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Scottish Gaelic
Pronunciation [ˈɡaːlɪkʲ]
Spoken in  Scotland
 United States
Region  Scotland Scottish Highlands & Western Isles
 Nova Scotia Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
 Ontario Glengarry County, Ontario.
Total speakers 58,552 in Scotland.[1]

92,400 people aged three and over in Scotland had some Gaelic language ability in 2001[2] with an additional 2,000 in Nova Scotia.[3] 1,610 speakers in the United States in 2000.[4] 822 in Australia in 2001.[5] 669 in New Zealand in 2006.[6]

Language family Indo-European
Official status
Official language in  Scotland
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-1 gd
ISO 639-2 gla
ISO 639-3 gla

Scottish Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic: Gàidhlig) is a member of the Goidelic branch of Celtic languages, and is distinct from the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages, which includes Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. Scottish, Manx and Irish Gaelic (collectively called the "Goidelic languages") are all descended from Middle Irish, and share an ancestry going back to Old Irish and Primitive Irish. Other common names for Scottish Gaelic are Scots Gaelic and Highland Gaelic.[citation needed]

Outside Scotland, it is occasionally also called Scottish, particularly when being compared to Irish and Manx, though Scottish Gaelic should not be confused with the Scots language (Lowland Scots, Lallans), which is an Anglic language descended from Old English. Within Scotland, the language is called Gàidhlig pronounced [ˈɡaːlɪkʲ] while outside Scotland it is usually referred to as Gaelic pronounced /ˈɡeɪlɪk/.

The 2001 UK Census showed a total of 58,652 Gaelic speakers in Scotland (1.2% of population over three years old).[7] Compared to the 1991 Census, there has been a diminution of approximately 7,300 people (11% of the total), showing a decline in Gaelic. By 1991, attempts at language revival or reversing language shift had met with limited success,[8][citation needed] and there has been an increase in young Gaelic speakers[9]



Coronation of King Alexander III on Moot Hill, Scone on 13 July 1249. He is being greeted by the ollamh rìgh, the royal poet, who is addressing him with the proclamation "Benach De Re Albanne" (= Beannachd Dè Rìgh Alban, "God's Blessing on the King of Scotland"); the poet goes on to recite Alexander's genealogy.

Scottish Gaelic itself developed after the 12th century, along with the other modern Goidelic languages. Scottish Gaelic and its predecessors became the language of the majority of Scotland after it replaced Cumbric, Pictish and in considerable areas Old English.[10] There is no definitive date indicating how long Gaelic has been spoken in today's Scotland, though it has been proposed that it was spoken in its ancient form in Argyll before the Roman period,[11]. No consensus has been reached on this question, however, the consolidation of the kingdom of Dál Riata around the 4th century, linking the ancient province of Ulster in the north of Ireland and western Scotland, accelerated the expansion of the language, as did the success of the Gaelic-speaking church establishment, started by St Columba, and place-name evidence shows that Gaelic was spoken in the Rhinns of Galloway by the 5th or 6th century.[citation needed] The language was maintained by the trade empire of the Lordship of the Isles the geographic and cultural descendant of Dál Riata, which continued to control parts of Ulster until the 1500s.


From the Middle Ages to the end of Classical Gaelic education

The Gaelic language eventually displaced Pictish north of the River Forth, and until the late 15th century was known in the Scots' English language as Scottis, and in England as Scottish. Gaelic began to decline in mainland Scotland from the beginning of the 13th century, accompanying its decline in its status as a national language, and by the beginning of the 15th century, the highland-lowland line was beginning to emerge.[citation needed]

One interpretation of the linguistic divide in 1400, here based on place-name evidence.

From around the early 16th century, Scottish-English speakers gave the Gaelic language the name Erse (meaning Irish in Scottish-English), and thereafter it was invariably the collection of Middle English dialects spoken within the Kingdom of Scotland, that they referred to as Scottis (see Scots language). This in itself was ironic, as it was at this time that Gaelic was developing its distinct and characteristic Scottish forms of the modern period.[12]

Scottish Gaelic was called "Erse" partly because educated Gaelic speakers in Ireland and Scotland all used the literary dialect (sometimes called Classical Gaelic) so that there was little or no difference in usage. When Classical Gaelic stopped being used in schools in both countries, colloquial usage began to predominate, and the languages diverged.

