Gaelic is genuinely popular in Scotland

And Gaelic is particularly popular amoung young adults in Scotland.

With so many trolls out there endlessly bashing on Gaelic, it is worth reminding ourselves from time to time that Gaelic is actually quite popular in Scotland. And while fluent speakers represent only a small percentage of the total Scottish population, in general, Scots are very supportive of the language, want to learn it, want their kids to learn it, want it to thrive in the future, and are happy to spend money to help it grow.

Below I have collected some statistics on public attitudes toward Gaelic and Gaelic development that demonstrate this support. Most of these statistics come from the most recent edition of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey published in 2022, but I have included some stats from the 2012 survey as well. These are large, reliable and independent surveys carried out each year on behalf of the Scottish Government, and from time to time questions about Gaelic are included.

As you will see below, I decided to highlight the opinions of young adults in Scotland. Young adults are particularly supportive of Gaelic, and for the future of language, this is extremely encouraging to see. Young adults, of course, are the folk that will shape Scottish culture and politics in the years to come, but also, many young adults are either currently raising young children or will be raising young children soon, and if they support Gaelic, they may decide to speak the language to their children in the home if they have it, and/or place their children in Gaelic-medium education when it comes time for school.

If you are aware of any other encouraging statistics about public support for Gaelic in Scotland, please let me know in the comments. Of course it is also important to recognize that Gaelic is struggling just now as a spoken language throughout Scotland, but focusing only on the bad news gives a lopsided picture of the opportunities we have to revitalize the language.

Unorganized public support—in and of itself—will not save Gaelic, but if we, as Gaelic activists, can come together and build a strong revival movement that is open and inclusive and harness this broad support, turning it into actual political power, then Gaelic really could have a bright future in Scotland.

The vast majority of Scots support Gaelic as an important part of Scotland’s cultural life. Overall, 79% of adults in Scotland think Gaelic is ‘very important’ (34%) or ‘fairly important’ (45%) to Scotland’s cultural heritage’, (ScotCen 2022: 43) while 90% of young adults aged 18-29 think the same (41% very important; 49% fairly important; ScotCen 2022: Annex Table 6.3). In our fractious and fragmented modern democracies, you almost never get 90% of folk agreeing on … well … anything at all, so it is pretty amazing that here in Scotland, such an overwhelming majority of young adults agree that Gaelic is important part of our shared culture.

And a surprisingly large minority of Scots consider Gaelic an important part of their own personal cultural heritage. Overall, 31% of adults in Scotland say that Gaelic is either ‘very important’ (9%) or ‘fairly important’ (22%) to their own cultural heritage, (ScotCen 2022: 39) while 43% of young adults aged 18-29 say the same. (16% very important; 27% fairly important; ScotCen 2022: Annex Table 6.1) This is a somewhat surprising statistic because it is much larger than the percentage of fluent young Gaelic speakers in Scotland (about 1% of the population). This means, of course, that most of these young adults who feel that Gaelic is an important part of their own heritage don’t actually speak much or any Gaelic themselves, but imagine if some significant fraction of these young adults were to decide to learn Gaelic and had access to high-quality, inexpensive or free Gaelic tuition to do so: what a difference that would make to the health of the language throughout the country. This single statistic represents a huge Gaelic development opportunity. Other countries have successfully brought large numbers of adults to fluency in threatened minority languages. There is no practical reason we couldn’t do the same here as well.

And as further support for this idea, the most recent survey found significant demand for more and better Gaelic learning opportunities in Scotland. Overall, 39% of non-fluent speakers report that they would like to speak Gaelic better than they currently do either ‘very much’ (17%) or ’somewhat’ (22%), while 59% of young adults aged 18-29 year olds report the same views. (ScotCen 2022: 13) Research has consistently shown that adult Gaelic learning provision in Scotland is piecemeal, underfunded and poorly organized. (MacCaluim 2007; McLeod et al. 2010) If we could convince the authorities to properly fund and organize the adult Gaelic learning sector, there is no reason that we couldn’t convert this unmet demand into literally thousands of new fluent Gaelic speakers.

There is also strong support for teaching all young Scots at least some Gaelic in school. 55% of adults in Scotland strongly agree (22) or agree (32) that all children in Scotland should be taught Gaelic as a school subject for an hour or two a week. 64% of young adults aged 18-29 think the same. (ScotCen 2022: 50-1)

And at the same time, there is significant interest in Gaelic-medium education (GME) amongst Scottish parents. While only about one percent of Scottish primary school children attend GME (Morgan 2020), in the 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 11% of Scottish adults said they would be very likely to send their children to GME if it was available in their area, and a further 17% said they would be fairly likely (reported and analysed in: O’Hanlon and Paterson 2017: 51). So why aren’t 27% of school children currently in GME? It’s not because there is a lack of teachers (there is, but that is a problem that can be solved); rather, it’s because councils across Scotland keep dragging their feet, decade after decade, refusing to set up new GME schools. Until parents have a clear statutory right to GME for their children, councils will continue to hold the Gaelic revival back.

