OFFICIAL GAELIC: PROBLEMS IN THE TRANSLATION OF PUBLIC DOCUMENTS
[first published in Scottish Language, 19 (2000), 100-16, ISSN 0264-0198, by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies]
In recent years an increasing range of Gaelic publications, principally translations of various kinds of formal reports, have been produced by governmental and semi-governmental organizations. This is a important development, both in political and cultural terms as a form of official recognition for the language, and in linguistic terms as an area of register expansion that was previously unaddressed on any significant scale. Nevertheless, the production of Gaelic documents remains sporadic and occasional: no governmental agencies at either national or local level operate on anything close to a fully bilingual basis, such that all their public documents are produced in Gaelic as a matter of course, and indeed even the government-funded Gaelic development agency Comunn na Gàidhlig issues some important documents in English only (e.g. Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997; see Cox 1998: pp. 78-79). As such, the production of official documents in Gaelic has been scattershot and uncoordinated, with responsibility for their preparation resting largely in the hands of individual translators working on an ad hoc basis, without the benefit of any specialist training or structured institutional backing. It is not surprising, therefore, that significant variations in grammatical, orthographical, and lexical usage, and in general style and register, can be discerned. Perhaps more important, there are often significant problems with the quality of translation: comprehensibility is sometimes lost, nuances are ignored, and, in many cases, the Gaelic version is simply incomplete, with phrases or entire sentences in the original omitted. These quality issues are significant in political as well as linguistic terms: if, as a matter of policy, whether explicit or implicit, Gaelic speakers and the Gaelic community are to be provided with official documents in their own language, using them should not result in any kind of disadvantage. Gaelic documents should be both comprehensible and comprehensive, containing the same information as the English originals.
This article will consider some of these issues by taking examples from ten official documents issued in recent years, which are listed in a table at the end of the paper. These examples are referred to in the text by a capital letter from A to J followed by a page number; further examples are to be found in the four appendices, which contain longer excerpts from certain documents, and illustrate certain issues in deeper context.
Gaelic grammar remains less than fully standardized, although the scope of variation is relatively narrow, principally relating to the relative conservatism of case inflections and certain aspects of verbal morphology. The Gaelic used in official documents is not remarkable in this connection; the variations that appear are more or less typical of contemporary Gaelic prose as a whole. This is noteworthy only to the extent that a higher degree of conservatism or formality might be expected - indeed prescribed - in the official context.
Genitive case. The prevailing practice is to use the nominative form of a singular indefinite noun that follows a verbal noun: a' brosnachadh co-obrachadh 'encouraging co-operation' (G:5), a' toirt taic 'supporting' (A:VIII). But there are numerous exceptions, where genitive forms are seen (a' toirt tuairisgeil agus luachaidh 'providing description and evaluation' (C:i), a' toirt taice 'supporting' (C:6, H:22), a' sgaoileadh ùghdarrais 'devolving authority' (J:4)), and some documents (e.g. J) make much greater use of the genitive than others. Avoidance of the genitive is almost universal when an indefinite noun following a verbal noun is modified by an adjective: a' stiùireadh gnìomhachas ùr 'managing a new business' (A:VI), a' gabhail pàirt chudromach 'taking an important part' (J:5), but a' toirt buaidh chudthromaich 'bringing an important benefit' (H:27). With plural indefinite nouns, genitive forms are typical: a' tairgsinn chlasaichean 'offering classes' (nominative clasaichean) (G:7), a' fasdadh òglach 'hiring trainees' (nominative òglaich) (H:25), but a' toirt a-steach cuspairean 'including subjects' (genitive chuspairean) (I:18). In contrast to the pattern apparent in the singular, genitive forms are also typical even when a plural indefinite noun is modified by an adjective: a' misneachadh bhuidhnean eile 'encouraging other groups' (H:22), a' stèidheachadh cheanglaichean ùra 'establishing new links' (F:2).
Practice with compound prepositions and other constructions governing the genitive is equally variable: airson atharrachaidh 'for changing' (genitive form) (B:6), airson nan cunntasan bliadhnail 'for the annual accounts' (genitive form) (J:4), but airson fileantaich 'for fluent speakers' (nominative form) (G:7) and airson sgrìobhadh agus leughadh 'for writing and reading' (nominative form) (G:5); a thaobh obrach 'with respect to work' (genitive form) (B:8), a thaobh cheistean 'with respect to questions' (genitive form) (J:3), but a thaobh . . . iasgach Albannach (nominative form) (B:7) and a thaobh foghlam [is] dualchas 'with respect to education and heritage' (nominative form) (F:3); tuilleadh adhartais 'further progress' (genitive form) (J:4), tuilleadh phrògraman
'more programmes' (genitive form) (A:3, I:12).
