On Saturday May 15, 2021, we launch G airson Gàidheal, the Gaelic edition of our alphabet book G is for Gael: An Alphabet of Nova Scotia’s Gaelic Culture. That makes G is for Gael the first book about Gaelic culture to be published in English, French, and Gaelic versions. It’s also the first Canadian book ever to be published in English, French, and Gaelic editions (apart from Anne of Green Gables, which we published last year in Gaelic). The only books we know of to be published in all three languages outside Canada are the Bible, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), and Tintin.
The three versions of G is for Gael are similar, but not identical. Alphabet books have to feature a series of words that start with each letter of the aphabet…but as you can imagine, this is complicated to translate, because a word with the same meaning doesn’t necessarily start with the same letter in every language!
In fact, only three of the words used in the English version ended up starting with the same letter in all three languages:
- D is for dance / D comme danse / D airson dannsa
- E is for emigration / E comme émigration / E airson eilthireachd
- P is for punishment / P comme punition / P airson peanas
The words dance, danse, and dannsa are so similar because English borrowed the word from Norman French, and Gaelic borrowed the word from English, replacing an older Gaelic word for dancing. However, the illustration for dance and danse was a single page, and we had to commission the artist to expand it into a double-page illustration for the Gaelic edition in order to fit the reworked page layout:
The words punishment, punition, and peanas are similar because of the influence of Latin on Gaelic and French, and the borrowing of Norman French vocabulary into English.
In the case of emigration, émigration, and eilthireachd, English borrowing from Norman French accounts for the similarity of the first two, and wwe just got lucky that the Gaelic word also started with “e”! Ironically, even though the words are almost identical in English and French, we ended up having to swap the illustrations for “émigration” and “voyage” (journey) in the French edition because we needed a single-page illustration for “E” in order to make the book’s revised page layout work.
There were a number of words in the book which started with the same letter in English and French, but not in Gaelic:
- R is for renewal / R comme renouvellement / U airson ùrachadh
- T is for tartan / T comme tartan (in Canadian French / B airson breacan
And then there were some words that didn’t start with the same letter in any of the three languages!
- M is for milling (i.e., waulking) / F comme foulerie / L airson luadh
In order to re-use as many of the illustrations from the English-language edition as possible, we had to reinterpret some of the illustrations with different-but-related vocabulary words in French and Gaelic:
- O is for oatmeal / B comme biscuit d’avoine [oatcake] / M airson min-choirce [oatmeal]
- F is for fiddle / M comme musique / F airson fidheall
- C is for college [the Gaelic College] / J comme jeunesse [youth] / O airson òigridh [youth]
- L is for labour / O comme ouvrage [work] / I airson iomairteach [industrious]
One of our favourite illustrations from the books is the two-page illustration for L is for labour / O comme ouvrage / I airson iomairteach:
We hope you have enjoyed this comparison of the English, French, and Gaelic editions of G is for Gael: An Alphabet of Nova Scotia’s Gaelic Culture! If you have any other questions about how the three editions compare, please get in touch!