And finally, most Scots are more than happy to spend money on Gaelic development. Overall, 70% of adults in Scotland feel that the amount the Scottish Government are currently spending on Gaelic is about right (48%) or too little (22%), and 79% of young adults aged 18-29 hold these views. Crucially, the respondents to the questionnaire were given an estimate of Scottish Government actual spending on Gaelic to inform their answer: “The Scottish Government currently spends £24 / £29m every year on promoting the use of Gaelic, for example in TV, education and publishing. This comes to around £4.80 / £5.20 for each person in Scotland. Do you think this is…?” (ScotCen 2022: 57-8) This means these answers are significantly better informed than many opinions you might find on twitter or in the comments below newspaper articles online.

Trolls will troll, and the anti-Gaelic voices are persistent and loud, but the silent majority in Scotland is actually very supportive of Gaelic. If we as activists can turn this inchoate support into a) organized political support for the language and b) active new speakers, Gaelic definitely can be developed into a much more widely-spoken language in Scotland.

Morgan, Peadar (2020) Dàta Foghlaim Ghàidhlig 2019-20. Inbhir Nis: Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

O’Hanlon, Fiona and Paterson, Lindsay (2017) “Factors influencing the likelihood of choice of Gaelic-medium primary education in Scotland: results from a national public survey.’ Language, Culture and Curriculum 30 (1): 48‒75.

MacCaluim, Alasdair. (2007). Reversing Language Shift: The Social Identity and Role of Adult Learners of Scottish Gaelic. Belfast: Cló Ollscoil na Banríona.

McLeod, Wilson, Irene Pollock, and Alasdair MacCaluim. (2010) Adult Gaelic learning in Scotland: Opportunities, motivations and challenges. Inverness: Bòrd na Gàidhlig

ScotCen Social Research. 2022. Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2021: Public attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland – Main report. http://www.gaidhlig.scot/en/news/SSAS/

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | Sgrìobh beachd

Ainmean-àite Cinneach

Latha dhuinn air Machair Alba …

– Donnchadh Bàn Mac an Saoir, ante. 1768[1]

On a tha dlùth air an dàrna leth dhe na Gàidheil a’ fuireach air a’ Ghalltachd a-nis, a bheil na seann ainmean cinneach seo — Galltachd agus Gàidhealtachd — a’ freagairt air saoghal na Gàidhlig anns an latha an-diugh?

Thàinig a’ cheist seo am bàrr fhad ’s a bha mi ag obair air an ath leabhar agam, Às na Freumhan, leabhar eachdraidh a sgrìobh mi mu iomairt na bun-sgoileadh Gàidhlig ann an Dùn Èideann.

A thaobh cuspair na h-eachdraidh agus nan daoine a bha an sàs innte, mheas mi gum biodh an t-ainm Galltachd gu sònraichte trioblaideach, agus an seann chlaonadh fillte san ainm gu bheil Gàidheil ghaisgeanta Dhùn Èideann uile a’ fuireach taobh a-muigh saoghal ‘ceart’ na Gàidhlig ann an dòigh air choreigin.

Shaoilte, le cho stèidhichte ’s a tha na seann ainmean cinneach seo, gu bheil iad glè àrsaidh, ach ann an da-rìribh, cha do dh’fhàs iad bitheanta ann an Alba ro fhìor dheireadh nam meadhan aoisean.

Mun aon àm, chleachdte ainm eile air an ranntair a thuigear an-diugh mar The Highlands: Na Garbhchriochan. Chaidh ciall an ainm seo a chuingealachadh rè nam bliadhnaichean, agus a-nis, mar as àbhaist, thèid Na Garbhchriochan a chleachdadh an iomradh air an tìr eadar Loch Shuaineart agus Loch Shubhairne, ach o thùs, bha Na Garbhchriochan a’ gabhail a-steach na Gàidhealtachd air fad, agus aig amannan, nan Eileanan Siar cuideachd.[2]

