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Document 1444

Interview 15: Professor Donald Meek

Author(s): N/A

Copyright holder(s): SCOTS Project

Audio transcription

F606 So I think you've spoken Gaelic all your life, have you?
M1036 I have spoken Gaelic all my life. I'm a Gaelic speaker from the island of Tiree. //And I'm//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 what they call a native speaker. Erm, I was brought up with the language. I don't remember ever learning the language.
F606 Mm.
M1036 It was always part of me, erm from my earliest days, my earliest moments, really. Erm, my parents erm were both Gaelic speakers. My father, a very fine Gaelic speaker, erm he had been brought up as a boy in Falkirk, //until he was erm//
F606 //Mm//
M1036 six years or age or so and then he wa- he went to Tiree. Yo- he went to Tiree because his parents were emigrating to Vancouver. //And they//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 took the rest of the family with them to Vancouver and my father was to go later on, but he never went.
F606 Mmhm
M1036 And erm he stayed with his grandparents, his maternal grandparents in Tiree. He had a great love of Tiree even as a small boy, erm before he went there, and er he used to go for his holidays to Tiree. And he would erm even run away from home in Falkirk and go up to Falkirk High Station and ask for a ticket to Tiree. He loved Tiree, and so the grand- his parents left him there with his maternal grandparents when they emigrated to Vancouver. So he was the last of the Meek family to remain in Scotland.
F606 Mm
M1036 But when he went to Tiree, he lost all his English and became a naturalised Gaelic speaker. My mother was brought up in Glasgow, of Skye parents, //in Maryhill.//
F606 //Mm//
M1036 And she had a very very good head-knowledge of Gaelic. //Erm,//
F606 //Mmhm//
M1036 and she heard it in the home and so on but she didn't speak it very fluently until she went to Tiree. And erm there sh- she went to Tiree during the Second World War to work with the Air Ministry and met my father. //My father was then a Baptist minister,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 and he served in the islands in the Inner Hebrides. When they married erm they were originally in Port Ellen in Islay, but came back to Tiree to erm look after the older people there. And my mother simply had to use Gaelic. She had to use the language, and er she became completely fluent. //Completely fluent.//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 So I had two parents who were fluent Gaelic speakers.
F606 Mm.
M1036 Erm, both of them from Lo- from the Lowlands. //My father//
F606 //Yeah.//
M1036 born in Falkirk and my mother born in Glasgow.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 And I myself was born in Glasgow, erm and I'm still nevertheless a Gaelic speaker. Erm, in the home as well in Tiree we had a lot of old people.
F606 Mm.
M1036 And they went back to the nineteenth century; they were born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 The result of that was that I had a wonderful Gaelic upbringing, //hearing//
F606 //Yeah.//
M1036 the rich Gaelic of the nineteenth century in Tiree. //And erm//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 that kind of Gaelic commanded all the registers. //And they were just natural to me.//
F606 //Mmhm.// //Yeah.//
M1036 //And// it was a wonderful upbringing, and I went to school almost completely Gaelic-speaking. My mother tried to teach me a few words of English but I was very resistant and I can still remember being very cross as a boy, a wee boy, trying to get my tongue round English words. I didn't th- didn't think English was of any value or any significance. I I was a Gaelic speaker and that was that. And I went to school, Gaelic speaking, and I was plunged into an ocean of English. The school was like an island of English in a sea of sea of Gaelic, if you see it the other way. //Erm,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 the community was completely Gaelic-speaking and you went in to be taught in another tongue.
F606 Yeah, [laugh].
M1036 And I remember my first days in school, they were awful because I was completely out of my cultural context, and Gaelic was very useful because I remember well coming out of the school and just having a go at the teacher, you know, cursing the teacher in Gaelic. I can still remember it as a five or six-year old, the vehemence with which I poured myself out really, linguistically, //against the teacher.//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 It was awful. Erm, I felt we were, you know, y-y-y- it ha- just gone into another culture, completely. //That was the primary school.//
F606 //Yeah.// Yeah, it's awful, uh-huh?
M1036 And that was the way it worked. I mean to have had erm a teacher with no Gaelic, actually, teaching in a primary school, was in my, looking back on it now, er ridiculous. And erm, oh I fairly hated primary school, except, except when we had Gaelic-speaking teachers who would be in as relief teachers, //some of them from Tiree.//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 And they were wonderful. //They were//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 so different in their approach to the children, it was remarkable.
F606 Mm.
M1036 So I was erm brought up completely Gaelic-speaking and erm I tended to use Gaelic all the time to my father, and I used a lot of English to my mother latterly because I associated English with her; she'd tried to teach me English.
F606 Mm.
M1036 But at the same time, both my parents were very very proud of Gaelic.
F606 Yeah.
M1036 Erm, they always said "it's it's a tremendous thing to be bilingual, and we value Gaelic", and they did. And I think opting in to erm Gaelic in some ways for them was quite special,
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 erm, they saw it as something they could have lost, and not had, //and they realised how valuable it was,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 and they instilled that into me, from the ve- from the very beginning, and always kept the Gaelic flag flying, even when, you know, the schools were difficult and so on.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 And now, you know, it's been passed on to the next generation. My my older daughter, she's completely fluent, natural Gaelic speaker, although she was erm erm brought up on the East Coast of Scotland, and she's quite a zealot for Gaelic, quite enthusiastic. //And my second//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 daughter is a medical student. She's also Gaelic-speaking but tends to see Gaelic more as a, as a very useful language if you happen to have older people from the islands in the hospital.
F606 Yes. [laugh] //Mm.//
M1036 //So the the// the the language in our family has had a very interesting configuration.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 It hasn't really gone by the normal, erm sort of, I suppose, normal pattern.
F606 Mm.
M1036 I've I've been in touch with the Lowlands all the time, //working with//
F606 //Yeah.//
M1036 the Lowlands, and it's been interesting and that has made me see Scotland in the round. //I've enjoyed that,//