The Modern Era

Scottish Gaelic has a rich oral and written tradition, referred to as beul-aithris in Scottish Gaelic, having been the language of the bardic culture of the Highland clans for many years.[citation needed] The language preserves knowledge of and adherence to pre-feudal 'tribal' laws and customs (as represented, for example, by the expressions tuatha and dùthchas). The language suffered particularly as Highlanders and their traditions were persecuted after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and during the Highland Clearances, but pre-feudal attitudes were still evident in the complaints and claims of the Highland Land League of the late 19th century. This political movement was successful in getting members elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Land League was dissipated as a parliamentary force by the 1886 Crofters' Act and by the way the Liberal Party was seen to become supportive of Land League objectives.[citation needed]

An Irish Gaelic translation of the Bible dating from the Elizabethan period was in use until the Bible was translated into Scottish Gaelic.[13] Author David Ross notes in his 2002 history of Scotland that a Scottish Gaelic version of the Bible was published in London in 1690 by the Rev. Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle; however it was not widely circulated.[14] The first well-known translation of the Bible into Scottish Gaelic was made in 1767 when Dr James Stuart of Killin and Dugald Buchanan of Rannoch produced a translation of the New Testament. Very few European languages have made the transition to a modern literary language without an early modern translation of the Bible. The lack of a well-known translation until the late 18th century may have contributed to the decline of Scottish Gaelic.[13]

Defunct dialects

Scottish Gaelic may be more correctly known as Highland Gaelic to distinguish it from the now defunct dialects of Lowland Gaelic. Of these Galwegian Gaelic was spoken in Galloway and seems to have been the last dialect of Gaelic to have been spoken in Lowland Scotland, surviving until the Early Modern Period. By the end of the Middle Ages, Lowland Gaelic had been replaced by Middle English/Lowland Scots[citation needed] across much of Lowland Scotland, while the Brythonic language had disappeared. According to a reference in The Carrick Covenanters by James Crichton [15], the last place in the Lowlands where Scottish Gaelic was still spoken was the village of Barr in Carrick (only a few miles inland to the east of Girvan, but at one time very isolated). Crichton gives neither date nor details.

For further discussion on the subject of Gaelic in the South of Scotland, see articles Gàidhlig Ghallghallaibh agus Alba-a-Deas ("Gaelic of Galloway and Southern Scotland") and Gàidhlig ann an Siorramachd Inbhir-Àir ("Gaelic in Ayrshire") by Garbhan MacAoidh, published in GAIRM Numbers 101 and 106.

There is, however, no evidence of a linguistic border following the topographical north-south differences. Similarly, there is no evidence from placenames of significant linguistic differences between, for example, Argyll and Galloway. Dialects on both sides of the Straits of Moyle (the North Channel) linking Scottish Gaelic with Irish are now extinct.

Today, the closest tied Irish dialect with Highland Gaelic is Ulster Irish, spoken in County Donegal - most notably the Gaeltacht of Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore). Written Ulster Irish as well as common grammatical and vocabulary traits reflects more archaic Classical Gaelic still providing more of a solid link between the two languages than with Official Standard Irish, based on the dialects of southern provinces. However, to claim that Ulster Irish is a perfect intermediate between the Irish and Scottish forms of Gaelic still remains perhaps an over-exaggerated statement.

What is known as Scottish Gaelic today seems to have evolved from the Gaelic spoken in The Outer Hebrides and on Skye. Generally speaking, the Gaelic spoken across The Western Isles (with perhaps exception to that of Arran and Kintyre) is similar enough to be classed as one major dialect group, although there is still regional variation, for example the pronunciation of the slender 'r' as [ð] on Lewis, where the Gaelic has a unique Nordic accent, and is described as being 'toned'.

Gaelic in Eastern Scotland is now largely defunct, although the dialects which were spoken in the east tended to preserve a more archaic tone, which had been lost further west. For example, Gaelic speakers in East Sutherland prefer to say Cà 'd robh tu m' oidhche raoir? (where were you about last night), rather than the more common càit an robh thu a-raoir?.

Number of speakers

Gaelic speakers in Scotland (1755 - 2001)
Year Scottish population Speakers of Gaelic only Speakers of Gaelic and English Speakers of Gaelic and English as % of population
1755 1,265,380 289,798 N/A N/A (22.9 monoglot Gaelic)
1800 1,608,420 297,823 N/A N/A (18.5 monoglot Gaelic)
1881 3,735,573 231,594 N/A N/A (6.1 monoglot Gaelic)
1891 4,025,647 43,738 210,677 5.2
1901 4,472,103 28,106 202,700 4.5
1911 4,760,904 18,400 183,998 3.9
1921 4,573,471 9,829 148,950 3.3
1931 4,588,909 6,716 129,419 2.8
1951 5,096,415 2,178 93,269 1.8
1961 5,179,344 974 80,004 1.5
1971 5,228,965 477 88,415 1.7
1981 5,035,315 N/A 82,620 1.6
1991 5,083,000 N/A 65,978 1.4
2001 5,062,011 N/A 58,652 1.2

Current distribution in Scotland

Geographic Distribution of Gaelic speakers in Scotland (2001)

The 2001 UK Census showed a total of 58,652 Gaelic speakers in Scotland (1.2% of population over three years old).[7] Compared to the 1991 Census, there has been a diminution of approximately 7,300 people (11% of the total), meaning that Gaelic decline (language shift) in Scotland is continuing, albeit at a far slower rate.

Considering the data related to Civil Parishes (which permit a continuous study of Gaelic status since the 19th century), two new circumstances have taken place, which are related to this decline:

  • No parish in Scotland has a proportion of Gaelic speakers greater than 75% any more (the highest value corresponds to Barvas, Lewis and Harris, with 74.7%).
  • No parish in Mainland Scotland has a proportion of Gaelic speakers greater than 25% any more (the highest value corresponds to Lochalsh, Highland, with 20.1%).

