Q & AÀdhamh has kindly cooperated on a Q&A with Àdhamh’s Ó Broinies. Here is the full content, for those who are curious about Àdhamh :) Last updated: June 21, 2015.
Copyright © Àdhamh Ó Broin, don’t use, copy or share any of this information without his permission!
”What was the most difficult or daunting part of **single- handedly** resurrecting a dead dialect of a minoritised language and giving it back to the world?”
I'm talking about the dialect of Cowal which officially died in 1997. Àdhamh learned it to fluency and brought it back to life by passing it on (to the next generation) again for the first time in about 80 years. That's why he is a hero.
Having to convince people who are already involved in revitalising Scottish (Gaelic) that dialects are an integral part of that. It has occasionally been extremely difficult to motivate people who should know better to care for dialects (the richness and variety of any language) when caring for the language as a whole should automatically mean that they do.
“What is your favorite kind of music?”
GOOD music. I like anything that has integrity, sincerity and melody. If it’s got great rhythm, even the melody is not necessarily the most important thing.
But favourite classic rock and roll artists would have to include The Band, Zepellin, Jimi, Joni Mitchell, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Dependables.... and many more!
Modern artists: My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo, Smashing Pumpkins, Sufjan Stevens, Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley, Bon Ivor, the list goes on....
Favourite folk artists would be: Griogair Labhruidh, Capercaillie, Kathleen MacInnes, Crooked Still....
“How do you breathe in that Gaelic song you perform? Does it take a lot of practice?”
After you’ve done it a certain amount of times, you get the hang of it. I probably don’t breathe very much in all honesty!!
“What other countries you have visited? Favorite vacation location?”
USA & Cuba
Portugal, Spain, France, England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland
My favourite location is undoubtedly Scotland. I can’t get enough of Sutherland and Wester Ross, but even they don’t compare to my native Argyll, despite their being admittedly more spectacular!
Favourite city: Berlin, Germany
An amazing place where anything goes and you can lose yourself in music, beer and good company for a week and come back feeling refreshed and alive again!
Second: Bucharest, Romania
It was full of beautiful women who looked like my wife. Hog’s Heaven!
Favourite country (after Scotland of course): the US of A!
Incredible. Have never received hospitality like I got in the South. Second to NONE! Met people who still believe change was possible and that being kind to people was not just an ethical duty, but a pleasure….
Favourite language (other than Scottish G): Dutch, so much fun to speak :)
I love the karst caves in Slovenia, the lakes in Finland, the beaches in Croatia, the little mosques in Sarajevo and I love Lisbon, Portugal too now I come to think of it!
Like most people I would love to visit everywhere once, but especially: Iceland, Norway, Faroe Islands, Armenia, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Canada
“Who taught YOU Gaelic and 2. do you speak only Gaelic with certain people?”
I learned Scottish Gaelic mostly by myself, but there were some great teachers over the years who augmented what I was picking up from old recordings by keeping me right on grammar and so forth. I have spent a lot of time in the company of the oldest people I could find with the best Scottish language skills. I take speaking idiomatic, authentic Scottish Gaelic extremely seriously.
I speak only Scottish G with my children. They would think it was peculiar if I spoke English to them! And there are several people in my life to whom I’ve never spoken anything but Scottish too, it would be unnatural. Unfortunately in Glasgow, you have to specifically seek people out to speak to in your own tongue, but thankfully there are plenty of people who speak very broad Glaswegian Lowland Scots* which i also speak, so that’s a nice second.
*Scotland’s Germanic regional language, only ever spoken in the Lowlands, but with a long history here.
“Which instruments do you play?”
I am pretty proficient on guitar, bass and vocals, but can play the drums tolerably well and anything stringed isn’t much of a challenge, mandolin, banjo, ukelele, although bowed instruments I’m not great with. Can just about get a tune out of the fiddle. Wind instruments, not great, although chanter (bagpipe whistle) and tin whistle I can make work for me to some extent as well as being not too bad on harmonica.
(To hear Àdhamh play several different instruments, go to https://www.facebook.com/tempusfugitives)
”I would like to know the story of how he came to learn Gaelic, and all the other languages he speaks. What / who interested him initially, and what / who encouraged him along that journey?”
