Islay - Gaelic Language

Gaelic Language

Islay has historically been a very strong Gaelic speaking area. Both in the 1901 and 1921 census, all parishes in Islay were reported to be over 75 per cent Gaelic speaking. By 1971, the Rhinns had dropped to 50-74% speakers and the rest of Islay to 25-49% overall. By 1991 about a third of the island's population were Gaelic speakers. In the 2001 census this had dropped to 24% which, while a low figure overall, nonetheless made it the most strongly Gaelic-speaking island in Argyll and Bute after Tiree, with the highest percentage recorded in Portnahaven (32%) and the lowest in Gortontaoid (17%), with the far north and south of the island being the weakest areas in general.

The Islay dialect is distinctive. It patterns strongly with other Argyll dialects, especially those of Jura, Colonsay and Kintyre. Amongst its distinctive phonological features are the shift from long /aː/ to /ɛː/, a high degree of retention of long /eː/, the shift of dark /l̪ˠ/ to /t̪/, the lack of intrusive /t̪/ in sr groups (for example /s̪ɾoːn/ "nose" rather than /s̪t̪ɾoːn/) and the retention of the unlenited past-tense particle d' (for example, d'èirich "rose" instead of dh'èirich). It sits within a group of lexical isoglosses (i.e. words distinctive to a certain area) with strong similarities to southern Gaelic and northern Irish dialects. Examples are dhuit "to you" (instead of the more common dhut), the formula gun robh math agad "thank you" (instead of the more common mòran taing or tapadh leat but compare Irish go raibh maith agat), mand "able to" (instead of the more common urrainn) or deifir "hurry" (instead of the more common cabhag, Irish deifir).

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