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  • Writer's pictureEuan Smith

Gaelic will not survive unless radical action is taken

The ancient tongue of the Gaels is going silent. If the findings are true, the transmission of Scotland's oldest language will cease in the next ten years. The Gaelic language act 2005 was a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough in preserving the language for future generations.

Gaelic speakers often feel pressured to speak English in formal situations and feel that the language does not carry the same prestige as English. A report published in the summer makes for some truly shocking reading. The Publication: The Gaelic Crisis in the vernacular community‘ is one of the most comprehensive studies into the state of Gaelic: Census data for the period 1981–2011 show a continued decline in the number of Gaelic speakers resident in the islands of the research area, a 13% proportional average loss per decade since 1981. Of the resident population aged 3+, only 52% of people in the 2011 Census reported an ability to speak Gaelic compared to 80% at the 1981 Census.’ This is a sobering statistic, in the space of only 40 years, there has been a 32% decline in speakers. This is an unsustainable decline.

In the same finding only 5.2% of teenagers in Gaelic education use the language outside of a classroom setting. Pupils are learning the language in school but with no reason to use it outside the classroom they are then losing it. With no language learning taking place in the home, what happens is these young Gaels learn the language of school and not the language of the home, reducing their overall vocabulary.

Other countries such as Ireland and Wales have been far more successful at promoting indigenous languages and Scotland can learn from their experiences. The Irish Gaeltacht’s have long been seen as a success story in how to preserve clusters of Irish native speakers, and Welsh medium Schools are more successful than their English Counterparts. As the National Party of Scotland, the SNP is perfectly placed to be the vehicle of change. Scotland can, and must do better.

 Why should we action? Despite what Jackson Carlaw might have you think this isn't just about road signs and police cars, Gaelic is worth more to the Scottish economy than you might think. A study from Highlands and Islands Enterprise suggests Gaelic is worth £148 million to the Scottish economy which far outstrips the £28 or so million spent on it by the Scottish Government.  

If Gaelic is to survive until the next century there needs to be a massive shift in Scottish language policy, a focus towards our treasured indigenous languages. We need to listen to the needs of the Gaelic speaking communities. What is working? What is needed? What can be done better? These are all questions that only our communities can answer, not quangos based in Inverness who are out of touch with modern Gaels. And survive it must, if Gaelic goes extinct, Scotland will lose something integral to its nationhood.

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