metric of the great bulk of Gaelic poetry is impossible in English. Hence Gaelic verse can never be approximately rendered in English. Even in syntax the translator is faced with a hopeless task because Gaelic has a unique capacity for expressing unique varieties and shades and changes of emphasis, which English can never approximate.' - Somhairle MacGill-ean, 'Aspects of Gaelic poetry' in Ris a' Bhruthaich: Criticism and Prose Writings, edited by William Gillies (Stornoway, Acair, 1985), pp. 75f. - 'I could not be primarily a Gael without a very deep-seated conviction that the auditory is the primary sensuousness of poetry ... Gaelic poetry that is published with English translations cannot be assessed on its translation alone even by the most honest and perceptive of critics who do not know Gaelic' - Ibid, p. 13. - '[Sorley MacLean's] poetry is intensely Gaelic even when it is so different from anything else in Gaelic; his art, even at its most personal, draws upon much of the inherited wealth of immemorial generations ... Simply by reading an English translation, no one could ever guess at the nature of MacGill-Eain's Gaelic diction. There is nothing very difficult - nor, in purely linguistic terms, anything very egregious - in the English. By contrast the original Gaelic exhibits virtually an entire spectrum of language. Transparent simplicity is to be found side by side with formidable density of verbal texture.' - MacInnes, 'Language, Metre and Diction in the Poetry of Sorley MacLean' in Sorley MacLean: Critical Essays, edited by Raymond J. Ross and Joy Hendry (Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1986), pp. 137f. - Jurij Brezan once remarked that he cannot imagine an entirely German-medium Sorbian literature because 'a Sorbian author who relinquishes the Sorbian language places himself on a path towards a different literature' and because he still finds it difficult to produce 'an adequate German representation of the Sorbian village milieu'. On another occasion he described linguistic continuity as an inalienable feature of Sorbian culture insofar as it is a prerequisite for the preservation of a distinct historic awareness, which is, after all, the very core of ethnicity and ethnic identities: "Sorbian literature has only got a chance of being a spring of life if it names the mountain and the forest, the stream and the tear, heaven and hell with our very own words, if it weighs things with our own set of scales and is simultaneously aware of the world." ^
27 L. Elle, Sorbische Kultur und ihre Rezipienten. Ergebnisse einer ethnosoziologischen Befragung [Sorbian Culture and its Recipients. Findings of an Ethnosociological Survey], (Bautzen, Domowina-Verlag, 1992) p. 65. ^
28 M. Norberg, Sprachwechsel in der Niederlausitz. Soziolinguistische Fallstudie der deutsch-sorbischen Gemeinde Drachhausen/Hochoza. [The Language-Shift Process in Lower Lusatia. A Sociolinguistic Case Study of the German-Sorbian Village of Drachhausen/Hochoza], (Uppsala, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 1996), pp. 148f. ^
29 'The problem of language is obviously of the first importance. If the islander were to speak English and still inhabit the island which he does in fact inhabit, what would he be then but an unreal person in an unreal place? If he were to wake one morning and look around him and see "hill" and not "cnoc", would he not be an expatriate of his own land? ... For we are born inside a language and see everything from within its parameters: it is not we who make language, it is language that makes us.' - 'It is not a witticism to say "Shall Gaelic die?" What that means is "Shall we die?" For on the day that I go home to the island and speak to my neighbour in English it is not only the language that has died but in a sense the two who no longer speak it. We would be elegies on the face of the earth, empty and without substance. We would not represent anything, and the world would be an orphan about us.' - Iain Crichton Smith, 'Real People in a Real Place' in Towards the Human. Selected Essays by Iain Crichton Smith, (Edinburgh, MacDonald Publishers, 1986), pp. 20 and 70. ^
30 Cf. N. J. Reddy, 'The Conduit Metaphor - a Case of Frame-Conflict in our Language about Language' in Metaphor and Thought, edited by A. Ortony (Cambridge, CUP, 1979), pp. 284-324; John E. Joseph, 'Why Isn't Translation Impossible?' in Language at Work. Selected Papers from the Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, Birmingham, September 1997, edited by Susan Hunston, (Clevedon, Multilingual Matters 1998), pp. 86-97. ^
31 Frank Thompson (1993), 'Gaelic Language and Culture: Their Empathetic Reconstruction' in Fasgnag II. Second Conference on Research and Studies on the Maintenance of Gaelic, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye, 24-26 March 1993, pp. 3 and 10. ^
32 Sharon Macdonald illustrated and discussed implications of the latter with regard to shifts in the colour spectrum and the subdivision of the year into months and seasons - 'A bheil am feur gorm fhathast?', Scottish Studies 33 (1999), p190; Sharon Macdonald, Reimagining Culture, (Oxford/New York, Berg, 1997), pp249-51. ^
33 They include the 'hi-jacking' of English verbs by adding the -ig suffix (eg react-ig mi ˜ I reacted ), the import of phrasal verbs and idiomatic interferences. W. Gillies, 'Scottish Gaelic - The Present Situation' in Third International Conference on Minority Languages: Celtic Papers, edited by Gearóid Mac Eoin, Anders Ahlquist and Donncha Ó hAodha, (Clevedon, Philadelphia, Multilingual Matters, 1987), p35. ^
34 The only way to keep linguistic change to a minimum lies in the undisturbed perpetuation of a given cultural status quo. In the absense of such a 'freeze' language maintenance can only ever amount to language transformation. - Cf. Abdelâli Bentahila and Eirlys E. Davies, 'Language Revival: Restoration or transformation', Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 14, 5 (1993), pp. 355-74. ^
36 Relevant public statements have been made by Angus Peter Campbell and Anne Lorne Gillies (Eanchainn agus Anam [Mind and Soul], produced and directed by Bob Kenyon, Kenyon Communications for Grampian Television 1999, STV, 10 November and 1 December 1999. ^
41 Cf. Diana Eades, 'They don't speak an Aboriginal language, or do they? in Being Black: Aboriginal cultures in "settled" Australia, edited by Ian Keen (Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1988), pp. 97-115; Patricia Kwachka, 'Discourse structures, cultural stability, and language shift', International Journal of Society and Language 93 (1992), pp. 67-73; 'Universal Tongue', Hidden History: The literature of the African diaspora. Producer: Pam Fraser-Solomon (?) BBC Radio 4, 11 October 2001. ^
43 In both the Gaelic and the Sorbian context the second half of the 20th century has given rise to stylistic and thematic innovation on an unprecedented scale. Writers, musicians and other artists began to embrace subjects, genres and media that are strongly associated with the majority culture and international developments, which posed a substantial challenge to the imagination of the Gaelic and Sorbian public in aesthetic and identificational terms.^
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