A notable issue with regard to the genitive is the name Alba itself. The colloquial genitive form is (and has long been) Alba, and this form predominates in most official documents, but the literary form Albann also appears, notably in the name of the Scottish Office, Oifis na h-Albann, and in most publications issued therefrom - though, remarkably, the General Register Office for Scotland uses Ard Oifis Clàrachaidh na h-Alba as its Gaelic name, and the Gaelic version of the White Paper 'Scotland's Parliament' (document B) was entitled Pàrlamaid na h-Alba rather than Pàrlamaid na h-Albann. The new Scottish Executive has adopted the form Riaghaltas Alba, with no definite article for Alba. Certainly it would be reasonable to expect agreement on official usage with respect to this one word, if no other!
Much more could be said about the details of genitive usage; suffice it to say that substantial rationalisation and standardisation is still needed in this area.
Dative case. Practice varies with regard to the use of Albainn, the older dative form of Alba (as in D:10; C), or the more colloquial Alba (B:, G:4). Conservative dative forms are sometimes used more generally, e.g. anns an roinn phrìbheidich 'in the private sector' (F:21), ris an roinn phrìobhaidich 'to the private sector' (D:9); but dhen obair eaconamach seo 'of this economic work' (G:3). 1
Synthetic passive forms. There is substantial variability with regard to the use of synthetic passive forms like thathas 'is/are being', rinneadh/dhèanadh 'was done' etc., with some documents evidencing a clear preference for periphrastic, and apparently more colloquial, constructions based on the structure chaidh . . . a dhèanamh (compare G and J with I; see Lamb 1997). One noticeable trend is to translate passive, impersonal English sentences into active Gaelic sentences containing a subject, usually sinn 'we' or related first person plural forms of pronouns: 'the elements are well known' becomes tha sinn eòlach air na bunasan 'we are familiar with the basics' (B:3), 'given that' becomes nuair a smaoinicheas sinn 'when we consider' (F:1), 'will continue to be given' becomes tha sinn dol a leantainn oirnn a' toirt 'we are going to continue to give' (A:XII). This practice suggests an arguably inappropriate level of informality.
Official Gaelic usually, but not consistently, complies with the Scottish Examination Board's Gaelic Orthographical Conventions of 1981 (Scottish Examination Board 1981) - to the extent that compliance with these conventions, notorious for their gaps, conflicts, and ambiguities, is a meaningful concept. GOC provides the standard for the rapidly expanding Gaelic sector of the schools system and for the great majority of Gaelic books, as a result of the policies of Comhairle nan Leabhraichean (the Gaelic Books Council). Some notable features of the orthography used in official documents are discussed below; as with the grammatical points discussed above, however, these are not particular to the official context but also arise in other forms of contemporary Gaelic prose.
Variability is notable in the following areas, both among different documents and within particular individual documents:
forms of prepositions: an/ann an 'in', bho/o 'from', dha/do 'to, for', dhe/de 'of', roimh/ro 'before', troimh/tro 'through'
usage of orthographic forms corresponding to monosyllabic or disyllabic forms of parts of irregular verbs: bidh/bithidh, bhios/bhitheas, bhiodh/bhitheadh, thuirt/thubhairt. Examples are not marshalled here but the divergences appear to arise because the translator of a particular document uses one written form or the other consistently and unselfconsciously - irrespective of whether a disyllabic or monosyllabic form would be used orally in any particular context.
dramatically variable practices with regard to hyphenation of compound words or prepositions: obair-ciùird 'craftwork' (A:xii) but obair ciùird (A:vi), dòighean stiùiridh 'management practices' (J:2) but dòighean-obrach 'work practices' (J:6), a' mhòr chuid 'the majority' (J:2) but a' mhòr-chuid (J:7), eu-coir for eucoir 'crime' (B:7)
omission of a' (itself a truncated form of ag) before verbal nouns when these would not normally be pronounced: tha sinn dol 'we are going to' (A:VI), ann a bhith leagail choilltean 'in cutting down trees' (A:VI), but ann a bhith a' grìosadh 'in fuelling' (C:3)
almost universal non-compliance with GOC's unequivocal, if unpopular, mandate that the st combination should be used, in all positions, rather than sd: furasda for furasta 'easy' (G:6), an-dràsda for an-dràsta 'now' (A:6, D:8, G:4, 5), etc.