The main stronghold of the language continues to be the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar), where the overall proportion of speakers remains at 61.1% and all parishes return values over 50%. The Parish of Kilmuir in Northern Skye is also over this threshold of 50%.

Outside of the Outer Hebrides the only areas with significant percentages of Gaelic speakers are the islands of Tiree (with 47.8%), Skye (with 36.8%), Raasay (with 36.1%) and Lismore (with 28.8%) in the Inner Hebrides.[16] Regardless of this, the weight of Gaelic in Scotland is now much reduced. From a total of almost 900 Civil Parishes in Scotland:

  • 9 of them have a proportion of Gaelic speakers greater than 50%.
  • 20 of them have a proportion of Gaelic speakers greater than 25%.
  • 39 of them have a proportion of Gaelic speakers greater than 10%.

Outside the main Gaelic-speaking areas a relatively high proportion of Gaelic-speaking people are, in effect, socially isolated from other Gaelic-speakers and as a result they have few opportunities to use the language. Complete monolingualism is almost non-existent except among native-speaking children under school age in traditional Gàidhealtachd regions.


Place names in their original Gaelic are becoming increasingly common on road signs throughout the Scottish Highlands. This sign is located in Mallaig.

Prehistoric (or Ogham) Irish, the precursor to Old Irish, in turn the precursor to Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx, was written in a carved writing called Ogham. Ogham consisted of marks made above or below a horizontal line. With the advent of Christianity in the 5th century the Latin alphabet was introduced to Ireland. The Goidelic languages have historically been part of a dialect continuum stretching from the south of Ireland, the Isle of Man, to the north of Scotland.

Classical Gaelic was used as a literary language in Scotland until the 18th century. Orthographic divergence between Scottish Gaelic and Irish is the result of more recent orthographic reforms resulting in standardised pluricentric diasystems.

The 1767 New Testament historically set the standard for Scottish Gaelic. Around the time of World War II, Irish spelling was reformed and the Official Standard or Caighdeán Oifigiúil introduced. Further reform in 1957 eliminated some of the silent letters which are still used in Scottish Gaelic. The 1981 Scottish Examinations Board recommendations for Scottish Gaelic, the Gaelic Orthographic Conventions, were adopted by most publishers and agencies, although they remain controversial among some academics, most notably Ronald Black.[17]


The modern Scottish Gaelic alphabet has 18 letters:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U.

The letter h, now mostly used to indicate lenition of a consonant, was in general not used in the oldest orthography, as lenition was instead indicated with a dot over the lenited consonant. The letters of the alphabet were traditionally named after trees (see Scottish Gaelic alphabet), but this custom has fallen out of use.

The quality of consonants is indicated in writing by the vowels surrounding them. So-called "slender" consonants are palatalised while "broad" consonants are neutral or velarised. The vowels e and i are classified as slender, and a, o, and u as broad. The spelling rule known as caol ri caol agus leathann ri leathann ("slender to slender and broad to broad") requires that a word-medial consonant or consonant group followed by a written i or e be also preceded by an i or e; and similarly if followed by a, o or u be also preceded by an a, o, or u. Consonant quality (palatalised or non-palatalised) is then indicated by the vowels written adjacent to a consonant, and the spelling rule gives the benefit of removing possible uncertainty about consonant quality at the expense of adding additional purely graphic vowels that may not be pronounced. For example, compare the t in slàinte [s̪lˠ̪a:ɲtʲə] with the t in bàta [paːʰt̪ə].

The rule has no effect on the pronunciation of vowels. For example, plurals in Gaelic are often formed with the suffix -an, for example, bròg [prɔːk] (shoe) / brògan [prɔːkən] (shoes). But because of the spelling rule, the suffix is spelled -ean (but pronounced the same) after a slender consonant, as in taigh [tʰɤj] (house) / taighean [tʰɛhən] (houses) where the written e is purely a graphic vowel inserted to conform with the spelling rule because an i precedes the gh.

In changes promoted by the Scottish Examination Board from 1976 onwards, certain modifications were made to this rule. For example, the suffix of the past participle is always spelled -te, even after a broad consonant, as in togte "raised" (rather than the traditional togta).

Bilingual sign at Queen Street Station in Glasgow with English and Gaelic

Where pairs of vowels occur in writing, it is sometimes unclear which vowel is to be pronounced and which vowel has been introduced to satisfy this spelling rule.

Unstressed vowels omitted in speech can be omitted in informal writing. For example:

Tha mi an dòchas. ("I hope.") > Tha mi 'n dòchas.

Once Gaelic orthographic rules have been learned, the pronunciation of the written language is in general quite predictable. However learners must be careful not to try to apply English sound-to-letter correspondences to written Gaelic, otherwise mispronunciations will result. Gaelic personal names such as Seònaid [ˈʃɔːnɛdʲ] are especially likely to be mispronounced by English speakers.

