I was fascinated by the manifold ways that language and identity intersect in human communities. It struck me that language was much more than a means of communication but a rich set of resources for us to create and convey our relationships with one another
The RSE is funding my Fulbright research scholarship to Harvard University, which will investigate motivations to learn and use Scottish Gaelic among diaspora communities in New England. This builds on my British Academy-funded research in Nova Scotia, where a Gaelic-speaking minority has existed for 250 years. Boston in particular is a destination for Nova Scotian emigrants who move to the city for various socioeconomic reasons, so I’m eager to understand how Nova Scotians and others who are learning Gaelic there construct and convey their identities, and how these may relate to the better known Boston Irish diaspora. The research I will pursue over the 3 months of my scholarship will inform a chapter of my second book, due to be published with EUP next year.
Although my Fulbright scholarship has been delayed due to Covid-19 I’m hopeful that it will be possible for me to complete it next summer. Working with colleagues at Harvard and investigating issues of language and identity in a new and unfamiliar context will be of great benefit to personally and professionally. I feel this will be a particularly important aid to my career development at such a challenging time in academia and public policy.
Iona Cape Breton Nova Scotia
Ingonish Nova Scotia
Adding value to Scotland
As part of a linguistic and cultural tradition that extends across national borders and the Atlantic Ocean, Gaelic speakers are now connected in ways that were never possible previously. Yet the juxtaposition of social networks of learners and new speakers with the continuous attenuation of Gaelic-dominant spaces in Scotland reveals a stark contrast. In spite of the ongoing decline of rural Gaelic-speaking communities in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, learners and new speakers outside such communities have tended to inform the development of strategic policy to create greater numbers of new speakers.
Among the RSE’s key strategic objectives is its intention that “Scotland’s policymakers and influencers have access to the best national, and indeed global, expertise”, and my Fulbright award will contribute to this goal in respect of language policy in Scotland.
There has been surprisingly little sociolinguistic work addressing the survival and revitalisation of Gaelic outside of Scotland in recent years. In many ways, the tenacity of our Gaelic language, and its survival into the 21st century both within and outwith our small country – in the face of serious long-term decline – is incredible.
By bringing an additional international angle to bear on the question of Gaelic maintenance, this award will make an important contribution to the body of evidence required by policymakers to formulate effective planning for our national language’s long-term survival. In that sense, my Fulbright award will help to promote Scotland’s interests and reputation, to raise Scotland’s profile and strengthen its connections with the wider world.
Although the award has yet to begin, it has indeed already been beneficial in helping to secure employment on a major AHRC project based at the University of Sussex, which will examine the development of speaking skills in British education systems. My own contribution to the Speaking Citizens project will focus on Gaelic-medium education and multiculturalism in modern Scotland
Advice for future grant recipients
Whether we work in arts and humanities, social sciences or STEM subjects, our research can have key implications and applications in many areas of public policy. My main advice would be to encourage applicants and awardees to consider how best we can make a difference to the wider world through the impact our work can have.
This is obviously a difficult time in the higher education and public policy sectors, but I am optimistic my Fulbright scholarship at Harvard will contribute to helping me find a fit for my research skills in a permanent position. There are so many things that interest me about my field, and I’m confident that there are many years of stimulating research, teaching and public engagement ahead of me.
I hope that through my engagement with policymakers and civil servants the data this research generates will inform strategic policy to increase numbers of Gaelic speakers in Scotland, Nova Scotia and elsewhere. It will also hopefully help to galvanise local communities of Scottish Gaelic and Irish speakers in Massachusetts and New England generally, helping speakers there to link with closely related communities in other countries.