From the introduction:
"During the centuries when Gaelic was the common language of a major part of Scotland, people lived close to the land and the sea. Plants and animals were used for a variety of purposes, and the people must have been aware of, at least, some of the other living organisms for which they had no particular use. These plants and animals would all have had names, some for a single species, others more generalised. But the style of life of mankind has changed and, today, the plants and animals whose habitat man shares go largely unrecognised.
However, there is a revival of interest in ecology and the environment. Unfortunately, with the contraction in the use of Gaelic and less awareness of plants and animals by those who speak the language, the Gaelic words have dropped out of use, and the younger people seldom, if ever, hear them. Much information was published, mostly about 80-100 years ago, and it is still available for any who are interested to seek it out, for it is scattered and not easy to use.
General dictionaries concentrate on words in common usage and tend to ignore the language of the specialist. Moreover, compilers of dictionaries may lack biological expertise and so have difficulties in assessing biological material. It was felt that some attempt should be made to sort out the information available before it was locked away in archives. Life everywhere is becoming increasingly urbanised and names not now in regular use are being forgotten, and those who knew them in childhood often have to dig deep to remember. As a result, English names take over and Gaelic names are supplanted. The English is translated continuing a process which can be seen by a study of the text. Some of the names which say the same in both English and Gaelic probably date from the 19th century but some could be of an earlier origin (Campbell and Thomson, 1963). ln the 19th century there was an increasing interest in biology not only by professional biologists but also by well informed amateurs. Many organisms were named for the first time. They were often things of little significance to man and therefore had not previously had names. Subsequently these words passed into Gaelic and are indicated in the text. When an analysis is made of the names with no apparent relationship to either English or to the scientific name, it will be seen which plants and animals were recognised by the people in earlier times. Translation of names from English to Gaelic has continued in the Flora of the Westem Isles (1988) but it is a matter of doubt if these names will be used by any except a few amateur botanists, and even they could prefer the accurate scientific name. In the text scientific names are included wherever possible for they alone are definitive.
Birds are more obvious than many plants and a smaller proportion of the Gaelic names of birds relate to the English names than happens with plant names. A recent list of Gaelic names of birds of the Westem Isles is given in Cunningham (1983). Consideration was given to the Westem Isles nomenclature of both plants and birds along with all the other information found and the name which seemed to have the widest geographical usage is given first in the text with altematives in brackets. The lists are not exhaustive, in that they do not include every Gaelic name which has appeared in the literature, but it is hoped that nothing of importance has been left out.
While it may be of academic interest to compile long lists of Gaelic names of plants and animals, and some people take pleasure in doing so today as they did in the past, these lists only confuse and serve no practical purpose. When seeking a Gaelic name for an organism it is a relief to come on a common plant or animal which has only a single name. A long and complex list with a multiplicity of spellings leaves the seeker confused not knowing what to use and why. Selection results in the loss of words and this is regrettable, but with their passing understanding is improved. The need for simplicity is a reflection of the greater communication between communities today as compared with the past. Gaelic does not seem ready at the present time for the selection of a single name for each organism and so altematives are given in the following lists. The time will come when the altematives will fade, remaining only as historical records, and custom will establish which name is used for each species. Selection and simplification has occurred with English as well as with Gaelic names.
Domestic animals are still farmed by Gaelic speaking crofters and the words for these animals are not included. The Gaelic names are many and will remain a part of the everyday language so long as there are Gaelic speaking crofters. Others can sort out these words and their local variations.
Another group of words has also been omitted. They were used for the many inhabitants of the world of myth and story. It was difficult to draw a line between mythical beasts, half-beasts and supematural people. A collection of these words is best left to someone versed in lore and legend and not handled by a mere scientist.
Spelling presented problems, and, in some of the literature, a number of different spellings are given for any one word. Most of these variations are given in Dwelly. An attempt has been made to unify the spelling in all sections even where this has resulted in deviations from the primary spelling in the source and from the main spelling selected by Dwelly. The advice of the Gaelic Terminology Database team at the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, has been followed. The considerable time given by them to this matter is gratefully acknowledged.
There is no standard procedure goveming the use of hyphens in forming English compound nouns. Words can be single, hyphenated or multiple depending on the opinion of the writer and all forms are correct. The names of living organisms are no exception. Leading publications have been followed in compiling the present work although it has resulted in some unevenness in the treatment of different sections. With Gaelic names, Dwelly hyphenates everything, but recent publications are selective in the use of hyphens. In the present work it was intended to follow modem thinking but the experts consulted had diametrically opposite opinions on the use of hyphens. It would seem that the same rules apply to Gaelic as to English. Readers can make their own choice: either follow the text, hyphenate additional words in order to make a meaning clear or leave out hyphens when they appear redundant. Initially accents sloping both right and left were used, however the ruling now allows only those sloping in one direction. This has been followed and differences may be found from earlier publications.
No help has been given to those unfamiliar with Gaelic phonetics but who wish to acquire the correct pronunciation. All that can be said is that to try and say a Gaelic word from a knowledge of English phonetics will, more often than not, result in something not understood by the native speaker. Books are available which give Gaelic phonetics, but conversation with someone who speaks and reads Gaelic will be more rewarding."
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