The new study, published today, states that Gaelic will disappear as a community language within a few years and that English will be completely in its control unless prudent revival policies are implemented without delay.
Gaelic was spoken all over Scotland, but the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization now ranks it among the world’s most endangered languages.
Gaelic is still spoken in the Western Isles, Staffin on Skye and Tiree. It was in that region that the new research was conducted on behalf of the University of the Gaeltacht and the Islands in Scotland.
There are 28,000 people living in the region and, according to the research, 14,000 of them have some ability in Gaelic. However, when this is statistically examined, it is actually 11,000 people. Most of those are fifty years and over.
The 500-sheet study states that the speaking of Gaelic and the transmission of Gaelic from the old to the younger generation in the region are the last two. In short, the researchers argue, Gaelic speakers cannot afford to regenerate a new generation of speakers.
Stornoway, Lewis, the largest town in the Western Isles (Pic: Getty)
The main findings of the research are:
– Poor ability in Gaelic at an early age
– Gaelic speaking socially marginalized, except for older people
– Gaelic marginalized in education
– Most young people ignore Gaelic
– A significant reduction in the transmission of Gaelic from the old to the younger generation.
Research region (Courtesy: the University of the Gaeltacht and the Islands)
The research is based on numerous sources including the various censuses between 1981-2011, surveys of pre-school children and adolescents, focus groups, public meetings and comprehensive questionnaires.
The analysis of the census figures shows that the number of Gaelic speakers has declined by an average of 13% every ten years.
In the 2011 census, 52% of people aged three and over were reported to have Gaelic language ability compared to 80% in the 1981 census.
The new research published in Scotland today
The decline of Gaelic among the young is more serious than any other group. Less than 2,000 young people, or 42% of people aged between three and seventeen, reported being proficient in Gaelic in 2011.
In a questionnaire conducted in 2016, only 1.5% of teenagers reported that they spoke Gaelic with their friends all or most of the time.
The census figures also show that 19% of households speak Gaelic. This low percentage is a major barrier to the intergenerational transmission of Gaelic, say the researchers.
According to the trends highlighted in the study, the researchers predict that Gaelic will soon become unviable.
They believe that Gaelic will retreat further to the very edge of the community and that it will no longer apply only to the classroom and media, and to older people.
Young people at play, Skye (Pic: Getty)
The researchers propose a new approach to buying Gaelic from death. However, they say that to make their proposals a success, public policies on Gaelic must be radically changed and the challenges at community level addressed in the future.
They argue, indeed, that the current state policy revitalization efforts are a significant impediment.
The main recommendation of the researchers is to adopt a “cooperative model” approach.
Under this model, a community trust would be established which the researchers call “The Gaelic Trust”.
The trust would be located in the Western Isles under the democratic leadership of community representatives.
The powers of Bòrd na Gàidhlig – the state-sponsored board in Inverness – would be transferred to the trust.
The trust would undertake various initiatives, such as a financial support scheme for families raising their children through Gaelic; a new scheme of youth activities in Gaelic; public entertainment in Gaelic; Gaelic social enterprise; more Gaelic in schools; and the provision of strategic language planning advice to Gaelic community groups and trust leaders.
The researchers say that the islanders would also benefit economically from the trust’s activities that would help them tackle other challenges, such as emigration and unemployment, which have a major role to play in the decline of the Gaelic language.
Hulavaig Lough, Lewis (Pic: Getty)
The head of the research team, Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, says that it is clear that a language survives and thrives in its spoken community, rather than in institutional and symbolic activities that are not rooted in the community.
He says that languages, like a Gaeltacht, need their own socio-geographical space.
He says too much emphasis in public policies or discussions on language learners, he says, can be neglected in the language-speaking community and in the social processes that affect that community.
As a result of the devastation, according to Professor Ó Giollagáin, the outcome of these discussions may also be public policy.
Professor Ó Giollagáin believes that by implementing new language policies, the Gaelic community still has the opportunity to meet the challenges they face.
He claims that the new research contains detailed information, accurate analysis and comprehensive recommendations that help the Gaelic community survive.
The study is available in book form entitled “The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community: A Comprehensive Sociolinguistic Study of Scottish Gaelic” and was published by Aberdeen University Press.
Further information and further information is available here.