The linguistic richness of the Atlantic edge – as much as its ecological distinctiveness – is at the core of importance. Many Atlantic languages – such as Norn, the language of Shetland – were lost and remain lost. Others – such as Cornish – were close to loss before partial revivals.
Of the major languages of the modern Atlantic coasts – Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh – each have histories very different from those of England and English. Indeed, many events that historians usually consider straightforwardly positive, such as the Education Acts of the 1870s, were disasters for languages other than English and for regions far from urban centres, since they imposed a one-size-fits-all Anglo culture which separated the English-speaking school room from the traditions of the home.
Since the 1970s, all the living Celtic languages have been in a state of limited revival. Their literatures flourish and their number of speakers slowly grow. Indeed, where all the technologies of the era from 1800-1970 worked against the languages of the coastlines, those of the last fifty years – particularly the internet – have worked in their favour.
The Frayed Atlantic Edge explores the histories and literatures of the islands’ languages while resisting making predictions about their futures. Following the work of Irish writers such as David Lloyd, it asks whether some of the problems of our present could be informed by looking to the worldviews of Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh in their eras of greatest confidence, before the aggressive expansion of the Anglo world. BEyond Lloyd’s writing, the most useful text on these linguistic revivals is Roger Hutchinson, A Waxing Moon: the Modern Gaelic Revival (2005)
All these languages require learners if their influence is to grow, and learning them opens up extraordinary cultural and social vistas.
The classic Welsh-speaking course (in book or online form) is Wlpan, by the University of Bangor.
But (if my slow-going with Wlpan is anything to go by) physical courses can be still more useful, and Nant Gwythern – beautifully situated on the North Wales coast is the place to go.
The Learn Gaelic website provides lots of resources and tools for getting started.
Beag air Bheag (Little by Little) from the BBC is another great place to start for beginners.
The Irish broadcaster, RTE, offers language-learning tools and Gaelchultúr offers teaching starting beyond the beginner level. But if I was going to learn Irish in earnest, I’d go straight for one of the Irish summer schools at the National University of Ireland Galway.