The Hebridean Celtic Festival’s efforts to put its indigenous language centre stage will have a Gallic, as well as a Gaelic, flavour this year.
For the first time, the Festival’s Gaelic team, which promotes the language and encourages visitors to try out key phrases during the four-day event, will include a non-native speaker when French student Valentine Clot makes a Celtic connection.
The 18-year-old from Brittany, who is learning Gaelic, is visiting Scotland on a scholarship and asked to join the army of volunteers that helps run HebCelt as part of a study of the language and those who speak it.
She will make a film of her visit and intends giving talks on her findings on her return home.
She said: “I have always loved Scotland more than any other country. I'm passionate about its history, so my interest in Scottish Gaelic came quite naturally.
“Brittany is a Celtic area with a Celtic language, Breton, and it’s by trying to understand what being a 21st century Breton really means that I have become so keen on discovering other Celtic cultures.
“Celtic identities mean a lot to me, in the sense that I think speaking Gaelic, as well as Breton, and carrying on Celtic traditions, can be a way of emphasising the importance of cultural diversity in a world that tends to standardise: and it is true for every single minority language and culture.
“I want to know what speaking Gaelic means to people in Scotland today. In Brittany, it doesn't really mean anything anymore, there are just a few hundred people or so that actually care about Breton culture. French culture and French language have definitely won.
“Being awarded my scholarship gives me the chance to travel in Scotland to investigate Gaelic. I would like to understand who talks this language, why, how... I am passionate about all these questions.
“My trip is not about learning the language - although I will take the opportunity to improve - it is about investigating how Gaelic is used in a sort of ethnological way.”
Valentine says being part of the Gaelic team at HebCelt will provide an ideal opportunity to speak with both native speakers and learners of the language to better understand how it is being preserved and used in everyday life.
“Moreover, I will not only be an observer, but I will be part of the process of keeping Gaelic alive, and that's a really exciting prospect for me.”
The film of her trip, which she describes as a series of ‘sound and picture postcards’, will detail her views on Gaelic’s use in modern Scotland, and she will also keep a logbook of her day-to-day experiences. These will be kept in the National Library of France and shared with members of the Zellidja Foundation, which provides travel grants to students and has funded her trip, as well as being posted online.
HebCelt, which this year is being held from 19-22 July in the island of Lewis, has previously won praise, including from Scotland’s Minister for Gaelic, for its efforts to promote the language, such as recruiting the Gaelic team. In addition, HebCelt holds regular Gaelic learner taster sessions, while part of the festival website is given over to discussion in Gaelic.
HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “We are delighted to welcome Valentine to the festival and to be part of the Gaelic team. Due to the strong emphasis we put on Gaelic at HebCelt, she will be immersed in the language and culture in its heartland and give her the best opportunity to see it in use on a daily basis.”
Chrisella Ross, Gaelic family learning tutor at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), who heads the festival Gaelic team, added: “Having Valentine join the team is an exciting prospect as she is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the language.
“It will also give us an interesting insight into how others view Gaelic and its use in modern day Scotland.”