variation with certain common words and phrases: cudromach/cudthromach 'important', fòghlam (B)/foghlam 'education', mu thràth/mar thà 'already' (A), a-nise (J:2)/anist (E:6)/a-niste (A)/a-nis 'now', aistigh (D:8, 9)/a-staigh 'inside', and notably, aitheasg (C)/aithisg (J) 'report'!
sporadic use of acute accents, as on á/ás 'out of' (C: passim), and consistently on é and ó in document D
miscellaneous variations in usage, e.g. systematic use of chàidh 'went' rather than chaidh in document E
In general, the grammar and orthography of official Gaelic documents is fairly unremarkable. The most significant conclusion in this regard is a negative one - that the expanding use of Gaelic for official purposes does not appear to have advanced grammatical and orthographic standardization in any way. This is doubtless the result of the Government's decision to rely on a range of independent individuals to provide translations of particular documents on an ad hoc basis, without providing any co-ordinating or training structures. It is to be hoped that in the future an institutional structure will be put in place to assist in the production of official Gaelic documents - perhaps under the auspices of the new Scottish Parliament - and that such formalizing may facilitate more significant progress on this front.
Three major lexical and terminological problems arise in the context of official Gaelic. First is the problem of ambiguity and semantic overload that results from the use of terms with an insufficiently specific meaning - a problem of particular importance in the official context, where precision of meaning is often critical given the potential consequences of misunderstandings. Obvious examples are words like sgìre, originally 'parish', but now used for a broad range of physical, political, or geographical subdivisions, and potentially corresponding to English 'province', 'region', 'district', 'area', or 'neighbourhood', depending upon context, and comhairle ('council', 'committee', 'advice') (MacAulay 1986: p. 123).2
Second is the perennial problem of coining appropriate translations for English terms and concepts. There are still no simple, universally agreed Gaelic equivalents for some basic English words like 'job' (obair, dreuchd, cosnadh), 'economy' (econamachd (B:, ), eaconamachd (D:4, 8) eaconomaidh (Thomson 1996: p. 61)),3 'version' (breacadh (C:18), tionntadh, innse/seòrsa (Thomson 1996: p. 228)), and 'document' (pàipear, sgrìobhainn, sgrìobhadh) (see An Stòr-Dàta Briathrachais Gàidhlig (1993) for a further range of options). In this connection it is desirable to produce a Gaelic term that is reasonably comprehensible, manageable, and specific; it is probably also preferable to ensure a close correspondence with the English equivalent, both to assist the translation process and the comprehension of readers who will, in all cases, already know and understand the English counterpart.
Some new coinages used in official documents appear successful or promising. Dìlseachd seem to have become clearly established with the meaning of 'commitment', for example, and other, less familiar efforts seem well crafted (e.g. meidheadh cosgais is buannachd for 'cost-benefit analysis' (J:5)). Other coinages are quite varied in nature: some are extensions of meaning (a' tasgadh for 'investing' (D:9, F:18)), some are adaptations of existing roots (luchd-gabhail for 'consumers' (literally 'taking-people') (I:22), cunnraidhear 'contractor' (F:22), from cunnradh 'covenant, agreement, compact', prìomhachadh 'prioritizing' (G:5), from prìomh 'principal, main'), some transparent calques (lìon-obrachadh for 'networking' (F:18)). Whether these neologisms become familiarized and accepted remains to be seen.
In general, however, Donald MacAulay's observation on the nature of 'New Gaelic' remains valid: 'usage is irregular and inconsistent and there is strong evidence of poor control of technical vocabulary' (MacAulay 1986: p. 123). For example, the Gaelic version of the White Paper issued in advance of the 1997 devolution referendum translated 'referendum' as tomhais-bharail; this term means literally 'measure of opinion' and suggests something along the lines of a public opinion poll rather than a political decision referred directly to the electorate instead of being resolved by ordinary parliamentary mechanisms. 4 Similarly, 'macroeconomics' was translated with the phrase an econamachd san fharsaingeachd (B:5), literally 'economics in general', a potentially serious difference in that the implication was that Westminster would continue to have responsibility for 'economics in general' and not merely 'macroeconomic' matters.
A related phenomenon here is the use of vague or general Gaelic words to convey much more specific English terms or phrases: prìomh amasan ('main aims', though equally, for lack of register differentiation, 'principal objectives') for sectoral priorities, conaltradh ('communication') for telecommunications, seirbhisean teicneòlais ('technology services') for IT support services (A:xii/19). This is part of a general problem of watering-down, discussed below.