Scots English orthographic rules have also been used at various times in Gaelic writing. Notable examples of Gaelic verse composed in this manner are the Book of the Dean of Lismore and the Fernaig manuscript.

Pronunciation and orthography


Most varieties of Gaelic have between 8 and 9 cardinal vowels ([i e ɛ a o ɔ u ɤ ɯ]) that can be either long or short. There are also two reduced vowels ([ə ɪ]) which only occur short. Although some vowels are strongly nasal, instances of distinctive nasality are rare. There are approximately 9 diphthongs and a few tripthongs.

Most consonants have both palatal and non-palatal counterparts, including a very rich system of liquids, nasals and trills (i.e. 3 contrasting l sounds, 3 contrasting n sounds and 3 contrasting r sounds). Gaelic does not have any voiced stops but a complex system of preaspiration in non-initial positions.


Long vowels are either marked with a grave accent (à, è, ì, ò, ù) or are indicated through digraphs (e.g. ao is [ɯ]) or conditioned by certain consonant evironments (e.g. a u preceding a non-intervocalic nn is [uː]). Traditional spelling systems also uses the acute accent on the letters á, é and ó to denote a change in vowel quality rather than length, but reform from within the Scottish schools system has abandoned these in parts of Gaelic speaking society.

Certain early sources used only an acute accent along the lines of Irish, particularly in 18th century sources such as in the writings of Alex. MacDonald ( 1741/1751) and the earliest editions (1768/1790) of Donnchadh Bán Mac an tSaoir.[18]


Official recognition


An electronic noticeboard displaying
Fàilte gu stèisean Dùn Èideann
("Welcome to Edinburgh station")

Historically, Gaelic has not received the same degree of official recognition from the UK Government as Welsh. With the advent of devolution, however, Scottish matters have begun to receive greater attention, and the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was enacted by the Scottish Parliament on 21 April 2005.

The key provisions of the Act are[19]:

  • Establishing the Gaelic development body, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, (BnG), on a statutory basis with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language and to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic.
  • Requiring BnG to prepare a National Gaelic Language Plan for approval by Scottish Ministers.
  • Requiring BnG to produce guidance on Gaelic Education for education authorities.
  • Requiring public bodies in Scotland, both Scottish public bodies and cross border public bodies insofar as they carry out devolved functions, to develop Gaelic language plans in relation to the services they offer, if requested to do so by BnG.

Following a consultation period, in which the government received many submissions, the majority of which asked that the bill be strengthened, a revised bill was published with the main improvement that the guidance of the Bòrd is now statutory (rather than advisory).

In the committee stages in the Scottish Parliament, there was much debate over whether Gaelic should be given 'equal validity' with English. Due to Executive concerns about resourcing implications if this wording was used, the Education Committee settled on the concept of 'equal respect'. It is still not clear if the ambiguity of this wording will provide sufficient legal force to back up the demands of Gaelic speakers against the whims of public bodies.

The Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament unanimously, with support from all sectors of the Scottish political spectrum on the 21st of April 2005. Some commentators, such as Éamonn Ó Gribín (2006) argue that the Gaelic Act falls so far short of the status accorded Welsh that one would be foolish or naïve to believe that any substantial change will occur in the fortunes of the language as a result of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s efforts.[20]


Year Number of students in
Gaelic medium education
of all students
in Scotland
2005 2,480 0.35%
2006 2,535 0.36% [21]
2007 2,601 0.38%
2008 2,766 ± 0.4% [22]
2009 2,638 0.39% [23]

The Education (Scotland) Act 1872, which completely ignored Gaelic, and led to generations of Gaels being forbidden to speak their native language in the classroom, is now recognised as having dealt a major blow to the language. People still living can recall being beaten for speaking Gaelic in school.[24] The first modern solely Gaelic-medium secondary school, Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu (‘Glasgow Gaelic School’), was opened at Woodside in Glasgow in 2006 (61 partially Gaelic-medium primary schools and approximately a dozen Gaelic-medium secondary schools also exist). A total of 2,092 primary pupils are enrolled in Gaelic-medium primary education in 2006–7.

In Nova Scotia, there are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 native speakers, most of them now elderly. In May 2004, the Provincial government announced the funding of an initiative to support the language and its culture within the province.

Maxville Public School in Maxville, Glengarry offers Scottish Gaelic lessons weekly.

In Prince Edward Island, the Colonel Gray High School is now offering two courses in Gaelic, an introductory and an advanced course, both language and history are taught in these classes. This is the first recorded time that Gaelic has ever been taught as an official course on Prince Edward Island.

Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Gaelic. Along with Irish and Welsh, Gaelic is designated under Part III of the Charter, which requires the UK Government to take a range of concrete measures in the fields of education, justice, public administration, broadcasting and culture.

The Columba Initiative, also known as colmcille (formerly Iomairt Cholm Cille), is a body that seeks to promote links between speakers of Scottish Gaelic and Irish.