F606 //Mmhm.//
M1036 you know, Scotland, once I got my, got into Lowland Scotland, erm, i- that was good, once I made my peace with that. //Erm,//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 it was quite a natural thing for me and erm I've enjoyed, I've enjoyed the fun of Scotland's different languages, //and their relationships//
F606 //Yeah.//
M1036 to one another. It's been great fun.
F606 Cause you've lived in the North East as well, //huh?//
M1036 //Yes, I've lived in// different parts, erm, I was educated a-a- at the local school on Tiree and then I went to Oban for my formal education after O Grades, the Standard Grades, and then I went to Glasgow University, then I went to Cambridge University, so I was in England for a while, and then back to Scotland to work in Glasgow, and I've worked in the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also Aberdeen, //and I was in Aberdeen as//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 Professor of Celtic for nine years, and that was very interesting. When I went there, I said, "It'll be good to see Scotland from another angle", //and that was exactly what happened.//
F606 //Mm.// Mmhm.
M1036 Found it very very useful experience, particularly being exposed to erm North East, North East Scots, or Doric. Er, I found that very interesting because that was so distinctive in the North East,
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 you couldn't get away from it. It was a living language there. And during our time in Aberdeen, we lived in Westhill which is about seven miles out of Aberdeen. Because we were so far west, we were into the country and erm if we had tradesmen or anyone around coming to do a job, then we sure heard erm Doric.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 And we learned to understand it; we understood it by the time we left nine years later pretty well.
F606 Yeah.
M1036 Erm, I was also fascinated by the way in which erm people erm related to me. Erm, although they would deny that Gaelic was ever in Aberdeenshire, this was a very popular misconception,
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 erm there were knowing erm people who would accept me very readily because I had a crofting, farming background.
F606 [tut] Mm.
M1036 And it was very similar to what was going on in rural Aberdeenshire.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 I had a very good relationship with people, I erm I often remember my my friendship with erm Robbie Shepherd who came from Dunecht, which was just a mile or two down the road from Westhill and I was often there. Robbie is well known for his work with Scottish music, and erm his presentation of "Tak the Floor wi Rabbie Shepherd", erm and he was very much aware of my Gaelic cultural background but also of the social background from which I came. //We often used//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 to talk about that. He could empathise with me very readily.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 So, I got to know Scots there, erm, and I loved the different dialects, erm different sounds, I mean if you, they were quite distinctive, erm the further north you went towards the Broch and the fishing ports of the North East, erm, I would have said the more obviously Doric-speaking erm th- the area became.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 I was also aware too of Aberdeen toon, and erm how a form of Scots was s- spoken there. I used to be very amused with erm some of the Aberdeen er Doric speakers who would conceal their knowledge of Doric,
F606 Uh-huh.
M1036 until they had a wee reason to, a wee prompt. Erm, I became quite fluent in it, I could understand people, I could even write it, erm, and I did a lot of work because of my own research on erm Scots, I did a a, I became familiar with the writing of the language and the problems associated with that in the medieval period through the book of the Dean of Lismore. But that prompted, that erm made me aware of the riches of Scots and when I went to Aberdeen I enjoyed interacting with the Scots speakers but as I said in the toon, Aberdeen toon, they had what one of my informants would call "toon Doric",
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 She was a secretary, who was the Celtic secretary in the University for many years, Liz [CENSORED: surname], a great lady, and she spoke the Queen's English beautifully, erm, Scottish Queen's English. But I was well aware that just below the surface there was Scots, and I took it into my head, because we were onto email by that time, to write her letters in Scots.
F606 Mm.
M1036 And I always remember the, the response, erm immediately a letter back in Scots, saying, you know, "I didna think you could write that sort o thing. Dae ye ken the leid?" and so on. And suddenly we were underway actually writing letters to one another in Scots.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 And she always said to me that, you know, there was a considerable reservoir of Scots in the actual city of Aberdeen,
F606 Mm?
M1036 which was not being used because people were using English for particular purposes.
F606 Yeah.
M1036 It was a very "proper" city,
F606 Mmhm, [laugh].
M1036 when it had to be. But if you just went a little below the surface, suddenly you had this wonderful Scots.
F606 Yeah.
M1036 And I I enjoyed the whole experience, culturally, in Aberdeenshire, it was it was great fun, //and//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 now, [?]and I'm[/?] away from it for a couple of years, I look back at it quite fondly.
F606 Mmhm. So what are you going to be doing in the future, you know?
M1036 It's a good question. I've been Professor in Aberdeen, or- and in Edinburgh for some years, and now I'm getting close to retirement, ehm, but I'm going to keep on with my scholarship. //Erm, I've I've//
F606 //Mm.//
M1036 I've loved scholarship over the years, erm particularly that relating to Gaelic. Erm, and I'll probably keep on with that. Er, I'm engaged at the moment in various projects. Er, and edito-, editing of Gaelic texts, I'm completing my edition of the book of the Dean of Lismore, the Gaelic ballads in the book of the Dean. And these Gaelic ballads are written [tut] in a spelling //system based on early modern Scots,//
F606 //[inhale]//
M1036 and it's fascinating.
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 So I'll be keeping going with that er type of study, I'm quite sure, into the future, doing other things as well, trying to renew my Tiree roots, in the fullness of time, get back to erm the boat-building,
F606 Mmhm.
M1036 erm get to the crofting, get back to the, I suppose the contacts with the natural world, which I have perhaps had less of when I've been living in basically urban environments.
F606 Yes.
M1036 Living quite happily most of the time I have to say.
F606 Mm. //[Tut].//
M1036 //So I'll be// be doing many things I think, erm, I suppose top of the list is always the calling of being the the scholar and discovering new things, I think that's always the exciting bit, i- it's
F606 Mm.
M1036 it's what keeps us all going, I think in our in our job.
F606 That's right. [laugh] Well thank you very much, that was very interest-.

