Scottish Gaelic

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Gàidhlig, or Scottish Gaelic, is a language spoken primarily in Scotland but also in Cape Breton Island, Canada. The Distribution of Gàidhlig speakers in Scotland roughly matches the geographic Highlands region, indeed the Gàidhlig word Gàidhealtacht (Gaeldom in English) has become synonymous with the word Highlands when describing the region.

Language Family

Gàidhlig is a Celtic language most closely related to Gaeilge and Gaelg, the Irish and Manx branches of the Goidelic language group. The full filiation of Gàidhlig is as follows:

  • Indo-European
  • Celtic
  • Insular Celtic
  • Goidelic
  • Gàidhlig


It is currently no consensus on how long Gàidhlig has been spoken in Scotland, in some parts of Scotland Gàidhlig never gained total dominance, with Brythonic Pictish being replaced by Lowland Scots. Some historians have made a case for the continual presence of Goidelic peoples in western Scotland since the insular Celtic language diverged. This is currently the most compelling case is based on archaeological, linguistic, geographic and genetic evidence as opposed to mythological evidence that cannot be verified as having a factual basis. It is known and accepted that there has been a Gàidhlig presence in the western Highlands and Inner Hebrides since pre Roman times.[1]

In 400AD the kingdom of Dál Riata emerged in the western Highlands and began to aggressively expand, conquering land in Ulster and more pertinently Scotland where it spread the Goidelic language. Dál Riatan expansion was checked at around 600AD, but 200 years later Gaelic kings took control of Pictish kingdoms through marriage and merged the new acquisitions with Dál Riata to form Rìoghachd na h-Alba - the kingdom of Scotland. This kingdom was the platform by which Gàidhlig came to dominate Scottish language north of the river forth and also in the Southern Uplands.

After the year 1200AD Gàidhlig began to be superseded in the south by Lowland Scots but remained dominant in the Highland. This dominance in the Highlands began to slip during the Highland clearances when Gaelic culture was severely repressed. Today the language has a strong presence only in the Hebrides, though it is also present with smaller influence across most of the Highlands, isolated parts of the Southern Uplands and the city of Glasgow.

Current status

As of 2005 discrimination against Gàidhlig is beginning to be reversed with the language gaining official status in Scotland, as well as the foundation of an organisation (Bòrd na Gàidhlig) with the function of:

  • promoting, and facilitating the promotion of the use and understanding of the Gaelic language, and Gaelic education and Gaelic culture.
  • advising (either on request or when it thinks fit) the Scottish Ministers, public bodies and other persons exercising functions of a public nature on matters relating to the Gaelic language, Gaelic education and Gaelic culture.
  • advising (on request) other persons on matters relating to the Gaelic language, Gaelic education and Gaelic culture.
  • monitoring, and reporting to the Scottish Ministers on, the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages dated 5 November 1992 in relation to the Gaelic language.[2]

In addition to the creation of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Government of Scotland is introducing bilingual road signs through the Highlands and Islands regions of Scotland and encouraging Gàidhlig language lessons in schools, as well as founding Gàidhlig medium schools where Gàidhlig is the primary language of learning. Gàidhlig is now also a formal language of communication within the EU, although this doesn't grant full recognition to Gàidhlig in the EU is seen as a step on the way to potential official status for Gàidhlig.

In September 2008 the BBC launched a Gàidhlig television channel called BBC ALBA.

The Language

Originally Gàidhlig used the Ogham alphabet. Ogham script was designed to be carved onto things, traditionally the corners of stones, but in the absence of a corner a line could be cut into the medium to fulfil the role of the corner edge. Gàidhlig later adopted Latin symbols, this alphabet called aibidil which is in use today has 18 characters (13 consonants and 5 vowels).

Historically Gàidhlig had 3 dialects Lowland Gaelic, Galwegian Gaelic and Highland Gaelic with only the latter surviving to the present day.

Ulster Irish is the most closely related language to Gàidhlig that remains in use today.

See also


  1. Campbell, Ewan (2001). "Were the Scots Irish?". Antiquity 75: 285-92