We know there’s politics everywhere. And, when given the option, the way we choose to spell words is no exception. A Canadian, say, living in the United States, might exert quiet subversion by hanging on to Canadian spelling of any number of words. A note to his boss might read, “…followed up on the neighbourhood initiative; successful in addressing the signage colour controversy; local employees in good humour…”. That Canuck is implicitly saying to his American boss, “I’m Canadian, I’m not like you, I spell bigger, better…”. He’s also implicitly proclaiming to his boss he’s an asshole. But that’s a tangent of a different colour.
In piping there are two words that strike me as highly political: pibroch and Gaelic. How you spell them, how you say them all tell a story: Where you’re from, what you know, who you think you are, who you want to be – and who you don’t want to be.
There was a time I slavishly spelled pibroch the Gaelic way – lots of letters. I was (and am) keen on things Gaelic; I wanted to say, I think, I was a member of what J. Reid Maxwell called the “Piobaireachd Club”, and was on the inside Gaelic track – one heavily covered in peat no doubt. Poncy MacPoncypants.
It really doesn’t make good sense that we insert Gaelic spelling of pibroch in English text, English prose, does it? Among other things, it really doesn’t do much to promote the music to outsiders. We all know what happens when we come across a funny word we can’t recognize or pronounce. We almost always skim over it and quickly move on to something more comfortable, something easier to take in. To a reader of a report of one of our Big Music contests the peeobaireached took 13 minutes to play…
I note that Gaelic speakers I know, when writing in English, almost always spell pibroch the Anglicised way. That, too, is a political statement I think. Anyway …
I always enjoy talking to my français-speaking friends; their français is always a pleasure to hear. That sentence is a bit silly, isn’t it. What English-speaking person refers to French as “français” when speaking English? They say French. French is the English equivalient of français, of course.
Now take the word Gaelic. You often hear an Anglophone say Gaelic the Gàidhlig way as in, “She speaks lovely Gallic”, or, “He has the Gallic”, with the “a” sound short. To me that’s the equivalent of ordering fries française at McDonalds. My granny, who I’ve written about before, always said, “Gaylic” when speaking English, with the “a” sound long. That makes sense to me.
That I’m even writing about such trivialities speaks volumes about the parochial nature of things related to the Great Highland Bagpipe.
The tip today just might be to never question your granny’s wisdom.
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