Recently, the FilmG awards, otherwise known as the ‘Gaelic Oscars,’ were held in Glasgow. Although you might not see the likes of Meryl Streep or Brad Pitt there, in the world of Scottish Gaelic Film and TV, it is no less important. This year, two of the winning films in the Open Competition — Gàidheal Gu Luath and Cheating Our Language — both centred on new speakers of Gaelic.
The premise of Gaidheal gu Luath — which won both the People’s Choice Award and the Best Comedy — is that there has been a scientific breakthrough so that new speakers of Gaelic can literally be made ‘quickly’ ( ‘gu luath’). Set in a science lab, it features a scientist and her assistant working with their two subjects — one, an Englishman who wants to connect with his Scottish heritage and the second, a lapsed speaker who wants to reclaim her Gaelic skills. In the end, both ‘become’ Gaels through their newfound understanding of the language and culture. The second film ‘Cheating our Language’ — which won the ‘Best Performer’ award — is a spoof of the Gaelic language learning programme ‘Speaking our Language.’ The strength of the humour lies in its perfect parodying of the quirks of the actual ‘Speaking Our Language’ programme, and the gag here is that you are learning to disguise the fact that you can’t actually speak Gaelic; in other words ‘cheating’ the language.
Much of the humour of both films resonates with some core themes of the new speakers network. Both films centre on the premise that becoming a new speaker is a long and difficult process. The attraction of undergoing the ‘treatment’ in Gàidheal gu Luath, after all, is that one is that you are guaranteed a quick ‘muda’: your pathway to fluency is fast and your new Gaelic self rapidly replaces your old Anglophone self. In ‘Cheating our Language,’ the aim is to be able to fake speaking Gaelic without having to bother learning the language. The films also highlight the centrality of cultural understanding in tandem with language learning. In Gàidheal gu Luath, it is not just about the language learning, but becoming a ‘Gàidheal.’ As discussed in network member Stuart Dunmore’s work, the term ‘Gàidheal’ can be complicated, particularly for young people, but one of the strengths of the film is that it plays off of notions of a markedly ‘young’ Gàidheal; for example, the fact a good Gaelic Saturday night in Glasgow consists of the Park Bar followed by O’Neill’s. Similarly, in Cheating Our Language, one is immediately reminded of Nancy Dorian’s famous observation of ‘semi-speakers’: appropriate cultural knowledge can go a long way towards masking linguistic deficits. Cheating our Language takes the semi-speaker theme and runs with it; in essence, it is a quick guide to becoming the ultimate semi-speaker.
Although I am probably best qualified to speak from the new speaker angle, I think that both new speakers and native speakers alike would find these films amusing. One of the most central concerns of the network has been apparent divisions between new speakers and traditional speakers; and how to best bridge this gap. Laughing together is a good way to bridge any gap, and so 'tapadh leibh' to the filmmakers, performers, and FilmG for giving us this opportunity.