The Angry Corrie 5: Jan-Feb 1992

Pique District: Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan: easier to climb than to pronounce?

I decided I had to learn Gaelic when some pretentious individuals at Aviemore insisted that "Sneachda", as in Coire Sneachda, was pronounced "trekker". It was not until lesson 11 of Teach yourself Gaelic (masculine nouns beginning with "s") that the truth finally dawned. It is of course Coire an t-Sneachda: the "s" becomes silent (cf Carn an t-Sagairt = Cairn Taggart), and the "n" becomes "r" because it is easier to say. Dead simple!

But what am I, a mere English person, to do when a Scottish group leader pronounces Meall Ghaordie as "Geordie" (as in Gazza)? - though why anyone should need or want to be led up that hill is an imponderable itself. Or when a Braemar resident talks of the delights of skiing to Carn a Gooey? What hope is there when an otherwise reasonable book gives the pronunciation of A'Bhuidheanach Bheag as "Bunny-ach-beg"?

When I hear two doyens of Scottish mountaineering on consecutive evenings talking about the Buckle in Glencoe, I wonder whether there is any point in trying. Or has "Buckle" become the accepted pronunciation? Indeed in areas where Gaelic is scarcely spoken, does the majority pronunciation of a name, however far removed from the original Gaelic, become the standard, and any attempt at an older pronunciation in fact become pretentious? (...which raises the spectre of city streets named after hills, often having a life of their own. Time to dust off the Chomsky textbooks! - Ed.)

The best bit of Muriel's Munro Show had to be the Sorley MacLean slot. I propose that he performs a great national service by making a recording of the names of the 277 Munros (plus Foinaven, as English pronunciation of the Grand National winner has a lot to answer for). The SMC should then sell this tape with The Book. Anyone wishing to be included in the list of Munroists would have to pass an oral examination before a panel of Gaelic elders or Runrig members. As most Munro-baggers do not even know the name of the hill they are currently climbing, this should cut down numbers dramatically.

Val Hamilton

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