Finally is the related question of ensuring consistency in the use of terminology once terms are coined. This is especially difficult given the range of different agencies involved in the production of official Gaelic documents and the absence of any official structure to guide and control their shaping. A central agency of some kind, under the auspices of the new Parliament, could be extremely helpful, though the Irish experience demonstrates that media or popular usage can readily over-ride official coinages of this kind even when a translation and terminology infrastructure is in place (Nic Eoin and Mac Mathúna 1997: pp. 18, 28; see generally Prút 1997). As a general rule, where a Gaelic term is not so fixed as to be immediately recognizable, the same term should probably be used on each occasion within a given text if the same English word is repeated, thereby establishing a ready connection. This principle is not always followed: in the devolution White Paper, for example, the verb 'reform', a basic word in the political lexicon, is translated in different places by both ath-leasaich and ath-nuadhaich (B:3, 6).
Official Gaelic is a relatively new register in the language, the formal prose tradition having been largely confined to religious matters in the recent past (see Gillies 1987: p. 27; compare Prys Jones 1988: pp. 177-79). Given this unfamiliarity, it is unsurprising that there are discernible variations in the style used in official Gaelic. These problems are compounded by the process of translation: almost all official Gaelic documents are produced as translations of English originals, and work within that straitjacket.
In terms of register, Gaelic versions are often strikingly more colloquial than the corresponding English originals. 'As a result of an increasingly integrated approach' becomes iad anist ag obrachadh còmhla barrachd 'with them now working together more' (D:5), '[they] will diversify further' becomes bidh an tuilleadh dhiubh ann 'there will be more of them' (D:8). On the other hand, it is important that Official Gaelic not become wooden and unduly formal; natural Gaelic idiom should be used whenever suitable, so that translations like á talamh a bha gu ìre bhig bàn for 'from a base point of virtually zero' (C:15) seem quite acceptable.
One of the most striking consequences of these Gaelic translations is their relative impoverishment at a rhetorical level: their adjectival and imagistic force tends to be greatly reduced in comparison to the English originals. This is especially so with regard to what one might call the exaggerated rhetoric of advertising and public relations - an idiom that tends to be extremely prominent in official reports and publications. This style makes heavy use of words whose principal effect is to convey an inflated sense of importance or excitement rather than any concrete meaning - adjectives like key, crucial, critical, vital, major, exciting, pivotal, spectacular, inspiring, unique etc., all of which tend to be subsumed into rather fainter, monochromatic Gaelic terms like cudromach 'important', math 'good', and air leth 'especially' (see Cox 1998: p. 77). 'Visionary project' becomes sgeama adhartach 'progressive scheme' (A:V), 'shining example' comes out as deagh eiseimpleir 'good example' (A:V), 'greatly impressed' becomes toilichte 'happy' (A:IV). It is of course arguable that the heavy use of words with little genuine meaning in the English originals is a kind of bad writing from which Gaelic readers should be spared, but it has nevertheless become an important feature of the style and substance of certain kinds of official documents. The prevailing response so far, moreover, has not been to improve the English but to produce thinner Gaelic texts that merely repeat a single adjective several times or ignore adjectival modification altogether. It could be argued that this approach to adjectival elaboration reflects the basic idiom of the Gaelic language in contrast to English, but this is difficult to square with the great adjectival richness - indeed even over-richness - of much Gaelic literature.
A more serious aspect of this problem of 'thinness' in official Gaelic is the relatively common practice of providing stripped-down, incomplete translations. The most basic kind of omission arises from the failure to translate an adjective in the English original; sometimes this is relatively insignificant, but often an important qualification is ignored. Fairly unproblematic examples include a' toirt àite beòthail dhi 'giving it a vital place' for 'giving it an exciting new role' [no translation of 'new'] (B:3)), ceistean sam bith a bha air èirigh as ùr 'any questions that had newly arisen' for 'any significant current issues' [no translation of 'significant'] (J:2), eagal for 'genuine fear' (J:6), dùbhlain 'challenges' for 'likely operational challenges' (J:4).
Omissions of this kind become more important when a different practical meaning ensues. The White Paper issued in advance of the 1997 devolution referendum, for example, translated the original 'ministers of the Scottish Executive will participate in relevant meetings of the European Council of Ministers' as gabhaidh Ministearan bho Luchd-stiùiridh na h-Alba pàirt ann an coinneamhan de Chomhairle Ministearan na h-Eòrpa 'ministers of the Scottish Executive will take part in meetings' (B:8), failing to indicate the limitation of 'relevant' meetings and thereby suggesting a Scottish ministerial presence at all such meetings. In extreme, but not rare, cases, the second half of a sentence - or indeed an entire sentence or even paragraph - may be absent from the Gaelic translation:
'These appeared in the form of a growing number of project applications to HIDB and provided the stimulus for the Board's role in Gaelic development' translated as Chunnacas seo mar a chaidh àireamhan nan iarratas Gàidhlig a bha a'tighinn mu choinneamh a'Bhùird Ghaidhealaich suas ('This was seen in how the number of Gaelic applications coming before the HIDB went up') (D:5)5
'Encouragement will be provided in relation to improving access to the Internet and the World Wide Web . . . Assistance will be provided in relation to sustainable tele-working opportunities' translated as Bidh cuideachadh ann airson daoine a tha a' lorg chothroman air an eadar-lìon 'There will be assistance for people who are looking for opportunities on the Internet' (A:XII).