However, given there are no longer any monolingual Gaelic speakers,[25] following an appeal in the court case of Taylor v Haughney (1982), involving the status of Gaelic in judicial proceedings, the High Court ruled against a general right to use Gaelic in court proceedings.[26]

Under the provisions of the 2005 Act, it will ultimately fall to BnG to secure the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland.

On 10 December 2008 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Scottish Human Rights Commission had the UDHR translated into Gaelic for the first time [1].

European Union

In October 2009, a new agreement was made which allows Scottish Gaelic to be used formally between Scottish Government ministers and European Union officials. The deal was signed by the UK's representative to the EU, Sir Kim Darroch, and the Scottish government. This does not give Scottish Gaelic official status in the EU, but gives it the right to be a means of formal communications in the EU's institutions. The Scottish government will have to pay for the translation from Gaelic to other European languages. The deal was received positively in Scotland; Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy said the move was a strong sign of the UK government's support for Gaelic. He said that "Allowing Gaelic speakers to communicate with European institutions in their mother tongue is a progressive step forward and one which should be welcomed". Culture Minister Mike Russell said that "this is a significant step forward for the recognition of Gaelic both at home and abroad and I look forward to addressing the council in Gaelic very soon. Seeing Gaelic spoken in such a forum raises the profile of the language as we drive forward our commitment to creating a new generation of Gaelic speakers in Scotland."[27]

Bilingual signs in English and Gaelic are now part of the architecture in the Scottish Parliament building completed in 2004.

Gaelic has long suffered from its lack of use in educational and administrative contexts and has even been suppressed in the past[28] but it has achieved a degree of official recognition with the passage of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.

Machine-readable British passports include some Scottish Gaelic phrases that differ slightly from Irish passports. "Pas" (Irish for passport) is given as "Cead-siubhail", "An tAontas Eorpach" (Irish for European Union) is Aonadh Eórpach, and Northern Ireland is "Éireann a Tuath" (Ir: Tuaisceart Éireann)


As well as being taught in schools, including some in which it is the medium of instruction, it is also used by the local council in the Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The BBC also operates a Gaelic language radio station Radio nan Gàidheal (which regularly transmits joint broadcasts with its Irish counterpart RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta), and there are also television programmes in the language on the BBC and on the independent commercial channels, usually subtitled in English. The ITV franchise in the north of Scotland, STV North (formerly Grampian Television) produces some non-news programming in Scottish Gaelic. The ITV franchise in central Scotland, STV Central produces a number of Scottish Gaelic programmes for both BBC Alba and its own main channel. Viewers of Freeview, a non-subscription digital TV service, can receive the channel TeleG, which broadcasts for an hour every evening. On 19 September 2008 a new Gaelic TV service launched, broadcasting across Europe on the Astra 2 satellites, available to Sky Digital and Freesat viewers in the UK. Despite initial announcements to the contrary, the channel is not yet available on digital cable television. The channel BBC Alba is being operated in partnership between BBC Scotland and MG Alba – a new organisation funded by the Scottish Government, which works to promote the Gaelic language in broadcasting.


Bilingual road signs, street names, business and advertisement signage (in both Gaelic and English) are gradually being introduced throughout Gaelic-speaking regions in the Highlands, Islands and Argyll. In many cases, this has simply meant re-adopting the traditional spelling of a name (such as Ràtagan or Loch Ailleart rather than the anglicised forms Ratagan or Lochailort respectively).

Bilingual railway station signs are now more frequent than they used to be. Practically all of the stations in the highland area use both English and Gaelic, however the spreading of bilingual station signs is become ever-more frequent in the lowlands of Scotland.

While this has been welcomed by many supporters of the language as a means of raising its profile, securing its future as a 'living language' (i.e. allowing people to use it to navigate from A to B in place of English) and creating a sense of place, recently revealed roadsigns for Castletown in Caithness in the Highlands indicate The Highland Council's intention to introduce bilingual signage into all areas of the Highlands have caused some controversy [29].

The Ordnance Survey has acted in recent years to correct many of the mistakes that appear on maps. They announced in 2004 that they intended to make amends for a century of Gaelic ignorance and set up a committee to determine the correct forms of Gaelic place names for their maps.


In the Western Isles, the isles of Lewis, Harris and North Uist have a Presbyterian majority (largely Church of ScotlandEaglais na h-Alba in Gaelic, Free Church of Scotland and Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.) The isles of South Uist and Barra have a Catholic majority. All these churches have Gaelic-speaking congregations throughout the Western Isles.

There are Gaelic-speaking congregations in the Church of Scotland, mainly in the Highlands and Islands, but also in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Notable city congregations with regular services in Gaelic are St Columba's Church, Glasgow and Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk, Edinburgh. Leabhar Sheirbheisean – a shorter Gaelic version of the English-language Book of Common Order – was published in 1996 by the Church of Scotland, ISBN 0-907624-12-X.