I speak English and Glaswegian Lowland Scots -which I learned from other schoolkids- natively and fluently. I was not brought up with a particularly “Scottish” background culturally, my parents had no interest in that, but growing up in rural Argyll left me indelibly marked and with a sense of dislocation from my surroundings. I rectified this by acquiring a native level of fluency in Argyll Gaelic by learning it from old people who still spoke it and immersing myself in it 24/7 over the last 8 or 9 years.
I spoke German in childhood, though never fluently. My father had spent between two and three years in Germany after WWII and had learned colloquial German from the working people he employed in the barracks kitchen where he worked, and later from a German lover whose husband then unexpectedly returned from the Eastern Front! When I was born 30 years later, he spoke the language to me once I showed interest.
This made it easier for me to pick up other languages and I took German and French in High School and could speak both tolerably well by the time I left. I also had a smattering of Slovene having spent a lot of time with a Slovenian family both here and over in Slovenia during childhood, although I have never become remotely fluent in it.
I took up German again for going to Berlin in 2006 to visit a friend having not spoken it for the best part of ten years. I have been gradually and fitfully working on my German ever since, though not having the time to practice solidly has made it a frustrating process. I feel that German is like one of my native languages and so am ashamed when I cannot speak it fluently.
I have had various flirtations with other tongues over the years because of visiting countries where they are spoken. My Spanish is just about passable and my French continues to linger in the background. I very much enjoyed learning Dutch last year and have spent two three-week blocks learning it in preparation for the arrival of Dutch friends and also before going to visit them over in Dordrecht. I like to think I will achieve fluency in it at some point. I can also be polite in Slovene, Welsh and Finnish and I understand spoken Irish almost perfectly although struggle to speak more than a few phrases!
“Àdhamh you spoke of fondness for the southern US states and the music of the area. What country musicians do like? Which artists have influenced you?”
The Band is my biggest country-rock influence, but I’m big into The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Roscoe Holcomb, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, anything folky, old-timey, country!
”Hello, Àdhamh! Dogs? Cats? Both? Neither? And for a somewhat more serious question, how many languages DO you speak?”
I wouldn’t mind a big dog if I lived back in Argyll, a sheepdog of some kind, an intelligent dog would be ideal. I seem to be good with dogs, to be able to communicate well with them, but in all honesty I already have four kids, so another “kid” right now would not be ideal! There’s a bit of laziness involved there in terms of all the feeding, walking and bathing. Couldn’t face that lol
I think we got the language one covered earlier :)
“What's your favorite hot and cold beverage?”
Hot: good coffee or black tea, coffee with cream, tea with milk and both with two sugars!
Cold: Scottish Ale, especially a drop that’s called Lia Fail which is the name in Scottish (approximately) of the Stone of Destiny. Single malt, Lagavulllin 16, a superior whisky! :)
“I was wondering how Droitseach came to be... And if you are (still) working on getting more "extinct" dialects of Gaelic back to normal use? Like you did for the Cowal dialect? What does Droitseach exactly do?”
Check out how it began here:
COTHROM An t-Earrach 2011
We are using the Ross-shire dialect for Outlander, as that was MacKenzie country. We are hoping that the programme will help raise awareness of dialects and dialect death. There are plans to resurrect every former dialect if we gather the people to do it. We feel that cultural and linguistic decentralisation will help with political decentralisation and therefore make the world a better place. If people are proud of who they are and where they come from, they are less likely to be taken advantage of by political -and subsequently cultural- aggression.
There is an astronomical amount of work needing done, but we have started. As they say in the Scottish:
"‘S e obair-latha tòiseachamh: it’s a day’s work to begin"
“I would like to know more about what he does for a living. Does he teach, act, entertain? I believe he is probably a wealth of Scottish historical knowledge. Do we have any references we can look at?”
Well, my first passion was writing, then music, then Scottish culture with focus on the Gaelic elements. I came to teach through that. There are many strings to my bow! :P
“I have the question, what Àdhamh likes to do in his free time, after a long week of working?”
I like to lift weights! Ha-ha!
I would walk lots if I lived at home in Argyll, but unfortunately I’m not there often enough anymore and walking in the city bores me. I like to spend time with my wife and kids and taking the children places is a lot of what we do at the weekend.
I still do quite a bit of translation work outside of my work at Outlander and can get caught up in that in the evening or on the weekend.
