The Map Feature

Cause a picture is worth a thousand words

Am Faclair Beag has a map feature which will show you (as far as we can tell but more on that later) where the word is used (just click on the blue underlined word in an entry). Like this one for bainne:

map displaying the distribution of the
      word bainne in Scotland

With a word like bainne you can be fairly certain that any Gaelic speaker will recognise it but that's not the case for all Gaelic words. For example, you might do a search for "pert" and find that there's several options. You're then, traditionally, left guessing as to which of them are regional, over-regional or well and truly dead. This is where these maps will come in handy. They give you some rough indication of who of our voters know a word or at least recognise a word. Neat, eh? Well, we think so anyway. It's like a traditional dialect map on steroids!

1. What this isn't
    1.2 So where do people say boinne for bainne?
2. The Colour Scheme
    2.1 What kind of native speakers?
    2.2. Kintyre? You got to be kidding?
3. O Canada
4. Balancing Speakers
5. Why is there a pin in a loch?
6. Can I vote?
7. Acknowledgements

1. What this isn't
Now before we go any further, please note that the data you see on our maps is indicative only. What that means is that we can't guarantee that they give you the full picture like a (paid for) traditional dialect survey might give you where you have researchers going out with a set list of words to elicit from people. On the other hand, while our approach is shaky if there aren't many votes, it will continue to get better as more votes are collected, something you don't get in a traditional survey. So if you look up a word, find a single pin on Benbecula and then use it in your essay, we can't guarantee that all Benbecula people know it.

This also means that you shouldn't base a scientific paper on it. On the other hand, it might give you some ideas about what you could go and research further if this kind of thing fascinates you.

So, does this pin below mean that this is a rare word from the west side of Mull, left behind by St Columba?

map showing a pin for smuilceag on

No, in a word. It just means that we happen to have collected a vote from someone in that area who uses the word. The word may indeed be common across Scotland but only has a single vote just now. On the other hand, you can tell from this that if you wanted to find more speakers who might know this word, Mull might be your best bet. Sometimes you will have to look at more than one map to get an idea.

On the other hand, comparing these five for da-rìreabh, dha-rìribh, ga-rìribh, a-rìreabh and rìreabh tells you that most likely, you're dealing with regional variation where a-rìreabh is a Northern Mainland feature, da-rìreabh South-Western and so on:

da-rìreabh dha-rìreabh
ga-rìreabh a-rìreabh

1.2 So where do people say boinne for bainne?
We can't tell you that, sorry. Well, in the case of bainne, probably but the point of these maps is to give you an idea of where a word is used. They're not traditional dialect study maps which record the exact pronunciation of words. It would be nice showing that, admittedly, but please remember we're not getting paid to develop the Faclair Beag!

2. The Colour Scheme
We use two different colours and two different shades to indicate native speakers (purple) vs fluent learners (orange) and active (darker shade) vs passive knowledge of a word or expression. Or indeed that a word is not know at all. Active means that someone will actually use the word, passive means they recognise it but don't normally use it. If you move the mouse over a pin on a map you will also get this info in a tooltip popup. Plus three other types of pins to show data gleaned from Scots, place-names and Irish/Manx. Here's a table showing the pins and what they mean:

Native Speaker, active use

Native Speaker, passive knowledge

Native Speaker, word not known at all

Fluent Learner, active use

Fluent Learner, passive knowledge

Fluent Learner, word not known at all

Usage in Irish/Manx

Gaelic word borrowed into Scots

Occurs as Gaelic place name element

So what Irish, Manx, Scots and place-names? Well, as a rule we try to stick to “fully Gaelic” data but some words, especially certain animal and plant names are so poorly attested we’d be groping in the dark forever. So when we have good evidence for a word from Scots or place-names, we add it - but in a different colour. For example, there are many words in the dictionary for “leech” but there’s so little data on where these words were used that drawing on some additional data can help round the picture, like with deala which isn’t well attested but does appear in several loch names across the Highlands:

map showing the distribution of the word

In the case of Ollaig (rather than Nollaig), including some data from Manx and Irish completely changes the way one has to look at these instances of Ollaig from the Central Highlands, making it look much more like a feature on the arc of peripheral dialects than just a very localized form:
map showing the distribution of Ollaig
      in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man

2.1 What kind of native speakers?
At the moment we have 20 categories (10 each for learners and native speakers) indicating, for example, whether a native speaker speaks a local dialect or a mixed dialect. But for now, to keep the display simple, we're collapsing all these into 4 different groups (the 4 pins above). It keeps things simple. As we develop it, we may find ways of displaying additional data.

2.2 Kintyre? You got to be kidding?

map showing the distribution of mand across
      Kintyre, Islay and Arran
Well, no. Not all of our voters are alive. Gaelic has declined so much that focussing only on the areas where it's still strong would give you a rather skewed view. For example, if we excluded data collected from speakers of local dialects when they were still alive, then figuring out what the distribution of faotainn vs faighinn actually is would be very difficult. It also helps identify which words are very regional.

Plus there are a lot of people interested in the regional variants which were at one point spoken in the area, so including this data will also help them unpick the mixed bag that Gaelic dictionaries are. Or Gaelic-medium teachers in Islay for example who are trying to create some materials using local forms.

Anyway, we restrict such data to people who lived between 1900 and today. It's not entirely arbitrary - a lot of data was collected in the first half of the last century and if we excluded that, we'd have very little usable material on areas such as Arran and Kintyre. We intend to introduce more map features at some point, including ways of restricting the date range. Glacaidh foighidinn iasg!

3. O Canada
For the most part, the votes are from Scotland but where available, we’re also adding Canadian Gaelic votes to the map. Sometimes these throw up words which seem to be exclusive to Canadian Gaelic - like poidhle:
map showing the distribution of the
      world poidhle in Nova Scotia

4. Balancing Speakers
We're trying very hard to make sure that native speaker votes outnumber leaners. Try a common word like bainne or mac and you'll get a rough idea of the balance we've got at the moment. Of course, some folk vote more than others.

A native speaker pin means just that, a native speaker. We try to make sure that if a speaker has a dialect affiliation that the pin is near to that place (for example, a Uist speaker may live in Aberdeen but their pin will be in Uist) but it does not guarantee that it's always a "local" dialect. For instance, we have a fair number of voters who speak mixed dialects, for example people who have two Gaelic speaking parents, say one from Lewis and the other from Skye. In such cases, the pin is roughly where they live.

5. Why is there a pin in the loch?
The locations are only indicative. We do this to avoid giving folk the idea that a pin, if it happened to be over a building, that a particular voter lives in that particular building. So we usually stick the pin in some place away from houses, like a river or loch in a settlement.

6. Can I vote?
If you're a native speaker or fluent learner, sure. It's really easy and quick, you can do it while using the dictionary normally - and the effects are instantaneous, the pin will appear immediately (you may have to refresh the page of course). Just get in touch with Michael on fios (at) akerbeltz (dot) org. Michael will have a quick chat with you on the phone, get you set up and explain how you vote. There's no big, searching questionnaire, all we need is a general location for where your dialect is from (if you're a native speaker) or where you live (again, just very generally). Siuthadaibh, bithibh ann no bithibh fann!

7. Acknowledgements
Have moved here.

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