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APA Style:

Interview 15: Professor Donald Meek. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1444.

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"Interview 15: Professor Donald Meek." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021. Web. January 2021. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1444.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Interview 15: Professor Donald Meek," accessed January 2021, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1444.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2021. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk.

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Information about Document 1444

Interview 15: Professor Donald Meek

Audio

Audio audience

Adults (18+)
For gender Mixed
Audience size 1

Audio awareness & spontaneity

Speaker awareness Aware
Degree of spontaneity Spontaneous
Special circumstances surrounding speech Participant asked to talk about his Gaelic experience

Audio footage information

Year of recording 2006
Recording person id 606
Size (min) 15
Size (mb) 71

Audio setting

Education
Recording venue Classroom
Geographic location of speech Glasgow

Audio relationship between recorder/interviewer and speakers

Friend
Professional relationship
Speakers knew each other Yes

Audio speaker relationships

Friend
Professional relationship

Audio transcription information

Transcriber id 718
Year of transcription 2006
Year material recorded 2006
Word count 2363

Audio type

Interview

Participant

Participant details

Participant id 606
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Academic
Place of birth Edinburgh
Region of birth Midlothian
Birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's place of birth Leith
Father's region of birth Midlothian
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's place of birth Edinburgh
Mother's region of birth Midlothian
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Mother's country of birth Scotland

Languages

Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All
Scots No Yes No Yes Work

Participant

Participant details

Participant id 1036
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Professor
Place of birth Glasgow
Region of birth Glasgow
Birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Falkirk
Region of residence Stirling
Residence CSD dialect area Stlg
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Crofter / minister
Father's place of birth Falkirk
Father's region of birth Falkirk
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Stlg
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife
Mother's place of birth Glasgow
Mother's region of birth Glasgow
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Mother's country of birth Scotland

Languages

Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All circumstances
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes All circumstances
Scots No Yes Yes Yes

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