Research

Revitalising the Scottish Gaelic language

Colleagues in Celtic and Scottish Studies have helped the lead Gaelic development agency, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to shape evidence-based policy on language planning and maintenance.

By the turn of the 21st century, UNESCO had categorised Scottish Gaelic as an ‘endangered’ language. Over the past 20 years, successive Scottish governments have sought to reverse this decline, revitalising Scotland’s Gaelic language, culture and heritage in a range of ways. Using their research into language development in both an historical and comparative context, as well as linguistic work and research on education and media, colleagues in Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh have helped the lead Gaelic development agency, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to shape evidence-based policy on language planning and maintenance, including through the development of three successive National Gaelic Language Plans (the current one runs until 2022). The last Census in 2011 showed that around 87,000 people in Scotland had some Gaelic language skills and that, for the first time ever, there was an increase in the number of speakers aged under 25.

As well as undertaking work aimed at modernising and securing Scottish Gaelic, Celtic and Scottish Studies researchers have played a critical role in the development of Gaelic education policy. They have, for example, demonstrated the high attainment of pupils in Gaelic medium education, who are comparatively more accomplished in English reading than English-medium pupils. The department’s research led to the creation of a retraining programme in 2014, by which approximately 30 teachers have returned to teach through the medium of Gaelic in schools in various council areas, from the Highlands to Dumfries and Galloway, including in a number of major towns and cities. By 2018, 11,103 pupils in Scotland were receiving some kind of education in Gaelic - higher than the country’s overall proportion of Gaelic speakers - and almost 4,900 were enrolled in Gaelic medium education, a 35% increase from 2011.

Researchers

Professor Robert Dunbar 

Professor Wilson McLeod

Dr William Lamb

Related links

Celtic and Scottish Studies