Agus anns an latha an-diugh, mothachail air an trioblaid shònraichte a thig an cois an ainm, Galltachd, molar cuid an seann ainm, Machair na h-Alba, mar ainm Gàidhlig eile air The Lowlands.[3] ’S e sin an t-ainm a chleachdar air uairibh an cois foghlaim chloinne a-nis, mar eisimpleir.[4]

machairnahalba

Bha machair a’ ciallachadh The Lowlands of Scotland o chionn fhada; ’s e sin an treasamh mìneachadh aig Edward Dwelly fhèin air an fhacal: “Name given by the Scottish Gael to the southern or low-lying parts of Scotland,”[5] ach anns an latha an-diugh, mar as tric nuair thèid machair a chleachdadh leis fhèin, thathas a’ dèanamh iomradh air a’ mhachair anns na h-Eileanan Siar, agus mar sin, bhiodh an t-ainm na b’ fhaide, Machair na h-Alba, na b’ fheàrr, shaoilinn, nuair a bhite a’ dèanamh iomradh air The Lowlands of Scotland.

Anns an dòigh cheudna, leis gum bi an t-ainm Na Garbhchriochan gu bitheanta a-nis na iomradh air taobh an iar sgìre Loch Abar, seach The Scottish Highlands air fad, airson soilleireachd, dh’fhaoidte Garbhchriochan na h-Alba a chleachdadh nuair a bhite a-mach air na Garbhchriochan anns an t-seagh thùsach.

Aig a’ cheann thall, cho-dhùin mi gun cleachdainn “ceann a deas na dùthcha” an àite Ghalltachd. An lùib eachdraidh fada, toinnte, tha e na bhuannachd gu bheil an abairt seo soilleir agus neodrach, ach mar ainm, tha i caran lom. Chan eil cus ceòl innte.

Saoil, dè ur beachd fhèin?

[1] MacLeòid, Aonghas. 1978. Òrain Dhonnchaidh Bhàin; The Songs of Duncan Ban Macintyre. Dùn Èideann: Comunn Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 2.

[2] McLeod, Wilson. “Galldachd, Gàidhealtachd, Garbhchriochan.” Scottish Gaelic Studies 19 (1999): 1‒20.

[3] Morgan, Ailig Peadar. 2013. Ethnonyms in the place-names of Scotland and the Border counties of England. PhD Oilthigh Chill Rìbhinn, Eàrr-ràdh, 208.

[4] M.e. faic an goireas-ionnsachaidh bhon BhBC, Cruth na Tìre, https://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/alba/foghlam/cruthnatire/ (faicte 13/8/19)

[5] Dwelly, Edward. 1994 (1911). The Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary. Glaschu: Gairm Publications, 620.

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | 8 beachd(an)

Tinte na Farraige Duibhe air RTE

Fuair TNFD léirmheas an-mhaith ar Tús Áite ar RTE ó Áine Ní Ghlinn! Éist anseo:

https://www.rte.ie/radio/rnag/clips/22126358/

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | 1 bheachd

TNFD air liosta léitheoireachta samhraidh na dTimes!

Tinte na Farraige Duibhe sna Times: Samhradh, Samhradh, Samhradh na leabhra.

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | Sgrìobh beachd

Còmhdachd de C.E.A.R.T.A le Manchán Magan

Absolute fuireachd…

An tùs:

Air a phostadh ann an ceòl | Sgrìobh beachd

Tinte na Farraige Duibhe ag AI ROBOTS and Spoken Word

Ar mhaith leat rud éigin craiceáilte a fheiceáil? An bhfuil cónaí ort i mBaile Átha Cliath? An bhfuil tú saor oíche Déardaoin? Beidh Eoin P. Ó Murchú ag léamh ó Tinte na Farraige Duibhe ag an ócáid seo, agus tá cuma an-aisteach agus suimiúil air.

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | Sgrìobh beachd

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

Is fior thoil leam leabhraichean mu sgrìobhadh. Tha mi air sgeilp fhada dhiubh a leughadh rè mo bheatha; tha mi air mòran ionnsachadh bhuapa mar sgrìobhadair, ach cuideachd, gheibh mi mòran tlachd is brosnachadh asta. Agus às a h-uile fear a tha mi air leughadh gu ruige seo, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur e seo am fear as fheàrr leam a-nis: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, le George Saunders.

’S e Saunders an t-ùghdar a sgrìobh an nobhail iomraiteach Lincon in the Bardo, ach an seo, tha e air leabhar neo-fhicsean a sgrìobhadh, a-mach air a’ cheàird aige fhèin agus a’ cleachdadh seachd sgeulachdan goirid Ruiseach mar bhunait dhan chnuasachadh a nì e: tè le Turgenev, tèile le Gogol, a dhà le Tolstoy agus a trì le Chekov. An dèidh gach sgeulachd, tha Saunders a’ dol thairis air obair an ùghdair agus a’ toirt seachad comhairle dhuinn stèidhichte air an eòlas aige fhèin mar sgrìobhadair soirbheachail, ach cuideachd, mar òraidiche a tha air a bhith fichead bliadhna a’ teagasg nan sgeulachdan seo aig Oilthigh Syracuse ann an New York.

