Numbers Game

Bòrd na Gàidhlig does well to title its new draft language plan “Fàs is Feabhas” (“Growth and Quality”), and the Chief Executive took pains to stress the emphasis on quality alongside quantity in a recent public consultation meeting in Liniclate.

I think I understand why people feel they need to play it when talking about Gaelic, but those of us who wish the language well need to be wary of thinking the numbers game is the only one in town. An unremitting and institutionalised focus on “growing the volume” of the Gaelic speaking and/or learning “mass” may have unwanted side effects. I don’t think I need to spell out the dangers inherent in a target-driven, “never mind the quality, feel the width” tick-box culture.

Fòram na Gàidhlig is probably as good a place as any, and maybe better than most, to keep abreast with surveys and research reports, opinion polls etc on Gaelic, and how they can be treated in the media and received and interpreted in the wider Gaelic-supporting community. Here’s an interesting string – some initial if muted enthusiasm in response to fairly arcane mathematical modelling, questioned (and not just by me) on closer inspection. And “surveys of opinion” are always good for some debate.

The danger with quantitative measures is if they reinforce the presumption that “bigger is better”. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. This piece of research, by contrast, is unashamedly qualitative rather than quantitative in focus. Indeed, a sample size of 14 might sound rather puny to some, especially when placed next to the nationwide 1,000-odd surveyed here for the Scottish Government. But, sure, we can “play games” with this one too. Given a Uist population of roughly 5,000, the population of Glasgow must be at least 100 times that, and Scotland’s would be 1,000 times the size. So, if we were to scale it up, that might imply a similar survey in, say, Glasgow would find over 1,400 Gaelic “activists/supporters” there ready and willing to participate, and a national one would uncover 14,000 spread across the country. Hmmm. That would be something…


About Gordon Wells

Language learner and teacher (English, Gaelic, Hindi and Urdu). Interested in bilingualism and creativity. At home in the Hebrides.

Posted on 07/11/2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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