Collection of lost Gaelic words to be revived
Artist and writer Catriona Black has revisited works by Father Allan Macdonald, a 19th century priest, poet, and folklorist, who recorded the Gaelic words and phrases used in homes on Eriskay and South Uist in the 1890s.
They were later edited into a dictionary, published in 1958, which is now out of print.
Earlier this year, Ms Black returned to the islands to chart how a sample of the words were used - and found less than half of them were still used.
Ms Black will now launch her new illustrated book, Sly Cooking: 42 Irresistible Gaelic Words, at Faclan, the Hebridean book festival, later this month.
Ms Black said the words contained much humour and that she hoped they could help expand use of the language once again.
She said: “I love the words. They are really beautiful and refer to really specific incidents. They can be quite daft - there is a sense of humour there. They often gently mock people.
“So often Gaelic is portrayed as the language of the empty glens and moors but that has never been what it has been for me.”
Her favourite words include ‘mionagadanan’ which describes the particles seen in a ray of sunlight coming into a house.
Meanwhile, ‘glaigeil’ describes the noise that women make when they get together.
Ms Black, who now lives in the Netherlands, spoke Gaelic as a child in Edinburgh with her father a scholar of the language.
Ronnie Black was also the Gaelic editor of The Scotsman for many years.
Ms Black visited Eriskay to research her book with the trip to be broadcast by BBC Alba on October 30.
She said: “I was taken around the homes of some of the older native speakers and from 50 words, only around 20 were recognised. Some of them are still going strong but many others have fallen out of use.”
The word ‘sgionc’ translates as forcing something that’s too big into a small aperture or hole, such as a cork too big for a bottle.
One woman in Eriskay remembered it being used to describe squeezing into a dress that was too small.
“When that came back to her, the word was so alive again,” Ms Black added.
The words collated by Father Macdonald were later edited into a dictionary, Gaelic Words and Expressions from South Uist and Eriskay, by John Lorne Campbell.
It is a dictionary she has read several times, from cover to cover.
Ms Black said: “Every language is different and every language can do things that others can’t.
“When you live on a place like Eriskay, when your world is quite limited, you pay attention to tiny details and you value your interactions with other people.
“For me, Gaelic is about people, and communication, and collective feeling, and that’s what I really want to bring out in this collection of words. I really want it to appeal to those who speak to Gaelic - and those who don’t.”
Sly Cooking: 42 irresistible Gaelic words, €5.95, will be launched at An Lanntair, Stornoway, on October 28.
Forradh: Sly Cooking, an exhibition of Ms Black’s linocuts, will show at the same venue until November 22.