B’ fhiach e an leabhar seo a leughadh airson nan sgeulachdan Ruiseach fhèin. ’S e taghadh glè mhath a th’ annta. Mheal mi gach tè dhiubh. Ach tha am breithneachadh aig Saunders drùidhteach math cuideachd. Tha feallsanachd aig Saunders mu sgrìobhadh a tha eagarra agus iarrtach, gu cinnteach, ach aig an aon àm, air leth brosnachail. Dhàsan, tha sgrìobhadh doirbh, ach chan eil e idir casta:

I’ve taken a lot of comfort in this idea over the years. I don’t need a big theory about fiction to write it. I don’t have to worry about anything but: Would a reasonable person, reading line four, get enough of a jolt to go on to line five?

td. 11

Dha rèir-san, a’ chiad rud a sgaireas na h-ùghdaran tàlantach a thèid fhoillseachadh bhon chuid thàlanach eile nach tèid, ’s e “a willingness to revise” (td. 226), ach fiù ’s an seo, tha e a’ moladh obair a tha faiceallach, mionaideach, ach nach eil tuilleadh is anailiseach:

We can reduce all writing to this: we read a line, have a reaction to it, trust (accept) that reaction, and do something in response, instantaneously, by intuition.

td. 345

Gu sìmplidh: obair gu làidir, ath-sgrìobh, ag ath-sgrìobh a-rithist, agus na smaoinich cus. ’S urrainn dhòmhsa sin a dhèanamh! smaoinich mi nuair a bha mi ga leughadh. Tha sgrìobhadh tric cho dùbhlanach, agus feumaidh sinn uile an t-slighe againn fhèin a lorg air adhart, ach tha an gliocas agus a’ mhisneachd a gheibhear ann an leabhar mar am fear seo aig Saunders thar luach.

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | Sgrìobh beachd

Tinte na Farraige Duibhe ar Teachtaireachtaí ar Raidió na Life

Léigh Eoin P.Ó Murchú cuid dár leabhar, Tinte na Farraige Duibhe, ar Teachtaireachtaí ar Raidió na Life, agus is féidir leat éisteacht leis anseo. Tosaíonn sé ag 7.05 ar aghaidh.

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | Sgrìobh beachd

Gaelic is not dying.

Commentators have been predicting Gaelic’s death for some time, but Gaelic is nowhere near going out of use as a spoken language in Scotland. Gaelic will be spoken by learners, new speakers, and native speakers alike long after everyone reading this post is dead and buried. Gaelic communities are, however, rapidly changing, and that change is a cause of anguish for many. The political scientist William W. Bostock (1997) has called this sort of distress ‘language grief’, the collective despair that communities can feel when they perceive that their language is falling out of use.

As in any situation where people are grieving, it can be natural to try to assign blame. We can see this happening in current debates about the future of Gaelic, with claims and counter claims that different groups are to blame for Gaelic’s ‘demise’: academics, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the government, learners, native speakers, Gaelic-medium educators, and so on, but the truth is that no living group of Gaelic speakers or supporters is to blame. The current state of Gaelic speaking communities is the result of political, economic, and social forces acting over centuries. Assigning blame is understandable but thoroughly counterproductive if we want to build the kind of social movement that can actually help to increase Gaelic-language acquisition and use in Scotland.

No one disagrees about the numbers, but there is substantive disagreement about the best course of action. We now have reliable data from several research teams suggesting that the last traditional Gaelic communities in the Western Isles arrived at a kind of tipping point sometime in the late 1960s and 1970s when community-level transmission of the language to children born in those years started to break down. (cf. Smith-Christmas & Smakman 2009; Mac an Tàilleir et al. 2010; Ó Giollagáin et al. 2020)

While many families in these communities still raise their children in Gaelic and/or send their children to Gaelic-medium units, that ‘tipping-point’ generation is now in its 50s and 60s, and for generations below this age, the default community language is overwhelmingly English. Gaelic has not died, but it has changed from a community-transmitted language to a network language everywhere in Scotland now. That is the reality. The question is what to do about it.

There is no reason to believe that in the long-term Gaelic could not be revived as a community-transmitted language in many places in the Highlands and Islands, but this will require years of grassroots language activism in these areas, and anyone who argues that we can build the kind of sustained community-wide support required for such a huge effort in the short-term, or even in the medium-term, is very much underestimating the enormity of the task.

