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Research Reveals Popular Support For Scottish Language

Place names in the Scottish language are becoming increasingly common on road signs throughout Scotland
Place names in the Scottish language are becoming increasingly common on road signs throughout Scotland

Soillse is a research initiative between several universities in Scotland and its latest report on attitudes across the nation to the Scottish language (Scots Gaelic) are very encouraging indeed (full PDF here). The study reveals that of the population of Scotland: 

“…15% reported being able to speak at least the odd word of Gaelic, and 25% were able to understand at least the odd word. 0.5% of our sample were fluent speakers of Gaelic. 

Respondents were asked about their exposure to Gaelic in their past and present, and their preferences about this in the future. 16% of people reported that they had heard Gaelic in the past as a child, either at home or amongst their wider family or community. Respondents were asked whether they currently heard Gaelic spoken in their home or community. Only 4% of the sample had heard Gaelic spoken in their home by family members or visitors in the last 12 months, compared to 70% who had heard Gaelic in their homes by means of the media – whether on television or on radio. 

A similar contrast existed for the community context, with 12% of the sample reporting having heard Gaelic spoken in a public place (for example the street or a shop) in the last 12 months, and 58% of the sample reporting having seen Gaelic on road signs or on other public signs. Such results show the impact of public sector interventions to support the Gaelic language, with the media providing exposure to Gaelic in the home, and road signs and other public signs doing so in the community. 

People in Scotland were well-disposed to the greater public visibility of Gaelic in the future… More than 4 out of 5 people were in favour of bilingual road signs or other public signs in areas in which Gaelic is spoken, with around half of people wishing road and public signs to be bilingual throughout Scotland. One in 7 people believed that road signs and public signs should be in English only across Scotland.” 

When those surveyed were asked for their views on indigenous Scottish culture the responses were equally as positive: 

“Respondents were asked to assess the extent to which they believed Gaelic to be important to (i) the cultural heritage of Scotland, (ii) the cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands and (iii) their own cultural heritage. 86% of people regarded Gaelic as being important to the cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands, and a large majority – 76% of people – also saw the Gaelic language as being an important part of Scottish heritage. 

The proportion of people who felt that Gaelic is important to their own heritage was much lower – 24%. Over half (57%) of people who regarded Gaelic as very or fairly important to their own heritage did not understand Gaelic at all. Well over half (70%) of those who regarded Gaelic as very or fairly important to their identity recalled having no exposure to it as a child” 

On language rights the news was more mixed proving that there is still a mountain of work to be done on people’s attitudes towards equality between Scottish-speaking and English-speaking citizens of Scotland: 

“Respondents were asked a series of questions relating to whether or not Gaelic speakers should have the right to use the language in various social settings. This was asked in relation to six domains: 

• dealing with the local council;

• appearing as a witness in a court;

• speaking to a doctor or nurse in the National Health Service (NHS);

• speaking at a public meeting;

• a customer writing to their bank;

• school education. 

…between 30% and 40% wished Gaelic speakers to have such language rights anywhere in Scotland. Combining these figures with the proportion who were in favour of such language rights only in Gaelic speaking areas, we see that a very clear majority of people favoured such language rights for Gaelic speakers in at least some parts of Scotland.

For example, 85% wished Gaelic speakers to have the right to use Gaelic in communication with their Local Council. However, substantial minorities would not grant such rights – as many as 27% in the case of being a witness and in speaking to a nurse or doctor in the NHS.” 

On education some surprising results with the revelation that some 25% of parents in Scotland would favour Scottish-medium education for their children if it was available:

“In relation to Gaelic-medium education, respondents were asked whether they felt that parents should have the right to choose this for their child. In the survey, Gaelic-medium education was explained as children receiving most of the lessons in Gaelic. 48% of respondents said that parents anywhere in Scotland should have the right to send their child to a Gaelic-medium school, and a further 43% said parents should have this right in areas where Gaelic is spoken. Only 8% said that they should not have that right anywhere in Scotland. 

Asked if they would send their own child to a Gaelic-medium school, one quarter said they would be ‘very likely’ (10%) or ‘fairly likely’ (15%) to do so, compared to 73% of respondents who said they would be ‘not very likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ to do so. The 25% who would be likely to choose Gaelic-medium education is very much higher than the proportion of parents who currently choose Gaelic-medium education for their child (about 1%). 

Respondents were also asked for their views on teaching Gaelic to all pupils (aged 5-16) in English-medium schools in Scotland for one or two hours a week. 37% agreed that children should be taught Gaelic, 36% disagreed and 26% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Such varied views reflected respondents’ views of learning Gaelic more generally. For example, when asked whether ‘learning Gaelic is pointless in the 21st Century’, 44% of respondents disagreed, 22% agreed and 34% neither agreed nor disagreed, or else could not choose.” 

On the future: 

“Respondents were asked for their predictions regarding the future of Gaelic in 50 years time – whether it would be spoken by more, fewer, or the same number of people as in 2012 – and were then asked the same question about what they would like to happen in relation to Gaelic. Chart 5 shows the results. The graph shows the majority of respondents – 81% – wished there to be at least as many Gaelic speakers in 50 years time as there were in 2012, but that only 45% of respondents expected that this would be the case. 