The relationship between the Church and Gaelic has not always been an easy one. The widespread use of English in worship has often been suggested as one of the historic reasons for the decline of Gaelic. Whilst the Church of Scotland is supportive today, there is, however, an increasing difficulty in being able to find Gaelic-speaking ministers. The Free Church also recently announced plans to reduce their Gaelic provision by abolishing Gaelic-language communion services, citing both a lack of ministers and a desire to have their congregations united at communion time.[30]


The most notable use of the language in sport is that of the Camanachd Association, the shinty society, who have a bilingual logo.

In the mid-1990s, the Celtic League started a campaign to have the word "Alba" on the Scottish football and rugby union tops. Since 2005, the SFA have supported the use of Scots Gaelic on their teams's strip in recognition of the language's revival in Scotland.[31] However, the SRU is still being lobbied to have "Alba" on the national rugby strip.[32][33]

Some sports coverage, albeit at a small level, takes place in Scottish Gaelic broadcasting.

Personal names

Bilingual roadsign

Scottish Gaelic has a number of personal names, such as Ailean, Aonghas, Dòmhnall, Donnchadh, Coinneach, Murchadh, for which there are traditional forms in English (Alan, Angus, Donald, Duncan, Kenneth, Murdo). There are also distinctly Scottish Gaelic forms of names that belong to the common European stock of given names, such as: Iain (John), Alasdair (Alexander), Uilleam (William), Catrìona (Catherine), Raibert (Robert), Cairistìona (Christina), Anna (Ann), Màiri (Mary), Seumas (James), Pàdraig (Patrick) and Tómas (Thomas). Some names have come into Gaelic from Old Norse, for example: Somhairle ( < Somarliðr), Tormod (< Þórmóðr), Torcuil (< Þórkell, Þórketill), Ìomhair (Ívarr). These are conventionally rendered in English as Sorley (or, historically, Somerled), Norman, Torquil, and Iver (or Evander). There are other, traditional, Gaelic names which have no direct equivalents in English: Oighrig, which is normally rendered as Euphemia (Effie) or Henrietta (Etta) (formerly also as Henny or even as Harriet), or, Diorbhal, which is "matched" with Dorothy, simply on the basis of a certain similarity in spelling; Gormul, for which there is nothing similar in English, and it is rendered as 'Gormelia' or even 'Dorothy'; Beathag, which is "matched" with Becky (> Rebecca) and even Betsy, or Sophie.

Many of these are now regarded as old-fashioned, and are no longer used (which is, of course, a feature common to many cultures: names go out of fashion). As there is only a relatively small pool of traditional Gaelic names from which to choose, some families within the Gaelic-speaking communities have in recent years made a conscious decision when naming their children to seek out names that are used within the wider English-speaking world. These names do not, of course, have an equivalent in Gaelic. What effect that practice (if it becomes popular) might have on the language remains to be seen. At this stage (2005), it is clear that some native Gaelic-speakers are willing to break with tradition. Opinion on this practice is divided; whilst some would argue that they are thereby weakening their link with their linguistic and cultural heritage, others take the opposing view that Gaelic, as with any other language, must retain a degree of flexibility and adaptability if it is to survive in the modern world at all.

The well-known name Hamish, and the recently established Mhairi (pronounced [vaːri]) come from the Gaelic for, respectively, James, and Mary, but derive from the form of the names as they appear in the vocative case: Seumas (James) (nom.) → Sheumais (voc.), and, Màiri (Mary) (nom.) → Mhàiri (voc.).

The most common class of Gaelic surnames are, of course, those beginning with mac (Gaelic for son), such as MacGillEathain (MacLean). The female form is nic (Gaelic for daughter), so Catherine MacPhee is properly called in Gaelic, Caitrìona Nic a' Phì. [Strictly, "nic" is a contraction of the Gaelic phrase "nighean mhic", meaning "daughter of the son", thus Nic Dhomhnuill, really means "daughter of MacDonald" rather than "daughter of Donald".] Although there is a common misconception that "mac" means "son of", the "of" part actually comes from the genitive form of the patronymic that follows the prefix "Mac", e.g., in the case of MacNéill, Néill (of Neil) is the genitive form of Niall (Neil).

Several colours give rise to common Scottish surnames: bàn (Bain – white), ruadh (Roy – red), dubh (Dow – black), donn (Dunn – brown), buidhe (Bowie – yellow).


The majority of the vocabulary of Scottish Gaelic is native Celtic. There are a large number of borrowings from Latin, (muinntir, Didòmhnaich), ancient Greek, especially in the religious domain (eaglais, Bìoball from Ekklesia and Biblia), Norse (eilean, sgeir), Hebrew (Sàbaid, Aba) and Lowland Scots (aidh, bramar).