It is also important to recognize that rural communities today are fundamentally different from Gaelic communities fifty or a hundred years ago, and not just in terms of language use. In general, UK society is becoming ever more cosmopolitan, mobile, and atomized, and communities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are no exception. Discussions around the Scottish Gaelic revival often suffer from a great deal of romanticism about traditionally Gaelic-speaking communities, but the reality is that both the relative isolation and the intensely communal way of life that once sustained the language in the Northwest of Scotland are now long gone. We cannot go back in time, and in many respects, we wouldn’t want to. (see Dunn 2019)

Instead, the work now is to build on our successes over the last fifty years of Gaelic-revival activism and strengthen Gaelic networks throughout Scotland, anywhere Gaelic speakers can be found, from Edinburgh to Shawbost. Sleat in Skye can be seen as one model of what can be accomplished in terms of strengthening a dense rural network of Gaelic speakers. Gaelic in Sleat is not a community-transmitted language, yet, but it is also very much not dead, and there is no reason to believe that we could not replicate many elements this model throughout the Highlands and Islands.

We need to build a broad movement across Scotland to revive Gaelic, and to do that, we need to build solidarity between Gaelic speakers of all kinds, and neither finger pointing nor proclaiming Gaelic’s imminent demise will help us at all in this effort. Of course we have to be realistic about the state of Gaelic, but we also have lots of reasons to be optimistic.

People cannot be scared or shamed into saving a language. Rather, the future of Gaelic can only be built on a foundation of solidarity and optimism.

More on some of the concepts I used above:

Living language — What makes a ‘living’ language is a question of ideology, not demographics. There is no objective linguistic or sociological measure that we can use to say definitively that a language is living or dead. It really is just an opinion. Any language that is in some way still used and passed on could be considered ‘living’ depending on your criteria. The key factor is not speaker density, but language loyalty. If speakers are zealous about using their language and passing it on, that language community will persist and possibly even grow, but if speakers are shifting to using and passing on a new language, it doesn’t really matter how closely they live together; their language will sooner or later pass out of use.

Community-transmitted language — A language can said to be transmitted to the next generation by the whole community when (almost) everyone in a given place speaks a particular language, and that language is used as the common means of social interaction between all generations in (almost) all situations. Is such a case, children not only acquire the language from their parents and teachers, but also from extended family members, from neighbours, and critically, after a certain age, from other children. For some, community language transmission is what makes a language ’really’ living, but as above, this is just an opinion rather than some linguistic fact. The best current data strongly suggests that it has been several generations since Gaelic was a fully community-transmitted language anywhere in Scotland.

Network language — A network language would be one that is spoken by a network of speakers spread out more or less densely in any given area and linked by a variety of sites of language use. In the case of Gaelic, such sites might include GME units and schools, Gaelic higher education, Gaelic-language workplaces, Gaelic-language church services, Gaelic events like the Mòdan and the Fèisean, Gaelic activist and special-interest groups, formal and informal Gaelic social centres (such as the proposed Cultarlann in Inverness or the Park Bar in Glasgow), and Gaelic-speaking homes. Gaelic’s future as a network language in Scotland is far from certain, but there is no reason to believe that Gaelic-speaker networks throughout the country couldn’t persist and even grow in the future.

Sources

Bostock, William W. (1997) “Language Grief: Its nature and function at community level.International Journal: Language, Society and Culture (2).

Mac an Tàilleir, Iain, Rothach, Gillian and Armstrong, Timothy C. (2010) Barail agus Comas Cànain.  Inverness: Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Ó Giollagáin, Conchúr, Gòrdan Camshron, Pàdruig Moireach, Brian Ó. Curnáin, Iain Caimbeul, Brian MacDonald, and Tamás Péterváry. (2020) The Gaelic crisis in the vernacular community: A comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

Smith-Christmas, Cassandra, and Dick Smakman. (2009) “Gaelic on the Isle of Skye: older speakers’ identity in a language-shift situation.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language (200): 27-47.

Image
The Highest Apple / An Ubhal as Àirde 2019

Air a phostadh ann an naidheachd | 4 beachd(an)

Beò — Uisge Dubh

Chan eil fios agam cò iad, ach èistibh ris an òran ùr seo le “Beò”. Trom! Tha mi a’ dèanamh fiughair ri cluinntinn cò tha air cùl a’ chiùil seo, agus tha mi an dòchas gun dèan iad tuilleadh.

Air a phostadh ann an ceòl | Sgrìobh beachd