I still enjoy playing music and like to record at my friend’s house who lives nearby me in Glasgow. I suppose I spend a little time now and again learning other languages. Now and again, I do like to go and have a good few ales at a friend’s house.
"I have been combing the internet for a program to learn Gaelic, but it is so confusing-do you have any recommendations on a good beginners program? Do you have a learn Gaelic program and if not, would you ever consider putting one together?"
I am considering it very seriously at the moment. I have plans that I intend to put into action soon. I think interest in a good course that you can do in the car of while you do housework or on an i-pod on your bike is a really good idea for people who are busy. I may come back to you guys at some point to help me with a bit of market research for that! :)
"How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved with music?"
I started playing guitar in primary school but just for school assemblies and such like. My father had no interest in music and my mother not much, so it was when I was around 16-17 I realised I would love to pick up the guitar again and see what happened. By the time I turned 18 and got my Strat, it was a done deal. I spent the next 7 or 8 years reaching my playing peak on it, but being so busy with the Scottish language stuff the last few years has meant it has taken a back seat.
During that period, I learned the following instruments in this order: drums, bass, piano, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, ukelele, fiddle.... but have never absolutely mastered any of them to the point of being able to play them like I can the guitar, although I feel very comfortable on the bass.
It’s not that long since I learned to sing properly. It’s only since I was about 27 that I’ve been able to harness my voice correctly!
I’ve written longer than I’ve played. I was writing poetry at about 15 and ever since, although it turned into lyrics most of the time. I have also written the bones of two novels and several short stories as well as a short screenplay.
My ultimate goal (you heard it here first) is to write a screenplay and play the lead role in a biopic about the life of Alasdair MacColla, Gaeldom’s greatest hero, a story which has never been told on screen before.
"And when did you know you wanted to do more with languages/Gaelic?"
Learning Scottish G opened up my brain in a way I didn’t know was possible and other western European languages I’ve had a pop at since have seemed very easy in comparison. They say that in studies of people who speak ancient languages like Scottish, Welsh, Basque, Albanian and Hebrew, our brains when monitored light up like Xmas Trees in comparison to speakers of modern languages. I don’t know whether that’s strictly true, but it’s a nice thought! J
I think my ability to learn languages and to imitate people’s voices kind of “chose me” if you like. It’s hard to ignore something you’re good at, so it’s really just pure chance that I’ve gravitated towards this.... pure chance.... or maybe inescapable fate, depending on how you look at things! ;)
"I'm from an Irish background and have noticed transliterative similarities between Gaelic (Scots) and Gaelighe (Irish) I assume the languages share linguistic roots?"
Very much so. Only 500 words of a difference other than accent. They basically are the same language with a huge dialect spectrum linking them across the Straight of Moyle.
"Do you like to read and if so, what is the best book you’ve ever read? Has a book or song ever made you cry?"
I spend half my life being moved to tears, so plenty, mostly music.
In terms of books, I was moved to tears when I read the Gaelic and the respect given to it in Cross Stitch. That moved me a great deal. I felt a huge sense of relief, like someone had finally heard our cry in the darkness. Not because being mentioned by a book was the be-all-and-end-all, but because it came from across the loch, from the other side of the world, and in a publication that had already reached millions. I knew reading this that we could do something truly fantastic, maybe even revolutionary in the strictly cultural sense and somehow I knew I had to make sure the job was mine.
If you want to know which song does it every time, listen to Brother Wind by Tim O Brien: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPkDz4T2eVE
That song describes exactly what it’s like to be a man, it’s very much a “man song”: to struggle with responsibility and inspiration, trying to tie them together, to look after your wife, children and yourself equally. The constant battle to do right and to inspire the same in others…..
"I am totally new to the language, but I am excited to learn as much as I can. Other than audio, are there any good books that would help?"
Start with Speaking Our Language on YouTube and see how you get on!
"Hi Àdhamh – I think it’s great that you’re trying to retain/resurrect the Gaelic language. I think it’s important that our cultural and linguistic heritages aren’t lost. However, realistically, do you think that global media has led to an homogenisation of languages (and in particular the imposition of the English as the language of commerce and communication)?"
I think this is very much the situation, I can’t put too fine a point on that, but I think that there is also a great poetry in the fact that global TV is about to help bring it back.
I have always been a believer in seeking the potential in situations and when I saw that OL was looking for someone for this job, I knew I had to make sure I got in there to get it done right.
