Celtic & Scottish Studies

Gaelic Language Policy

Why is Gaelic important for Scotland and why just translation is not enough.

Since the 1990s the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies has been deeply involved in research and policy development for Gaelic in Scotland. This work has helped shape the decisions of policymakers in national and local government and in different Gaelic organisations, especially in the field of education, where our research has helped advance Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s plans for the strategic development of the language.

Dr Wilson McLeod (Senior Lecturer; appointed 1 September 2001) and Professor Donald Meek, who retired in 2008, served on Comunn na Gàidhlig’s Working Group on Status, whose proposals for legislation (1997, 1999), having been further refined by the report of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Gaelic (2002), chaired by Professor Meek, led to the enactment of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. The work of Dr McLeod and Professor Donald Meek on Gaelic policy was noted as an example in the British Academy’s 2009 report on the impact of humanities research, “Punching our weight: the humanities and social sciences in public policy making”.

The Gaelic Act establishes a statutory language planning board, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which is required to produce a National Gaelic Language Plan and National Gaelic Education Strategy every five years. The Act also requires individual public bodies in Scotland to develop Gaelic language plans. Dr McLeod and other Edinburgh colleagues have been involved in a range of research to assist in the implementation of the National Plan and the shaping and monitoring of individual language plans.

In response to his opening address concerning the implementation of the Gaelic Act to a major Bòrd-funded conference on Gaelic development in 2009, Dr McLeod was commissioned by the Bòrd to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the first nine language plans prepared by public bodies in Scotland. These plans are long and detailed and vary considerably from organisation to organisation. Dr McLeod’s report on the content of Gaelic plans (2010) was specifically requested in order to help Bòrd na Gàidhlig with the process of plan design and approval. The analysis developed in that report will facilitate the Bòrd’s scrutiny of future plans, including second-generation plans produced by the bodies whose plans were considered in detail in the report. This work dovetails with his published academic work on these plans and their strategic role in language revitalisation.

Another key requirement of the Act is the production of a National Gaelic Language Act and National Gaelic Education Strategy every five years. Reports dealing with early years education and childcare, attainment and choice in primary and secondary education, and adult Gaelic learning opportunities were commissioned with the specific purpose of advancing the “National Plan for Gaelic 2007-2012”. The Bòrd has now detailed its plans for implementation of these reports in its recent action plan to increase the numbers of Gaelic speakers, “Ginealach Ùr na Gàidhlig”.

Following the publication of the adult education report, which made a number of recommendations for the improvement of the learning infrastructure, the Bòrd gave a significant injection of funding to the course provider Deiseal Ltd to improve the offer of Gaelic classes to adults in different parts of Scotland. The press release concerning this injection of funding referred specifically to the recommendations in Edinburgh’s report.

The report on choice and attainment was widely reported in the print and broadcast media and has already had a significant impact on Gaelic education policy. Its importance has been noted in the school inspectorate’s Gaelic strategy document in the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence Gaelic Excellence Group report (2011) and in Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s website (www.gaidhlig.org.uk/en/our-work/education/why-gaelic.html) and publications. At Highland Council’s request, a special presentation of the research findings was made to the Council’s Gaelic Committee in March 2011 and the Council has including the findings of the report in its recent promotional leaflet on Gaelic education (Highland Council 2011). Comann nam Pàrant, the organisation representing parents of children in Gaelic-medium education, has also flagged up the research in its promotional materials (2011) and on its website (www.parant.org.uk/foghlam).

Our research in relation to Gaelic policy is now being carried forward within the structure of Soillse, a multi-university initiative funded by the Scottish Funding Council, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Dr McLeod is Edinburgh’s representative on the Soillse management team and Fiona O’Hanlon, lead researcher on the project concerning choice and attainment, has been appointed as Soillse research fellow (a four-year appointment from 2010-14).