This problem of omission is unquestionably the most serious issue arising with Official Gaelic, prompting significant questions about the purpose of the entire effort. Given the legal requirement that Welsh and English 'should be treated on a basis of equality' in Wales (Welsh Language Act 1993, § 5(2)), the expectation has developed that a Welsh speaker in Wales has the right to conduct his or her business with the government through the medium of Welsh and not to be disadvantaged in doing so. A similar principle applies, though less clearly, for Irish speakers in the Republic of Ireland (Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge 1998). No such norm exists with respect to Gaelic in Scotland, and there is no reasonable expectation that such a situation might soon develop, at least at a national level, although more vigorous policies on the part of certain local authorities would certainly be realistic and appropriate. Nevertheless, if an official or semi-official agency has spent the time and money to issue a document in Gaelic, Gaelic speakers should certainly not be prejudiced vis-à-vis English speakers with respect to their use of the particular document in question. 6 The Gaelic text should contain all the information given in the English original, and the Gaelic user should not be forced to consult the English original in order to make sense of poorly drafted or incomprehensible Gaelic.
A last issue for consideration is the problem of actual mistranslation. Most Gaelic versions of official documents seem to have been produced in hurried fashion, without making sure that a full and accurate translation is provided. Just as words, clauses, and sentences are often ignored, mistranslations abound, sometimes because of omitted nuances, sometimes through misinterpretation of the English original, sometimes through obvious, but unnoticed, mistakes of detail. This pattern of uncertain quality has serious ramifications in terms of public policy: the unfortunate implication is that these documents may be produced on the assumption that few readers will actually rely on them as sources of information about matters of public importance (compare Cox 1998).
Often these are relatively unimportant mistakes involving degrees of adjectival force (a' dèanamh feum mhath 'making good use' for 'making the best use' (J:3), glè bheag fianais 'rather/very little evidence' for 'little evidence' (J:4)), but some can have significant practical implications. One important example is Comhairle nan Eilean's Bilingual Policy (document H), which provides in English that 'the Western Isles should be a fundamentally bilingual community [. . .] so that the people of the area can have the choice of language in as many situations as possible' but gives a significantly stronger formulation in Gaelic, 'gum bitheadh Na h-Eileanan Siar na coimhearsnachd dà-chànanan [. . .] gus am bitheadh an rogha canain aig muinntir an àite anns gach suidheachaidh [sic]' ('in every situation') (H: 4, 22).7
Some further examples:
'a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons' translated as tomhais-bharail air an t-siostam bhòtaidh ann an Taigh nan Cumantan (B:3). Given the use of the preposition ann (rather than do or airson), this would imply the voting system used by MPs within the House, not the system by which MPs are elected.
'Westminster will continue to be responsible for those areas of policy best run on a United Kingdom basis' translated as Cumaidh Westminster ùghdarras airson nam poileasaidhean as fheàrr a thèid an stiùireadh a-rèir na Rìoghachd Aonaichte gu lèir ('Westminster will keep authority for those policies that can be best run by the entire United Kingdom') (B:5). By failing to differentiate 'policies' from 'areas of policy', this implies Westminster control over specific programmes or approaches to dealing with specific issues, not entire fields of subject matter, as stated in the English.
'The environment including . . . matters relating to air, land and water pollution' translated as an àrainneachd a' gabhail a-steach . . . cùisean co-cheangailte ris an àille; truailleadh fearainn agus uisge ('the environment including . . . matters relating to the air; land and water pollution') (B:7). Here the punctuation of the original has been misunderstood and the meaning of the sentence significantly distorted as a result.
'Repeated failure to maximise the best use of available grant could result in calls for it to be allocated elsewhere' translated as '[tha] coltas ann gun deidheadh an tabhartas a ghearradh mura tèid a chleachdadh gu h-iomlan' ('There is a likelihood that the grant will be cut unless it is fully used') (J:4)
'HMIC considers that there is scope to extend such training throughout the force area' translated as tha LSRP [= HMIC] an dòchas gum bi e comasach an trèanadh seo a sgaoileadh air feadh na feachd ('HMIC hopes that it will be possible to spread this training throughout the force') (J:7). An expectation becomes a mere hope.
