Pioneer spirit lacking

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Bilingualism is a complicated issue. Frankly, I’ll save organizing my thoughts on it for another day. But French and English aren’t the only languages in Canada.

Gaelic advocates are calling on government to fund their education efforts:

Nova Scotia already does spend half a million dollars propping up an Office of Gaelic Affairs. This may be justifiable based on tourism appeal, but certainly not on cultural grounds.

I actually find small languages fascinating, and the idea of multilingualism appealing. As a child who struggled (failed, more like) to learn French in school, I always assumed I had an innate difficulty learning a second language. But when we moved abroad for a couple of years, I found myself enjoying the process of picking up basic vocabulary and communication skills in another language. The fine points of grammar bored me, but learning new ways to speak was fulfilling.

I’m also intrigued by fiercely-protected languages spoken by small numbers of devotees (sorry, that doesn’t include Klingon – make believe languages are just silly). I’d recommend this book ( to anyone who shares that interest.

I reject utterly, however, the idea public money should be spent to revive a language spoken by a few thousand people. There is no “public obligation,” as one advocate claims, to preserve and promote the first five prominent languages in Nova Scotia, except perhaps as matters of academic record and perhaps – only perhaps – as a low-cost PR exercise to encourage private learning. Why five, anyway? What about the sixth language, or the seventh? I hear the eighth language is particularly worth promoting.

Honestly, it enrages me. Are we infants? If you want to learn a language, learn it. If you want others to learn it, form a privately-funded charitable association and get busy. If you've done that and the result isn't what you'd hoped for, try harder or accept your limitations. What gives you the right to use the powers of the nation-state to pry money from your neighbor to fund your personal interest in Gaelic, needlepoint, cake baking or any other pastime?

I get it: They think it’s a vital part of their cultural heritage. If that’s the case, the toughest part of learning a new language – motivation – should be an easy hurdle to clear. I have nothing against Gaelic. On the contrary, I have admiration for people who put forward the effort to learn a second language, and I have chosen to live in this part of Canada in part because of my appreciation for Maritime culture, which obviously has historical roots.

But government is not here to wipe your nose, and your neighbor isn’t here to buy the tissues, either. What these promoters of Gaelic really need to embrace is the DIY pioneer spirit of their immigrant ancestors.  


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