“I love you (English), tha gaol agam ort (Gaelic). There are a million ways to say it, but soon to be a million minus 1.”, says a picture of a sign on Preply. Gaelic is officially an endangered language, with a mere 57,000 native speakers left. Spoken in Scotland and Ireland, Gaelic has evolved to be the native language of the two nations. Most reports focus on the Gaelic language as a whole, naming it as a dying language.
Why is Gaelic a dying language?
A language is considered endangered when most of its native speakers have passed away. With just under 60,000 Gaelic speakers alive today, younger generations have been less likely to learn and practice the language.
In the Preply Endangered Languages report, it was stated that in 2011, a further 20,000 people could understand Gaelic, but were not able to speak, read or write in it. Therefore, the data suggests “that a lack of formal education and ongoing support for Gaelic languages is one of the chief challenges to preventing their extinction.”, said the report.
The language has seen a distinct decline since the late 18th century when the infamous Highland Clearances started in 1750 during the Jacobite uprisings and ended in 1860. The clearings went against the Scottish law (dùthchas) of clan members having the right to rent land within the clan territory. The word use of “clearance” is also debatable, as it was used as a derogatory term instead of “removal”, but it has stayed as a general term for the mass Highland evictions: some say exile would be the most correct term as it also included “assisted emigration” to North America and Australia.
What is being done to save the language?
Some conservation efforts exist organised by the Scottish Government with the ‘Gaelic Language Plan 2022 – 2027’ to help revive Scots Gaelic. However, while there is a shortage of native speakers, there is also a shortage of qualified teachers who can, indeed teach it. Some say more efforts need to be made by the government, including the recognition of Scots Gaelic being a state language alongside English.
According to the Scottish Government, Gaelic Medium Education is offered in 60 primary schools and their corresponding high schools, which are located in 14 out of 32 local authorities.
How can I start learning Gaelic?
If you want a head start in learning Scottish Gaelic, download the Duolingo app and get going on there. Free Scottish Gaelic learning services and materials can also be found on Learn Gaelic, where students can use the free platform to make the most of learning it.
Parents can look into the government-supported organisation Parant which focuses on Gaelic medium education. Storlann is also an organisation for Gaelic education that offers resources for high school, primary school and nursery.
So, Scottish Gaelic might be a dying language, but it is still up to us to keep it alive. Let’s get learning!