In common with other Indo-European languages, the neologisms which are coined for modern concepts are typically based on Greek or Latin, although written in Gaelic orthography; television, for instance, becomes telebhisean (cian-dhealbh could also be used), and computer becomes coimpiùtar (aireamhadair, bocsa-fiosa or bocsa-sgrìobhaidh could also be used). Although native speakers frequently use an English word for which there is a perfectly good Gaelic equivalent, they will, without thinking, simply adopt the English word and use it, applying the rules of Gaelic grammar, as the situation requires. With verbs, for instance, they will simply add the verbal suffix (-eadh, or, in Lewis, -igeadh, as in, "Tha mi a' watcheadh (Lewis, "watchigeadh") an telly" (I am watching the television), instead of "Tha mi a' coimhead air a' chian-dhealbh". This was remarked upon by the minister who compiled the account covering the parish of Stornoway in the New Statistical Account of Scotland, published over 170 years ago. It has even gone so far as the verb Backdatigeadh. However, as Gaelic medium education grows in popularity, a newer generation of literate Gaels is becoming more familiar with modern Gaelic vocabulary.

Going in the other direction, Scottish Gaelic has influenced the Scots language (gob) and English, particularly Scottish Standard English. Loanwords include: whisky, slogan, brogue, jilt, clan, strontium (from Strontian), trousers, as well as familiar elements of Scottish geography like ben (beinn), glen (gleann) and loch. Irish has also influenced Lowland Scots and English in Scotland, but it is not always easy to distinguish its influence from that of Scottish Gaelic. See List of English words of Scottish Gaelic origin

Source: An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, Alexander MacBain.

Common words and phrases with Irish and Manx equivalents

Scottish Gaelic Phrase Irish Equivalent Manx Gaelic Equivalent Rough English Translation
Fàilte Fáilte Failt Welcome
Halò Haileo or Haigh or Dia dhuit (trad., lit.: "God be with you") Hello Hello
Latha math Lá maith Laa mie Good day
Ciamar a tha thu? Conas atá tú? (Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? in Connacht or Cad é mar atá tú? in Ulster) Kys t'ou? How are you?
Ciamar a tha sibh? Conas atá sibh? (Cén chaoi a bhfuil sibh? in Connacht or Cad é mar atá sibh? in Ulster) Kys ta shiu? How are you? (plural, singular formal)
Madainn mhath Maidin mhaith Moghrey mie Good morning
Feasgar math Trathnóna maith Fastyr mie Good afternoon
Oidhche mhath Oíche mhaith Oie vie Good night
Tapadh leat Go raibh maith agat Gura mie ayd Thank you
Tapadh leibh Go raibh maith agaibh Gura mie eu Thank you (plural, singular formal)
Dè an t-ainm a tha ort? Cad é an t-ainm atá ort? or Cad is ainm duit? Cre'n ennym t'ort? What is your name?
Dè an t-ainm a tha oirbh? Cad é an t-ainm atá oraibh? or Cad is ainm daoibh? Cre'n ennym t'erriu? What is your name?(plural, singular formal)
Is mise..., Mise... Is mise..., Mise... Mish... I am...
Slàn leat Slán leat Slane lhiat Goodbye
Slàn leibh Slán libh Slane lhiu Goodbye (plural, singular formal)
Dè a tha seo? Cad é seo? Cred shoh?, Cre shoh? What is this?
Slàinte Sláinte Slaynt "health" (used as a toast [cf. English "cheers"] when drinking)

Qualifications in the language


The Scottish Qualifications Authority offer two streams of Gaelic examination across all levels of the syllabus: Gaelic for learners (equivalent to the modern foreign languages syllabus) and Gaelic for native speakers (equivalent to the English syllabus).

An Comunn Gàidhealach performs assessment of spoken Gaelic, resulting in the issue of a Bronze Card, Silver Card or Gold Card. Syllabus details are available on An Comunn's website. These are not widely recognised as qualifications, but are required for those taking part in certain competitions at the annual mods.

Higher and further education

A number of Scottish universities offer full-time degrees including a Gaelic language element, usually graduating as Celtic Studies.

St. Francis Xavier University, the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts and Cape Breton University (formerly University College Of Cape Breton) in Nova Scotia, Canada also offer a Celtic Studies degrees and/or Gaelic language programs.

Courses at the UHI Millennium Institute

UHI Millennium Institute offers a range of Gaelic courses at Cert HE, Dip HE, BA (ordinary), BA (Hons) and MA, and offers opportunities for postgraduate research through the medium of Gaelic. The majority of these courses are available as residential courses at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. A number of other colleges offer the one year certificate course, which is also available on-line (pending accreditation).

Lews Castle College's Benbecula campus offers an independent 1 year course in Gaelic and Traditional Music (FE, SQF level 5/6).