Sometimes these mistakes are obvious oversights, and demonstrate a simple lack of careful double-checking. As elsewhere, it is clear that these official documents are simply not being given the level of care and diligence appropriate to official public documents:
'some 19 Gaelic novels for youth are now available where there were none a few years ago' translated as tha naoidh nobhailean ann do dhiagairean anist far nach robh roimhe gin ('there are nine novels for teenagers now where there were previously none') (E:6)
'The approach has been to fund programmes that are not studio based' translated as b'e dòigh-dèiligidh na Comataidh a bhith a' maoineachadh phrògraman stèidhichte air stiùidio ('the Committee's approach has been to fund programmes based in the studio') (I:18)8
The greatly increased use of Gaelic in official documents during recent years is much to be welcomed, even if, as demonstrated above, a number of significant problems remain to be resolved. Further development of the use of the language in this field will have a range of broader benefits; as Máirtín Ó Murchú has pointed out, the successful development of Irish in the public field has been a major component in the drive to 'reintellectualize' Irish over the course of the last seventy-five years (Ó Murchú 1992: p. 49). At the same time, however, it is important to ensure that Gaelic is not used in this area as mere tokenism, for, as Joshua Fishman warns, such empty public symbolism can readily become 'the ultimate retreat into meaninglessness vis-à-vis the daily life of ordinary human beings' (Fishman 1991: p. 141; see Cox 1998).
Careful attention to the accuracy and quality of translation is essential if this area of register development is to bear fruit. Derick Thomson has outlined two possible kinds of Official Gaelic that might emerge - 'a spare, clear, elegant Gaelic', 'an officialese that need not be turgid' (Thomson 1979: p. 21) on the one hand, 'a jargon which uses Gaelic vocabulary most of the time, but with a semi-understood syntax' on the other (Thomson 1994: p. 233). To date, it must be said, official documents are rather closer to the second pole.
Two concrete steps will be helpful. First, an institutional translation structure should be established under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament, with responsibility, ideally, for a steadily increasing range of documents. The university sector could play a significant role in moving this forward, and expansion of Gaelic-medium secondary education could also provide a useful foundation in several respects. Second, to the extent possible, documents should be written in Gaelic and translated into English (see H:23), thus freeing Official Gaelic of the translation straitjacket, which has clearly impeded its development. Yet progress may be difficult; even with the relative advantages enjoyed by Welsh in comparison to Gaelic, Official Welsh remains an 'oddly unnatural, slightly discordant, slightly strangulated and peculiar creature' (Prys Jones 1988: p. 181), and it may be a long time before Gaelic comes to enjoy an unturgid officialese.
Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise/Iomairt an Eilein Sgitheanaich agus Loch Aillse, Seventh Report, 1997/98 (1998).
The Scottish Office/Oifis na h-Albann, Scotland's Parliament and Pàrlamaid na h-Alba (1997).
Education Department, The Scottish Office/Roinn an Fhoghlaim, Oifis na h-Albann,Provision for Gaelic Education in Scotland and Solarachadh na Gàidhlig ann am Foghlam ann an Albainn (1994).
Highlands and Islands Enterprise/Iomairt na Gaidhealtachd, A Strategy for Gaelic Development in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland and Ro-Innleachd na Gàidhlig aig Lìonbheairt Iomairt na Gàidhealtachd (1992)
General Register Office for Scotland/Ard Oifis Clàrachaidh na h-Alba, 1991 Census/Cunntas-sluaigh 1991: Gaelic Language/A' Ghàidhlig (1994)
Highland Council/Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd, Gaelic Development Strategy/ Roi-Innleachd Leasachaidh Gàidhlig (1998)
Comunn na Gàidhlig, Framework for growth: A national policy for Gaelic education/Innleachd Airson Adhartais: Poileasaidh Nàiseanta airson Foghlaim Gàidhlig (1997)
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Bilingual Policy/Poileasaidh Dà-Chànanach (3rd edn 1996)
Gaelic Broadcasting Committee/Comataidh Craolaidh Gàidhlig, Annual Report & Accounts/Aithisg Bhliadhnail & Cunntasan (1997-98)
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland/Luchd-sgrùdaidh Rìoghail nam Poileas Albannach, Review Inspection, Northern Constabulary 1998/ Ath-sgrùdadh, Feachd-phoileas a' Chinn-a-Tuath 1998 (1999)
Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge (1998). Plécháipéis maidir le hAcht Teanga/Towards a Language Act: A discussion document. Dublin: Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge.
