In March 2022 we launched the Nova Scotia Gaelic Song Index – the culmination of four years of sourcing, cataloguing, digitizing and transcribing the Gaelic songs of Nova Scotia. The index contains well over 6,000 metadata entries for individual songs, and over 1,000 digitized song texts, and was created with invaluable assistance from the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (DASG). It gathers together songs from audio archives, printed books, newspapers and manuscripts to form its collection (the full list of sources can be viewed here).

Over 1,000 song texts were scanned and digitized from printed books and newspapers, typed by hand from manuscripts or transcribed from audio recordings. The latter was a challenging process, the demands of which gave rise to a series of ‘transcription frolic.’ Frolics – community work parties ending in a social gathering or ‘céilidh’ – are a long-standing tradition among the Gaels of Nova Scotia. Acknowledging that it sometimes ‘takes a village to transcribe a song’, we organized a number of in-person and online frolics to help our workflow and to build capacity in the Gaelic community. Anyone interested in reading more about the concept, or hosting their own frolic, might wish to take a look at this breakdown/lesson plan by Dr. Heather Sparling.

Transcription frolic

The collection’s close to 7,000 individual entries of metadata does include duplicates of the more popular songs, since they often appeared several times across various sources. There are usually subtle or significant variation between the different versions, however, both in terms of content and media.

The ‘Language in Lyrics’ song index project was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and was directed by Dr. Heather Sparling (Cape Breton University) in partnership with DASG, Gaelic Affairs Nova Scotia, the Beaton Institute, the Highland Village Museum and the Centre for Cape Breton Studies. Màiri Britton and Mary Jane Lamond were hired to manage the project and worked closely with DASG Researcher/Project Manager, Mark McConville, and Research Systems Developer, Stephen Barrett, to create the index. Numerous others played crucial roles and lent support throughout the project (see below). In 2022, the project received a second grant from SSHRC and was re-named ‘Language and Lyrics to reflect the fact that we are expanding our remit to include all types or oral Gaelic folklore, not just songs. We are now focusing on re-cataloguing, transcribing and improving access to Cape Breton Gaelic Folklore Collection housed at St FX University (read more on our homepage).

We are continuing to develop and improve the Nova Scotia Gaelic Song Index: if you have comments or suggestions, please get in touch through languageinlyrics (at) gmail (dot) com.

L-R: Màiri Britton, Mary Jane Lamond & Heather Sparling

Ar ceud taing do | Our huge thanks to:

The DASG team: Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Dr. Mark McConville, Stephen Barrett and colleagues past and present.

Language in Lyrics staff (pictured below, each row L-R): Chelsey MacPherson, Edward MacDonell, Kaleb DeLeskie, Becca Ross // Stacey MacLean, (Stephen Barrett), (Mark McConville), Phaedra Laurie // Sìleas Tait, Johanna Huntley, Colleen Lynk // Trueman Matheson, Stephen MacIntyre, Aleen Stanton, Daisy May Boyle.

Gaelic Affairs Nova Scotia: Lewis MacKinnon and colleagues.

Highland Village Museum: Rodney Chaisson and colleagues.

Beaton Institute: Jane Arnold and colleagues.

The Centre for Cape Breton Studies: Chris Jones and colleagues.

Generous advisors, supporters, contributors and collaborators: Susan Cameron (St FX), Mike Hunter (CBU Press), Anne Landin, Dr. Michael Linkletter (St FX), Effie Rankin, Dr. John Shaw, Margaret Vale (St FX), and more!

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