See also


  1. ^ CnaG ¦ Census 2001 Scotland: Gaelic speakers by council area
  2. ^ "News Release - Scotland's Census 2001 - Gaelic Report" from General Registrar for Scotland website, 10 October 2005. Retrieved 27 December 2007
  3. ^ "Oifis Iomairtean na Gaidhlig
  4. ^ "Language by State - Scottish Gaelic" on Modern Language Association website. Retrieved 27 December 2007
  5. ^ "Languages Spoken At Home" from Australian Government Office of Multicultural Interests website. Retrieved 27 December 2007
  6. ^ Languages Spoken:Total Responses from Statistics New Zealand website. Retrieved 5 August 2008
  7. ^ a b Kenneth MacKinnon (2003). "Census 2001 Scotland: Gaelic Language – first results". Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  8. ^ MacKinnon, Kenneth, Gaelic A Past and Future Prospect, 1991
  9. ^
  10. ^ W. F. H. Nicolaisen: Scottish Place-Names, B. T. Batsford, London 1986, p.133
  11. ^ Campbell, Ewan (2001). "Were the Scots Irish?". Antiquity 75: 285–92. 
  12. ^ Gaelic - A Past and Future Prospect. MacKinnon, Kenneth. Saltire Society Edinburgh 1991. p41
  13. ^ a b Mackenzie, Donald W. (1990-92). "The Worthy Translator: How the Scottish Gaels got the Scriptures in their own Tongue". Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 57: 168–202. 
  14. ^ Ross, David. Scotland: History of a Nation. Geddes & Grosset, 2002.
  15. ^ Printed at the Office of Messrs. Arthur Guthrie and Sons Ltd., 49 Ayr Road, Cumnock
  16. ^ Duwe,Kurt(2006):Gaidhlig(Scottish Gaelic)Local Studies Vol.20 Muile,Tiriodh & Colla page 23 2nd edition September 2006 and Duwe, Kurt 2006:Gaidhlig(Scottish Gaelic)Local Studies Vol.17 Gleann Comhann,Lios Mor & Aird Chatain page 27 2nd edition May 2006
  17. ^ The Board of Celtic Studies Scotland (1998) Computer-Assisted Learning for Gaelic: Towards a Common Teaching Core. The orthographic conventions were revised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in 2005: "Gaelic Orthographic Conventions 2005" (PDF). SQA publication BB1532. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  18. ^ O'Rahilly, T.F., Irish Dialects Past and Present. First published by Brown and Nolan 1932, ISBN 0901282553. Page19
  19. ^ Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.
  21. ^ Pupils in Scotland 2006
  22. ^ Pupils in Scotland 2008
  23. ^ Pupils in Scotland 2009
  24. ^ Pagoeta, Mikel Morris (2001). Europe Phrasebook. Lonely Planet. pp. 416. ISBN-X. 
  25. ^ UK Ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Working Paper 10 - R.Dunbar, 2003
  26. ^ Official Status for Gaelic: Prospects and Problems
  27. ^ "EU green light for Scots Gaelic" BBC News 07-10-09 Link received 07-10-09
  28. ^ See Kenneth MacKinnon (1991) Gaelic: A Past and Future Prospect. Edinburgh: The Saltire Society.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Free Church plans to scrap Gaelic communion service - News
  31. ^ "BBC Scotland - Gaelic added to Scotland strips". 24 August 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  32. ^ Scottish Rugby Union: "Put 'Alba' on Scottish Ruby Shirt" | Facebook
  33. ^ "BBC Alba - Gàidhlig air lèintean rugbaidh na h-Alba". 


  • Gillies, H. Cameron (1896) Elements of Gaelic Grammar, Vancouver: Global Language Press (reprint 2006), ISBN 1-897367-02-3 (hardcover), ISBN 1-897367-00-7 (paperback)
  • Gillies, William (1993) "Scottish Gaelic", in: Ball, Martin J. and Fife, James (eds) The Celtic Languages (Routledge Language Family Descriptions), London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28080-X (paperback), p. 145–227
  • Lamb, William (2001) Scottish Gaelic, Munich: Lincom Europa, ISBN 3-89586-408-0
  • MacAoidh, Garbhan (2007) Tasgaidh - A Gaelic Thesaurus, Lulu Enterprises, N. Carolina
  • McLeod, Wilson (ed.) (2006) Revitalising Gaelic in Scotland: Policy, Planning and Public Discourse, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, ISBN 1-903765-59-5
  • Robertson, Charles M. (1906–07). "Scottish Gaelic Dialects", The Celtic Review, vol 3 pp. 97–113, 223–39, 319–32.

External links

Scottish Gaelic edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simple English

Not to be confused with Lowland Scots language.
Not to be confused with Highland English.

The Scottish language (Gàidhlig) (often commonly referred to simply as Gaelic in English) is a sister language of Irish and Manx; all three are Goidelic languages and part of the Celtic language family. It is also related to the Welsh language, Cornish language and the Breton language (these three are Brittonic or Brythonic languages).


In past times, the language was spoken across all of Scotland, except for the Northern Islands (Orkney and Shetland). In the later part of the Middle Ages, the kings of Scotland began to speak the English language, and looked down on the Scottish language. After the union of England and Scotland, the language was snubbed and looked down on even more. The English language took over.

Scottish Gaelic today

Today, it is spoken only by about 60,000 people in Scotland and perhaps 1,000-2,000 in Nova Scotia, Canada. Only the Western Isles of Scotland have more people who can speak the language than not (61% of the people here speak Gaelic). The place in Scotland with the biggest percentage of Scottish Gaelic speakers is a village called Barvas on the Isle of Lewis. There, 74.7% of the people there speak the language. Gaelic is dying out, but many people are starting to learn the language.

Other pages

This language has its own Wikipedia Project.


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