Comunn na Gàidhlig (1997). Inbhe Thèarainte dhan Ghàidhlig/Secure Status for Gaelic. Inverness: Comunn na Gàidhlig.
Cox, Richard A.V. (1998). 'Tokenism in Gaelic: The Language of Appeasement'. Scottish Language, 17 (1998), 70-81.
Fishman, Joshua (1991). Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters.
Gillies, William (1987). 'Scottish Gaelic: The Present Situation', in Third International Conference on Minority Languages: Celtic Papers, ed. by Gearóid Mac Eoin, Anders Ahlquist & Donncha Ó hAodha, 27-46. Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters.
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 While the provision of housing and the creation of smallholdings on the estate are clear development priorities, a wide variety of other proposals to realise Orbost's tremendous potential have been aired.  They include setting up a business park for small enterprises, building a pier and fostering marine tourism businesses, footpath construction, setting up a study centre and forging links with the nascent University of the Highlands and Islands.  Of crucial importance in the assessment of proposals for the estate is making certain that any initiatives taken are sensitive to the area's rich environment and cultural background.  Much of Orbost's potential derives from this particular context and care must be taken not to jeopardise future opportunities by being tempted to rush into development strategies which, in the final analysis, may not be appropriate.
 Tha taighean agus croitean ùra ri stèidheachadh ann an Orbosd, ach tha leasachaidhean eile a dh'fheumas a bhith ann cuideachd, agus tha beachdan gu leòr air nochdadh mu thràth, mu na dh'fhaodadh a dhèanamh le stòras na h-oighreachd.  Nam measg tha pàirce malairt airson gnìomhachasan beaga, ceumannan coiseachd, agus ionad-oideachaidh aig am biodh ceangal ri Oilthigh na Gàidhealtachd.  Tha e cudthromach, ge-tà, nach tèid àrainneachd na sgìre a mhilleadh.  Tha mòran de luach Orboisd anns an àrainneachd agus feumar a bhith faiceallach gun leasachadh a dhèanamh ann an cabhaig, nach biodh freagarrach air neo gu maith na coimhearsnachd.
 New houses and crofts are to be established in Orbost, but there are other improvements that must be there as well, and many views have appeared already about what could be done with the resources of the estate.  Amongst them are a business park for small businesses, footpaths, and an education centre that would have a connection to the University of the Highlands.  It is important, however, that the environment of the area is not damaged.  Much of Orbost's value lies in the environment and care must be taken not to make improvements in a hurry that would not be suitable or for the good of the community.
Sentence : general watering-down; incorrect Gaelic form dh'fhaodadh used instead of dh'fhaodteadh.
Sentence : reference to pier and marine tourism businesses omitted from Gaelic version; English does not suggest that the study centre would be connected to the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Sentence : general watering-down; reference to culture omitted from Gaelic.
Sentence : general watering-down; significance of English 'potential' not conveyed.
 The importance to the economy and culture of the area of crofting, fishing and aquaculture will continue to be given a high priority.  Our growing food and drink production capacity will be supported and developed, as will the development of local markets for local produce.  We will concentrate on improving efficiency and competitiveness of existing businesses and encouraging new businesses, mainly where involved in value adding.
 Tha croitearachd, iasgach agus tuathanas-èisg cudthromach do dh' eaconomaidh agus cultar an Eilein Sgitheanaich agus Loch Aillse, agus mar sin tha sinn dol a leantainn oirnn a' toirt chothroman dhan roinn seo.  Bidh companaidhean a tha an-sàs ann am biadh agus deoch air an cuideachadh agus bidh sinn a' lorg leasachaidhean anns a'mhargaid ionadail airson bathair ionadail.  Bidh sinn gu sònraichte a' toirt taic dha gnìomhachasan ùra, gu h-àraid iadsan a chuireas luach ri bathair.
 Crofting, fishing and fish-farming are important to the economy and culture of Skye and Lochalsh, and therefore we are going to continue providing opportunities to this sector.  Companies that are involved in food and drink will be assisted and we will be seeking improvements in the local market for local goods.  We will be giving particular support to new businesses, especially those that add value to goods.
Sentence : English sentence phrased impersonally recast as first-person plural in Gaelic. Tuathanas-èisg, the accepted term for 'fish farming', used ambiguously for the broader English term aquaculture, which, significantly in the local economic context, includes shellfish farming.
Sentence : English sentence phrased impersonally again recast as first-person plural in Gaelic. Reference to the growth of the food and drink sector omitted, and the reference to 'supporting and developing' these sectors is rendered more vague. Gaelic term bathair vaguer than English produce here.
