Gaelic Word of the Week blog – Butterfly – dealan-dè

Each week we publish the text of our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast here with added facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week our work is butterfly – dealan-dè.

It is now Spring – an t-Earrach – and the Scottish Parliament’s gardens are now coming back to life.

At the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – we are very conscious of our place in the landscape and are keen to ensure that we can contribute to thriving ecology across Scotland – Alba. For this reason, we maintain the grounds with the aim of supporting the biodiversity of the area including with wildflower and tree planting.

The landscaped area outside the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – features many native trees – craobhan, wildflowers – flùraichean, plants – lusan and insects – meanbh-fhrìdean. Some of these are rare, and none more so than the Northern Argus Butterfly.

The Gaelic for butterfly is dealan-dè. This translates literally as “the lightning/fire of God”, coming from the word dealan meaning lightening and Dia – God.

According to McBain’s Etymological dictionary of 1911, dealan means a spark or flaming coal and dealan-dè can also be used to describe the appearance produced by whirling a burning stick around. Dealanaich means lightning.

In modern Gaelic, dealan means electricity and is a very common word. You might recognise this from the  Gaelic for email, post-dealain or post-d.

The Gaelic for the northern argus butterfly – dealan-dè – is argas-donn tuathach. The story of this particular dealan-dè is as intersting as the name dealan-dè itself!

Northern Brown Argus butterfly – photo from Wikipedia commons:

Almost exclusively found in Holyrood Park – Pàirc an Ròid – the northern argus butterfly was initially understood by butterfly watchers to be a slightly different version of the Brown Argus butterfly – dealan-dè. In 1793, however, it was found that it is actually a completely different species.

Shortly following its discovery, changes in land use and over-collection by butterfly enthusiasts meant that it was believed extinct, having last been seen in 1869.

This story has a happy ending, however, as the Northern Brown Argus was re-discovered at Holyrood in 2005 and the population has continued to increase annually, with this iconic type of dealan-dè being a regular visitor to the landscaped area outside Pàrlamaid na h-Alba.

The northern brown argus is particulalry fond of rock-rose – grian-ròs – a flower which we intentionally cultivate in the Scottish Parliament’s landscaped areas.

The next time you visit the Scottish Parliament, have a look at which flowers – flùraichean, dealanan-dè – butterflies and other wildlife you can find!

Finding the right Gaelic words for wildlife, whether you be looking at a dealan-dè, an insect, fern, fish or fungus, can be a challenge for writers and translators. There are many many thousands of different species and sub-species of flora and fauna. Plants and insects can often look alike or be uncommon and little discussed. This means that different dialects can have different words for uncommon flora and fauna or that one word can often cover different species. This means that any one plant or animal may have several Gaelic equivalents in the dictionary, making it difficult to know which to choose. Any translator trying to make a distinction between polecats, ferrets, stoats and weasels will have come across this problem!  

Fortunately, NatureScot have produced a Gaelic nature dictionary which gives a recommended version for many different species. The scientific names in Ladinn – Latin – also make things easier when the Gaelic – Gàidhlig – or English – Beurla is unclear!

Alasdair MacCaluim

Gaelic Word of the Week blog – Easter – a’ Chàisg

Each week we publish the text of our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast here with added facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week we are looking at Easter – A’ Chaisg.

It is currently the Scottish Parliament’s recess – fosadh for Spring – an t-Earrach. This means that the Parliament won’t be sitting again until after the election – taghadh – in May.

During the Spring recess – fosadh – Easter will be taking place.

The Gaelic for Easter is A’ Chàisg. As well as meaning the Christian celebration of Easter, a’ Chàisg also means the Jewish celebration of the Passover. A’ Chàisg is connected to the Latin word pascha which in turn comes from the Hebrew Pesah or Passover.

Good Friday in Gaelic is Dihaoine na Ceusta which means ‘The Friday of the Crucifixion’.

Many Gaelic-speaking Christians will be reading the bible at Easter  – A’ Chaisg.

The Scottish Gaelic New Testament was first translated in 1767 and the Old Testament in 1801. Before this, the bible in Irish – Gaeilge – was used in Gaelic Scotland.

As well as being important to Christians for spiritual purposes, the Gaelic Bible did a tremendous amount to standardise the language and create a high register shared by speakers of all Gaelic dialects. It was also a major factor in driving literacy in Gaelic. To this day, the Gaelic Bible is a useful resource for translators and the Parliament’s Gaelic team often use it for terminology.

The Gaelic of the Bible is today seen as rather old-fashioned, however, and many Gaelic speakers find it difficult to understand. For this reason, a new version of the New Testament in contemporary Gaelic was published in 2017 following a long-term project to translate it from the original Greek to modern Gaelic.

Another word connected with a’ Chàisg – is an easter egg. The Gaelic for egg is ugh.

The Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – has a very special egg – ugh. This isn’t an Easter egg – ugh càisge, however, but a giant sculpture of a pink footed goose egg.

This sculpture, entitled granite egg was gifted to the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – in 2004 by the Icelandic Parliament. This was created by Sigurdur Gudmundsson.

The Gaelic for Iceland is Innis Tìle.

The design of this granite egg sculpture is an enlarged version of a real pink-footed goose egg. The egg – ugh – can be seen as symbolic of the friendship between the Icelandic and Scottish Parliaments, as the pink-footed goose spends winter in Scotland – Alba – and summer in Iceland – Innis Tile. Carved into the egg – ugh – is a phrase which translates as ‘With laws the land shall be built’, a phrase that was used in Icelandic saga. Another interesting connection between the two countries is that that this is also the motto of Shetland – Sealtainn.

A Norn sign in Shetlandthis Norse name is linked to Dingwall in the Highlands and Tynwald in the Isle of Man

For more easter terminology, see the LearnGaelic website.

Finally, while we were reseraching this weeks Word of the Week, we found this entry in Dwelly’s dictionary for Maundy Thursday about an old custon on that day in Lewis – Leòdhas and Harris – na Hearadh:

DiarDaoin a’ bhrochain mhóir, Maundy Thursday. It was at one time a custom in the Long Island, if the usual drift of seaweed were behind time, to go on Maundy Thursday and pour an oblation of gruel on a promontory, accompanying the ceremony by the repetition of a certain rhyme.

This week’s Gaelic Word of the Week is Easter – a’ Chàisg.

A’ Chàisg

Have a happy Easter everybody – Càisg shona!

Alasdair MacCaluim

Gaelic Word of the Week blog – lockdown – Glasadh-sìos

Each week we publish the text of our Gaelic Word of the Week podcast here with added facts, figures and photos for Gaelic learners who want to learn a little about the language and about the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. This week we are looking at the Lockdown – an Glasadh-sìos.

Its roughly a year since lockdown started so this week we’re going to learn how to talk about it in Gaelic and share a little about how it has been affecting Gaelic speakers and learners.

The Gaelic for lockdown is glasadh-sìos – literally lockdown, though you will also hear glasadh-sluaigh – “locking of people” or just lockdown.

How has the glasadh-sìos affected Gaelic?

With many parents home schooling, there have been some issues with children in Gaelic education – foghlam Gàidhlig – who are often not members of Gaelic-speaking familes. To help with this, Gaelic educational and arts groups have created a lot of online content for learning and for entairtainment during the glasadh-sìos.

For adults too, there has been a strange situtation where Gaelic speakers have been unable to use the language as much in their local communities due to the glasadh-sìos but have been able to use it with people all over the world via the internet – an t-eadar-lìon!

People outside the Gaelic scene – saoghal na Gàidhlig – may not readily connect the language with technology but Gaelic speakers were very early adopters of the internet with many using email groups in Gaelic before most of the people in Scotland – Alba – had even heard of the internet or email! Gaelic also has a very large and lively twitter community which you can follow with hashtags like #cleachdi or #Gàidhlig. There is also a growing Instagram community. In fact, more Gaelic is now written and read than ever before and the glasadh-sìos has no doubt added to this!

More notable still has been the use of the internet during the glasadh-sìos for online meetings including online Gaelic classes. The Parliament’s Gaelic team, for example, was able to contribute to a session bringing together Gaelic learners in the Western Isles – na h-Eileanan Siar – and in Glasgow – Glaschu.

Learn a little about the demographics of Gaelic and our Gaelic services on our Gaelic awarness video.

The Gaelic community – coimhearsnachd na Gàidhlig – is a scattered one with a minority of speakers living in communities where Gaelic speakers are a majority, and around half of speakers living outside the Highlands – a’ Ghàidhealtachd. One benefit of the glasadh-sìos has been that it has created more connections between Gaelic speakers wherever they live and given more Gaelic speakers confidence with technology.

Perhaps the most interesting development of the glasadh-sìos in the world of Gaelic has been a rise in Gaelic learning. The Gaelic Duolingo app and LearnGaelic have seen a huge rise in numbers of learners, which is a promising development for Gaelic’s future!

It’s been a difficult year for all of us, and in different ways. We’re looking forward to the gradual easing of the glasadh-sìos, and particularly when we can meet Gaelic speaking friends again in person! But there’s no doubt that there’s been some silver linings for Gaelic.

Here at the Scottish Parliament – Pàrlamaid na h-Alba – we will be keeping on with many of the innovations introduced during the glasadh-sìos and until the building opens to the public again, you can find out what’s going on in Gaelic on our twitter feed @parlalba.

 We hope you keep staring safe, and hopefully we can speak Gaelic with you in person soon!

This week’s Gaelic WoW has been read by Alasdair MacCaluim, Gaelic Development Officer.