Catherine asks: I wanted to ask this at the recent gathering but was too scared! I want to know how he’s finding his new found fame and all the attention he’s getting from the ladies? Bet he didn’t expect that when he signed up
Answer: Fame is a useful tool, but certainly not an end in itself. I am enjoying the opportunity to give Scottish Gaelic culture another positive voice in the world and this is what it’s all about for me. As for the ladies, it’s well-known where my loyalties lie and I’m quite pleased to say that of course Sam deflects most of the female attention away! ha-ha :)
Alanna asks: Is there a Gaelic book publisher/are there Gaelic children’s books (or other books) that you would recommend? Books can help you learn the language, as it did for me when I was learning French.
Answer: Aye, the best thing to do is Google the Scottish Gaelic Books Council: Comhairle nan Leabhraichean
Alanna also asks: You say your first love is to write. Is that music or stories? Could you be more precise? And have you ever thought about writing a children’s book in Gaelic?Or even more precisely, one to address the loss of Gaelic and the now (hopefully) renewed interest in it?
Answer: I have thought about children’s books. I would like to write ones in my own dialect and have my daughter illustrate them :) I am currently translating “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into my own dialect!
Mandy asks: Can you recommend any Gaelic music?
Answer: Griogair, Griogair, Griogair! Griogair Labhruidh always tops my list and after that I would say early Capercaille, everything up to and including “Delirium”, Julie Fowlis is also excellent, as well as Kathleen MacInnes and Gillbride MacMillan who plays Gwyllyn the Bard in the show. I would also recommend Daimh, Angus Nicholson Trio and Breabach if you like instrumental stuff :)
Alanna asks: Does he have any plans to publish or write stories about Gaelic language, for kids or adults, or any educational material on the subject?
Answer: Without a doubt. It is my intention to produce a course at some stage in the near future.
Alanna asks: This may sound weird but as a special ed teacher, it’s my nature. Are you ambidextrous?
Answer: Very. Not naturally, but I went out of my way to learn how to do everything with my left hand despite being right-handed. I actually do some things better having learnt to do them left- handed first, computer mouse, mobile phone texting for instance. I can also brush my teeth perfectly with my left hand and throw very well too, tho not over distance! ha-ha :P
Alanna asks: How many dialects are there in Scots Gaelic?
Answer: There were over 200 at one time. Now there are perhaps 15. It’s very sad, but if you visit the DROITSEACH FB page, you can scroll down to see the work I was involved in before I came to OL.
I hope to pick this up again full-time once we wrap….
Rowan asks: What is the most challenging English speaking dialect to convert to Scottish pronunciations. I was raised with half my family speaking Yiddish and there is a lot of CH sounds in the back of the throat so that part was easier for me, but most Americans struggle with
Answer: Liverpool is fairly easy because of the strong influence of Irish and Welsh there, but the further south you go, the tougher it becomes, especially for people with RP (received pronunciation) as they have very few gutteral sounds.
On the whole, I find that it’s much more to do with the individual, their willingness to learn (something I’ve been very lucky with here at OL) and their confidence. If they’ve decided they can do it and put their mind to it, it’s a piece of cake. If they think they are “no use at languages” (a very prevalent attitude) it’s uphill all the way. The first thing to do when teaching is to find out what a person’s attitude to language is, do they speak more than one, look at their knowledge and see whether they already know things that don’t therefore need to take up time going over. Then bolt on auxilliary knowledge as you go, always focussing on their abilities and not on deficiencies. This can be hard, but that’s where positivity goes a long way. After a very short while, people realise that a week previously, they didn’t know what they know now and that gives confidence in itself :)
Laura asks: With the recent uptick in interest in Gaidhlig, do you get inquiries from the press/media to provide your perspective on the language’s state and growth?
Answer: Aye, I expect so to some extent. I have always done media spots for BBC ALBA and Radio nan Gael and so forth, so I can’t imagine I woudn’t continue to do that. It’s difficult to know how I fit into the current set-up with the language having a very defined “power-structure” based out of Sabhal Mór Ostaig and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. I’ve never sought “permission” from the powers-that-be and altho this has meant I’ve been free to do my own thing, it has meant attempting that with zero support / funding. I hope the exposure from Outlander will mean I can make new connections and find interesting new avenues to take the language down.