Dragon silohuette against gold illustrated background.

Scottish Reader Calls Out Authors Who Use Gaelic Incorrectly to Spice up Fantasy

Over the summer, Scottish BookToker Muireann went viral on Tiktok for sharing the Scottish Gaelic pronunciation of words from the bestselling adult fantasy novel Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. While she offered mild criticism of the book’s grammatical errors, Muireann spoke out again following a viral interview of Yarros at New York Comic-Con.

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In the spring, Fourth Wing exploded online—especially on TikTok (BookTok) and Instagram (Bookstagram). The popularity caused a shortage among booksellers who struggled to meet the sudden, rapid demand. The story follows Violet, a young woman destined for life as a scribe. However, that changes when she’s ordered to enroll in a dragon riders’ college amid a rising threat that points to war. Many readers lauded Yarros’ ability to bring interest to Adult Fantasy among those that had trouble venturing beyond YA. Criticism about Yarros’ work, particularly among readers of color, did come later. However, they remained mostly drowned out by praise until Yarros’ comments on Israel following the massacre by Hamas went viral. When Muireann began to read the novel on June 16, she was one of the few people giving critical feedback and probably understood that.

The use of Gaelic in Fourth Wing

cover art title for Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
(Entangled: Red Tower Books)

Story-wise, Muireann expressed praise and excitement to see where the series goes. However, regarding the use of Scottish Gaelic, she had mixed feelings. Without spoiling anything, Muireann gave translations and best guesses on non-Gaelic words that looked to be fused with Gaelic ones. It was here she found missing accent marks and misspellings. Also, she found words in the book that, in Gaelic, would be two or three words instead of one. Many commenters appreciated the information and pointed to how different the audiobook was from actual Gaelic.

Muireann said it was cool for the language to be represented in such a popular book. She feels that other Celtic languages like Irish/Gaeilge (what Scots call Irish Gaelic) are more common in contemporary fantasy. Still, she put the onus on the publisher for not hiring a language consultant. That grace dropped off when Muireann heard Yarros speaking about the book.

Yarros’ misuse of Gaelic

“It is genuinely laughable to me that American fantasy authors can get away with this. They can use minority languages in such a disrespectful way. They’re just pronouncing them like English speakers. She’s just sprinkling Gaelic words in there to add a bit of spice to her fancy book.”

Veronica Valencia interviewed Rebecca Yarros for Popverse at NYCC 2023, where she asked Yarros to “set the record straight” on pronouncing words. After Popverse shared a video of this to TikTok, Muireann stitched it frustrated. She began by pointing out that Yarros said Gaelic by pronouncing it “gay-lick” which is a different language than the Scottish Gaelic (“gal-lick”). Muireann said most Gaelic words used were mispronounced in the interview. These were small mistakes that showed a genuine lack of care when bringing other cultures into the book.

@ceartguleabhar

#stitch with @Popverse rebecca yarros please hire an actual gaelic speaker for ur next book bc this is a joke babes xxx srsly tho im not saying no one can use gaelic but at least do a lil research!! so many american authors are guilty of this – fourth wing isnt even inspired by scotland or its folklore so why is there gaelic in it??? bc shes relying on a minority language to add depth to her story. at least pronounce the words right if u insist on writing a book using a language you cannot speak lol #fourthwing #gaelic #gàidhlig #scottishgaelic

♬ original sound – muireann ??????

Muireann felt frustrated that fantasy authors use minority languages to exoticize their fantasy without care. In the caption, Muireann continued to question Gaelic’s misuage when there’s no cultural folklore or retelling element in Fourth Wing that might call for the language’s wide inclusion.

“I know I’ll get backlash for this. I know people are gonna say ‘but she wrote the books!’ ‘But this is the way she wants to pronounce it!’ That is not how minority languages work. Minority languages, particularly Celtic languages, deserve respect especially from Americans. Fantasy American authors who co-opt them to add a little bit of spice and magic to the fantasy books because they can’t come up with their own names for things. It’s lazy. It’s boring. I’m tired of it.”

It has been less than a day since Muireann posted this video, and given the major time zone difference, no one expects a response from Yarros. However, Popverse did delete the video Muireann stitched without explanation. It might be because the publisher doesn’t want bad press about Yarros a week out from the release of Fourth Wing‘s sequel, Iron Flame.

Politics of language

Outlander Jamie and Claire Lallybroch
(Starz)

I can’t speak to the frequency of misusing the Celtic language, but Muireann (who recently graduated from the University of Glasglow specializing in Gaelic) is absolutely right to call out how writers will use non-native languages to make a book seem more exotic. For me, it’s easier to spot this issue when it’s places labeled “The East,” or where the U.S. has actively had a hand in colonizing, as opposed to places like Scotland.

After the British fully took over the people, they followed that up by outlawing the Gaelic language to quell independence movements. A common trait of colonization is cultural genocide and language is a big part of culture. While the languages have thousands of speakers now, it’s important to have people like Muireann calling attention to this. Also, for her to make Gaelic language videos online.

In a follow-up video, Muireann said she’s not calling for a boycott for Gaelic misuse. She understands that not all readers can pronounce all Gaelic words accurately. However, the authors should be if they put the language in their book. Muireann also clarified she doesn’t want to make Yarros the face of Celtic appropriation when authors like Sarah J. Maas and Holly Black do the same. Additionally, Muireann noted that she doesn’t speak for all Gaelic speakers. Before ending, Muireann offered resources to learn Scottish Gaelic or at least look up pronunciations. “There’s so many ways to learn and I just want more people to fall in love with this language like I have.”

(via @ceartguleabhar, featured image: Alyssa Shotwell with Canva & Entangled: Red Tower Books)


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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.