Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Thriving in Scotland’s culture - Professor of Gaelic honoured for contribution to Public Life

Wilson McLeod talks about his Saltire Society honour, one of six Fletcher of Saltoun Awards given to Scotland’s leading figures in 2020.

Wilson McLeod, Professor of Gaelic in Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, has been honoured with one of the Saltire Society’s six Fletcher of Saltoun Awards for 2020.

Photo of Wilson McLeod in his office
Professor Wilson McLeod, Fletcher of Saltoun Award winner for Contribution to Public Life

Given to Scotland’s “Greatest Contributors” for going above and beyond in the areas of Science, Arts and Humanities, and Public Life, the Fletcher of Saltoun Awards are nominated by members of the Saltire Society, a non-political organisation that raises public awareness of Scotland’s distinct natural and cultural heritage in all its richness and diversity. The University's Professor Devi Sridhar has also been honoured.

In announcing Wilson as an award winner, Sarah Mason, Director of the Saltire Society, commented on his “tireless work to ensure that Gaelic not only receives the recognition it deserves but thrives in Scotland’s culture”, and of how highly he is regarded among both members of the Gaelic-speaking community and of the Saltire Society.

She added: “We know that Wilson will continue to be the advocate for Scotland’s indigenous language of Gaelic and look forward to seeing what the future brings.”

Take me to the Saltire Society announcement and Wilson's acceptance speech on YouTube

Securing the future of the language

By the turn of the 21st century, UNESCO had categorised Scottish Gaelic as an endangered language but, in almost 20 years at the University of Edinburgh, Wilson has helped it to flourish again through providing an evidence base for policy on Gaelic language planning, maintenance and education.

At the same time, he has contributed to a strong undergraduate and postgraduate programme portfolio in Celtic and Scottish Studies, with much of his teaching - as he explains it -“considering the status of Gaelic in linguistic and policy terms, and exploring the dynamics of ideology and power that have marginalised the language and the ways in which its future may be secured.”

Of winning the Fletcher of Saltoun Award, Wilson has said “After centuries of marginalisation and denigration Gaelic language and culture have gained a level of appreciation and respect from government, public institutions, and civil society in Scotland that allows us to be more optimistic again about their potential to enrich the lives of future generations. […] I hope to continue to play my part in this important work in the years to come and I’m very grateful for this recognition from the Society. Mòran taing.”

We also spoke to Jeff Justice, a PhD student supervised by Wilson, whose research is on applying biopolitics to explain the state and health of minoritised languages.

Jeff told us “When I decided to study for a PhD in Celtic and Scottish Studies, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted Wilson McLeod to be on the supervisory team.  He is respected universally in Celtic Studies and also in other minoritised language communities for his knowledge and wisdom. That the Saltire Society has chosen to bestow one of Scotland’s greatest honours on him in recognition of his work validates the choice to ask him to supervise my project. I am honoured for this chance to work with him.” 

Professor Wilson McLeod’s new book 'Gaelic in Scotland: Policies, Movements, Ideologies', the first comprehensive study of Gaelic in modern Scotland, will be launched online on Thursday 12th November 2020. The book is published by Edinburgh University Press.

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Related links

Watch/listen to Wilson talk about his research on Vimeo