Sentence : Entire first half of sentence omitted from Gaelic. Phrase luach ri bathair possibly unclear as it lacks the ready-made quality of the corresponding English phrase value for money.
 In the past decade there has been a marked and significant increase in the recognition of the Gaelic language both as a contributor to the economic development of the Highlands and Islands and as an element in the area's cultural vigour and diversity.  HIE will be working with others in the coming years to build on that achievement and to broaden its benefits.  It would clearly do no good to the cause of Gaelic language and culture to overclaim either its achievements to date or its future potential.  In committing HIE and Local Enterprise Companies to further support for Gaelic development, it is necessary to establish the context and the perspective.
 Tha a'Ghàidhlig air barrachd aithne a chosnadh dhith fhéin anns an deich bliadhna a chaidh seachad mar fhreumh de leasachadh na h-eaconomachd agus a'bheatha chultarail 'sna bh'aice riamh roimhe.  Bidh ING ag obair, còmhla ri feadhainn eile, gus togail air an adhartas sin gus a mhath a sgaoileadh.  Cha deanadh e feum do dh'aobhar na Gàidhlig cus molaidh a dheanamh air an adhartas seo no air na dh'fhaodadh tighinn.  O na tha ING agus na Companaidhean Iomairt a'gealltuinn an tuilleadh taic do'n chànan, feumar raon agus sealladh a mhìneachadh an toiseachd.
 Gaelic has earned more recognition for itself as a root of the development of the economy and cultural life in the last ten years than it ever had before.  HIE will be working, together with others, to build on that progress and to spread its benefits.  It would do no good to the cause of Gaelic to give excessive praise to that progress or to what might come.  Since HIE and the Local Enterprise Companies are promising more support for the language, the field [i.e. situation] and view must be explained first.
Sentence : general watering-down; addition in the Gaelic that these developments are without precedent; acute accent on fhéin.
Sentence : 'clearly' omitted
Sentence : Gaelic translation of 'the context and the perspective' arguably incomprehensible; idiosyncratic spelling of toiseachd.
 Gaelic medium preschool provision - in the form of playgroups and nurseries - is a crucial first step in the process of Gaelic medium education.  It is therefore a priority area and should receive the appropriate support at support at local and national level.
 Tha foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig fo aois sgoile tro chròileagain 's tro sgoiltean-àraich air leth cudromach mar a' chiad cheum ann am foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig.
 Gaelic medium education before school age - through playgroups and nurseries - is extremely important as the first step in Gaelic medium education.
Second of the two sentences completely omitted.
I am grateful to Ronald Black, Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh and Roy Wentworth for their helpful comments on this paper.
1Occasional grammatical idiosyncrasies can also be found, e.g. raointean cudthromacha 'important fields' (D:9), where the translator has marked a multisyllabic adjective for the plural.
2This phenomenon is very clear from the very beginning of official reports, where the English distinction between preface, foreword, and introduction is obliterated, all usually being subsumed into the Gaelic roimh-ràdh (B:3-5) (itself often spelled ro-ràdh or roi-ràdh). One document uses roi-ràdh for 'foreword' and tùs-fhacal for 'introduction' (C:i-iii), and another, apparently failing to recognize the distinction between English 'foreword' and 'forward', uses air adhart, the Gaelic for 'forward' (F:i)!
3Note that Thomson (1996: p. 61) and An Stòr-Dàta Briathrachais Gàidhlig (1993: p. 204) give eaconomachd as meaning 'economics' rather than 'economy'.
4The term is also different from that given in Thomson 1996 (p. 176), which gives barail-fhuasgladh, literally 'opinion solver'. Additionally, the usual form, as given in dictionaries, is not tomhais but tomhas, which is masculine rather than feminine and thus might be expected to yield tomhas-barail. The genitive form of tomhais-bharail given in the White Paper, moreover, is an tomhais-bharail rather than na tomhais-bharail (B:). The best option might be simply to borrow the Irish term reifreann.
5See also Appendices B and D.
6Noteworthy in this regard is the decision in 1998 by Iomairt an Eilein Sgitheanaich agus Loch Aillse/Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise to issue its annual report in bilingual format for the first time, a decision the agency states as being intended to 'satisfy a growing local demand for people to be able to access materials in their own language' (A:1).
7This discrepancy was noted in Gillies 1987 (p. 36) yet has been repeated without correction in a subsequent edition of the policy document.
8An even more obvious proofreading mistake appears in F:13 (bullet point 1), where the middle of the sentence duplicates the middle of the section following the next bullet point, and renders the sentence unintelligible.
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