In relation to respondents’ views of whether the use of Gaelic should be encouraged, 32% believed that it should be encouraged throughout Scotland, and a further 55% believed that it should be encouraged, but only in Gaelic-speaking areas. 

… there was a widely held belief that Gaelic television did have a crucial role in ensuring the future of Gaelic. 68% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that having Gaelic programmes on TV is essential to ensuring that some people use the Gaelic language in the future. The proportion who agreed that teaching some children in Gaelic is essential to the future of Gaelic language use was similar, at 67%.” 

The report has generated some very positive headlines in Scotland. From the BBC

“Survey suggests support for public spending on Gaelic” 

From the Scotsman newspaper

“Half of Scots back right to send child to Gaelic school” 

But, predictably, it has also drawn a backlash from Anglophone supremacists in the country. Do these comments sound familiar to an Irish readership? 

The Ghost: Gaelic the most pointless language since Esperanto. A total waste of money.” 

P Moss: A language is for both communication and access to literature. Gaelic does neither of these and to subsume English to secondary language status for the sake of historic, sentimental reasons, and especially ‘ant-English’ reasons would be the biggest mistake of any country… I sympathise with Gaelic as a cultural tool, but as a major medium for communication in Scotland, it would be disastrous. Who would they talk to outside Scotland?” 

One might say the same of the Danes, Swedes, Finn, Italians, Dutch and so on. But there is more of thise nonsense with a wearily familiar claim: 

China Tim: Sorry I see no point in wasting money teaching a language which is spoken by barely a few thousand speakers. Want to learn Gaelic, fine, do it in your own time using your own money and good luck. Better bringing back Latin which at least provides an understanding of the building blocks of many modern European languages.” 

And here comes that perennial Angloban argument: 

You’ve Been Quangoed: …the taxpayer should not be paying for this, if parents want to send their kids to any segregated or sepearted [ASF: presumably he/she means “separated”?] schools they should pay for it themselves, although what they hope to achieve by wasting their kids time teaching them a dead language of no international use is beyond me.” 

If that is discouraging at least remember that in the survey 25% of parents favoured Scottish-medium education for their children if given the choice. The problem is such a choice is being denied them. Just as in Ireland.

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5 comments on “Research Reveals Popular Support For Scottish Language

  1. People refer to Gaelic as Irish and likewise Scottish. This was a division of our common Gaelic heritage which differs from Welsh,Manx,Cornish due to earlier settlement timings, movements. Irish and Scottish dialects are very similar. All acceptance of our common Gaelic first and reference to Dialect second unifies us in a positive way. This creates a ripple effect concerning our Gaelic Race. Ta muid ar Ras i gchumhachtai Gaelach.


    • Hi Joe, I quiet agree about the importance of our shared Gaelic heritage in Ireland and Scotland (and the Isle of Man). I am above all a Gaelic Republican and Pan-Gaelic Nationalist. However I respect and agree with those younger Gaelic-speaking Scots who believe that one way of overcoming prejudice against the language and those who speak it is to cast it in its true light as Scotland’s indigenous and national language – as the “Scottish language” or simply “Scottish”. The same process as occurred in Ireland in the 19th century when the English language term “Gaelic” was supplanted by “Irish” (just as one would say “French” or “German” for those languages when speaking English). It is worth noting that some Anglophone Scots object to the term “Scottish” just as some Anglophone Irish people object to “Irish” instead of the word “Gaelic”. The reasons for that are obvious.

      I believe the words Irish, Scottish and Gaelic can quite happily exist alongside each other and be used when appropriate.

      It is also worth remembering that “Irish” (as “Irysche” and variations thereof) and “Scottish” (“Scyttish” and variations thereof) existed as the names of the Gaelic languages of Ireland and Scotland in the English language long before the term “Gaelic” came into common use. Indeed, in Scotland there was a deliberate process of changing “Scottish” to “Gaelic” (or worse “Erse”) in order to denigrate and lessen the status of the language and its speakers.

      Scots Gaelic was originally frequently called Scottish!


  2. I am a School Teacher based in New Zealand. I already have some ability to speak Irish to the Foinne Airgead standard. I am willing to relocate to Scotland and be trained to fluency whilst teaching at the same time. My specialist subject is Physics though I have ability to teach Chemistry, Mathematics, History as well as being a Rugby coach.

    If someone can help me please email


  3. Cody Winn

    Scottish Gaelic is an important aspect of Scottish culture, and should be spoken all over Scotland. And who cares if there’s limited international use of the language? Is that all it takes for the Scots to deny their lineage? We are no Englishmen, so why must we speak their wretched tongue? I for one would like to see the option of Gaelic medium education throughout Scotland, (at all levels of education), and the use of the language throughout all Scotland, (even the English loving lowlands…). Is fheàrr Gàidhlig bhriste na Gàidhlig sa chiste. Alba go bragh!


    • I agree Cody. Being speakers of a global minority language doesn’t seem to do the Finns and Danes any harm. Or any other of half a hundred nation-states.

      The assumption that English is the one and only language of import is ridiculous. It is great to have as a second language, and we should retain it as such in our schools. But Gaelic, Irish or Scottish, should be the daily spoken language of our nations. And there is no reason why those related languages cannot be so. It simply takes the political leadership, the will and the time to make it so.


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