The Gift of Gàidhlig

As I learn this resilient language I am beginning to acknowledge and appreciate the resiliency within myself.

Someone wondered why anyone would take the time to learn a minority language like Gàidhlig, the native language of approximately 60,000 people in Scotland and Nova Scotia combined. Here’s why — I feel a kinship with Gàidhlig that goes beyond my ancestral connection to it.

I view Gàidhlig as being less of a minority language and more of one that was minoritized.

It was the language of Scotland before outsiders arrived and attempted to overlay it. Through various means, those speaking the majority language tried to silence and force it along with its speakers into obscurity. What they didn’t count on was the resiliency of both. In Gàidhlig’s resilience lies the hope for its renewal and survival.

Resilient — that word resonates with me.

Relating to Gàidhlig on a personal level

As a child growing up with a parent who suffered with untreated bipolar disorder, I was silenced and controlled by slaps (“I don’t want to do this, but you’re making me…”), threats and intimidation (“Don’t you dare come down these stairs or I’ll use this knife!”) , insults (“You stupid kid…”), and neglect. Shame and guilt were my companions. Making myself as small and insignificant as possible became the best way to survive.

As a lonely child, I built an escape hatch into a rich (and safe) inner world. When an attempt to express buried feelings through journaling proved to be equally dangerous, I burrowed deeper and reinforced the emotional walls around me. My body moved through the outer world while I lived my life deep within where it was sheltered.

There were times when I yearned to express myself, but years of conditioning left their damaging imprint — whatever I had to offer was not good enough and had no place in the external world. So my creative voice remained within me, contained and seemingly secure, but never content and always restless with the desire to be seen, heard, and acknowledged.

A child who is always made to feel like an inconvenient obligation, who experiences neglect and ridicule both publicly and privately, and can never measure up to a moving target…well, that child is likely to grow up to be a socially awkward adult. One who feels disconnected, never quite fitting in, overflowing in self-doubt and lacking in self-esteem, wondering if they even belong in this world.

However, I discovered I had developed resilience.

Through the escape hatch I found an inner world where it could grow like a stubborn dandelion coming back fiercely time after time no matter what abuse had to be endured. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here writing this…) Growing alongside it, there was a vivid imagination allowing me to visualize beyond what was around me and dream. Because these dreams existed only within me, no one could crush and overlay them with beliefs and ideas they deemed to be more proper. They remained mine alone, cultivated in my soul’s secret garden.

We tend to carry what kept us safe in childhood into adulthood, even if it doesn’t fit us anymore. In my case, my soul outgrew the protective walls. They did their job. I have survived. But the truth is my soul and its creative voice have grown tormented and lonely hidden away. My soul wants to soar and my creative voice wants to shout. There is a renewed desire to connect. I finally believe I can now. In this process, I am beginning to reclaim my creative self.

It’s difficult to find one’s voice when one has been silent for so long; when one has been conditioned to believe one has nothing to offer. The question is, will the voice be recognized when it stirs and whispers back?

Gàidhlig nurturing my self-discovery

It is said by learning another language one lays down new neural pathways to express oneself, to communicate and connect with others. That you’re reading this is proof of that. The process of learning this incredible language is helping me find my voice. As my new language, it has no negative history, no emotional baggage.

I am beginning to see the world’s beauty with much more appreciative eyes; instead of hiding from it in fear, I am gaining the courage to reach out and connect with it. I am allowing myself to be seen, heard, and connected through my experiences with the Gàidhlig language. The experience of learning it has overall been joyful and positive. Now I find myself looking with hope beyond my present circumstances and I see the potential of where I can be and who I can become. I can believe the story I have to tell is worth offering to others.

In my case, Gàidhlig has offered a tunnel through the white noise of self-criticism and self-doubt. It’s become a building block for self-confidence. It added its strength to the self-affirmation that what I have to say does matter, that I do have something valuable to offer, and it will find a receptive audience somewhere.

The inner walls are still being dismantled. Deconstruction is a long process, but Gàidhlig has become a smashing ball helping me to knock down the sections of the walls built by self-doubt, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem.

To native speakers, I will always be considered a Learner, but I feel privileged to be a tiny part of the resurgence of this beautiful language. Through it, I have been given the gifts of beginning to recover myself, to find and recognize my creative voice, and courage to start on my own journey of self-discovery with my Gàidhlig connections. It’s okay to follow my own path, write my own story and tell it with my own voice.

Like native Gàidhlig speakers with their amazing language, I now appreciate the treasure I possess. And like them, I will be proud of my creative gifts.

Like them, I am resilient and I will no longer be silenced.