Project aims

‘Language in Lyrics’ is a three-year funded project working to create a comprehensive database of Gaelic songs in Nova Scotia. We are compiling the Nova Scotia Gaelic music database by drawing from print media, archive recordings and private collections.

The long-term goal of the project is to lay the foundations for a corpus of Nova Scotia Gaelic, which can be used for research, analysis and a future Dictionary of Nova Scotia Gaelic.

Our project covers four main areas:

  • Sourcing: We are building an extensive database to catalogue the contents of all the major Nova Scotia Gaelic song collections, both within the Province and further afield in Scotland and the United Sates.
  • Transcribing: We are transcribing songs from existing audio recordings, aided at times by community transcribers.
  • Digitizing: We are digitizing song texts using OCR (optical character recognition) technology.  Where necessary, we are also digitizing audio material for transcription.
  • Uploading: Once transcribed and digitized, all song texts will be uploaded to:
  1. The Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (DASG), where the collection will be turned into the beginnings of a Nova Scotia Gaelic corpus;
  2. An Drochaid Eadarainn (hosted by the Highland Village Museum); and
  3. The Beaton Institute website.

On the latter two platforms, we hope to pair songs with existing recordings wherever possible, and they will be easily accessible to the Gaelic community for research and education purposes.

Project partners

The Language in Lyrics project is a collaboration between the Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions (Cape Breton University), the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (Glasgow University) and Nova Scotia Gaelic Affairs. It is supported by a partnership with the Beaton Institute and the Highland Village Museum (Baile nan Gàidheal), and is funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. 

For the purposes of this short-term three-year project, we have had to limit its scope to the primary partnerships listed above, but we hope to extend and expand the project in future and look forward to working with more project partners in time. In the meantime, we look forward to connecting with institutions and individuals in possession of Nova Scotia Gaelic song collections, such as St. Francis Xavier University, Colaisde na Gàidhlig, the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, and many more.

Creating a corpus of Nova Scotia Gaelic

A corpus is a large collection of written texts: in this instance it will be comprised of a large selection of Gaelic songs of Nova Scotia (we anticipate collecting thousands of songs). By using search software, researchers can search for instances of individual words, analyzing the results for linguistic patterns and anomalies, or for social and cultural references, which tell us more about the structure, use and social function of the Gaelic language. The corpus will also facilitate the creation of a future Dictionary of Nova Scotia Gaelic.

Dictionary of Nova Scotia Gaelic

In the past, dictionaries have generally been the work of one author (i.e the lifetime labour-of-love that is the Edward Dwelly Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic). Today, corpus dictionaries are more common. They use computer technology to compile and search a large body of text (the ‘corpus’) to identify the contextual usage and meaning of individual words. It remains a long process: our project partners at DASG have been working on a corpus-based Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic for over ten years. It will not be possible for us to create a Nova Scotia Gaelic Dictionary during this three-year project: we are therefore laying the groundwork for a dictionary whilst also working on the short-term goal of creating a smaller-scale Language in Lyrics Song Collection which will be of more immediate use to the Gaelic community.

Why songs? 

Anyone who has spent time among Gaels knows how we love to sing, and songs are an incredibly important aspect of the Gaelic culture. Many people are drawn to learn the Gaelic language by their love of the songs, and songs function as helpful teaching aides for learning and remembering vocabulary.

They also offer a helpful basis from which to start building a linguistic corpus of Nova Scotia Gaelic since they span geographical locations, time periods, themes and linguistic registers, and are connected with different activities and forms of expression, from milling (or waulking) songs to laments to puirt-à-beul.

The Language in Lyrics project will provide the Nova Scotia Gaelic community with a fully transcribed, digitized and easily-accessible collection of songs which can be used in performance, education, research or purely for personal interest. We hope that the collection will support future language maintenance and revitalization efforts.

Education and Outreach

All the songs in the Language in Lyrics collection will be made available through the platforms of DASG, An Drochaid Eadarainn and The Beaton Institute. They can be accessed and used by the Gaelic communities of both Nova Scotia and Scotland in teaching, musical performance and academic research.

If you are interested in joining our team of community transcribers, click here.

To learn more about our education and school visits program, click here.