Goidelic Languages - Scottish Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic

Some people in the north and west of mainland Scotland and most people in the Hebrides still speak Scottish Gaelic, but the language has been in decline. There are now believed to be approximately 1,000 native speakers of Scottish Gaelic in Nova Scotia and 60,000 in Scotland.

Its historical range was much larger. For example, it was the everyday language of most of the rest of the Highlands until little more than a century ago. Galloway was once also a Gaelic-speaking region, but the Galwegian dialect has been extinct there for approximately three centuries. It is believed to have been home to dialects that were transitional between Scottish Gaelic and the two other Goidelic languages. While Gaelic was spoken across the Scottish Borders and Lothian during the early High Middle Ages it doesn’t seem to have been spoken by the majority and was likely the language of the ruling elite, land owners and religious clerics. Some other parts of the Lowlands spoke Cumbric, and others Scots Inglis, the only exceptions being the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland where Norse was spoken.

Scotland takes its name from the Latin word for a Gael, Scotus (of uncertain etymology). Scotland originally meant Land of the Gaels in a cultural and social sense. Until late in the 15th century, Scottis in Scots English was used to refer only to Gaelic, and the speakers of this language who were identified as Scots. As the ruling elite became Scots Inglis/English-speaking, Scottis was gradually associated with the land rather than the people, and the word Erse Irish was gradually used more and more as an act of culturo-political disassociation with an overt implication that the language was not really Scottish, and therefore foreign. This is something of a propaganda label, as Gaelic has been in Scotland for at least as long as English, if not longer.

In the early 16th century the dialects of northern Middle English, also known as Early Scots, which had developed in Lothian and had come to be spoken elsewhere in the Kingdom of Scotland themselves later appropriated the name Scots. By the 17th century Gaelic speakers were restricted largely to the Highlands and the Hebrides. Furthermore, the culturally repressive measures taken against the rebellious Highland communities by the British crown following the 2nd Jacobite Rebellion of 1746 caused still further decline in the language's use – to a large extent by enforced emigration. Even more decline followed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Scottish Parliament has afforded the language a secure statutory status and equal respect (but not full equality in legal status within Scots Law ) with English, sparking hopes that Scottish Gaelic can be saved from extinction and perhaps even revived.

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