Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Supporting linguistic diversity in Scotland

Creating opportunities for Gaelic language use within the University of Edinburgh and strengthening relationships with the wider Gaelic community, Isla Parker talks to us about her role as the University’s Gaelic and Community Relations Officer and reflects on her own journey as a Gaelic speaker.

Isla Parker by a lake in the Scottish highlands
Isla Parker, Gaelic and Community Relations Officer, on holiday in Plockton in the Scottish Highlands

Since 2022, Isla Parker has been employed as the Gaelic and Community Relations Officer at the University of Edinburgh. She is based in the Stakeholder Relations team within the central Communications and Marketing department, where she works to raise the profile of Gaelic and create opportunities for its use within the University community and beyond.

Isla also supports Gaelic-speaking staff and students and often collaborates closely with colleagues in our Celtic and Scottish Studies department on workshops and outreach projects to deliver the University’s Gaelic Language Plan.

This role is all about creating spaces and opportunities for people to use Gaelic on campus and raising the profile of the language across the University,” Isla explains.

“I look after the University’s Gaelic Language Plan, which lays out the University’s commitments to Gaelic, with everything from embedding Gaelic into our signage policy to supporting Gaelic Week Edinburgh and establishing a Gaelic Writer in Residence scheme.“

Established in 2014, Gaelic Week Edinburgh is a celebration of the Gaelic community of Edinburgh, past and present. It is hosted by the University in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council. This year, Gaelic Week Edinburgh celebrates its tenth anniversary and runs from 19 February to 25 February in conjunction with the wider World Gaelic Week.   

“Throughout the week, organisations across Edinburgh hold events which celebrate Gaelic and our local community. Past events include ceilidhs, storytelling nights, concerts, and taster sessions. With over 25 events scheduled this year, there really is something for everyone, whatever your age or relationship with Gaelic.“

Learning Gaelic from scratch at university

Born in south-west Scotland, Isla tells us that she didn’t grow up speaking Scottish Gaelic at home, but that her parents took the family to the Highlands every year, and that she still goes back as often as she can.

Their travels to the north of Scotland awakened a love for Gaelic, and Isla started learning the language while at university in Glasgow:

I came to Celtic Studies by accident on the recommendation of the Arts Advising team, and ended up switching my degree from Film to Celtic Studies in third year – I guess the team advised well! After I finished my degree, I spent a year at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, which really improved my Gaelic skills.”

Isla recognises that learning a whole new language from scratch can seem intimidating, but points out that it is also a journey to enjoy.

Learning a language is a lot of work but it is also a really fun experience! Even if you’re not fluent, there is a lot of fun to be had in speaking a language imperfectly.

Why does the University have a Gaelic Language Plan?

Dating back centuries, Gaelic is an important part of Scotland’s cultural heritage, and under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, it gained status as an official language of Scotland. The most recent Gaelic census undertaken in 2011 showed that the decline in the number of Gaelic speakers has slowed down compared to earlier censuses, and, significantly, that there was an increase in speakers below the age of 29 (source: Scottish Government Gaelic language plan 2022 to 2027).  

Discussing the need for a University-wide Gaelic Language Plan, Isla says:

“As one of Scotland’s four ancient universities and in a pivotal position in our capital city, it is significant that the University of Edinburgh has made such strong and ambitious commitments to the Gaelic language.“

The Gaelic language has been minoritised over centuries of oppression. Today, we can finally say that Gaelic, that was once the language of all of Scotland, has official status. But the work is not done there. It is important that organisations make commitments to ensure that the Gaelic language and culture is promoted and protected locally, enabling speakers and learners to use the language of their choice and enhancing the profile of the language.

Unique opportunities for Gaelic speakers

As organisations across Scotland commit to support and boost a once declining language, more and more job and volunteer opportunities are opening up for Gaelic-speaking graduates in policy, education, community outreach, and the creative arts.

The vibrant and growing Gaelic-speaking community in Scotland is thriving, and for Isla, one of the most exciting things about being part of it is getting to work with people and groups in Edinburgh and across the country who are strengthening and promoting Gaelic in their local areas.

“It’s always really fun and encouraging to hear about the different projects that are happening across Scotland,” she concludes.

Are you interested in studying with us?

Home of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, we are the longest established Celtic department in Scotland. Choose from a wide range of undergraduate degrees in Celtic, Scottish Ethnology, Scottish Studies, and Primary Education with Gaelic, or a range of postgraduate opportunities, including Masters by Research and PhD programmes.

Find out more about Celtic and Scottish Studies at Edinburgh

The Centre for Open Learning (COL) also offers Gaelic credit and evening courses to members of the public, staff and students.

Find out more about studying Gaelic at the Centre for Open Learning

Related links and resources

Browse the Gaelic Week Edinburgh 2024 programme

Gaelic at the University of Edinburgh website

Follow Gaelic at Edinburgh on Instagram

Follow and like Gaelic at Edinburgh on Facebook

Meet our Gaelic Writer in Residence