Government action needed to stop Scots Gaelic from disappearing

Scots Gaelic is an endangered language, but efforts are underway to save it

Halò, ciamar a tha sibh?  Hello, how are you?  Viewers of Outlander are no strangers to a bit of Scots Gaelic.  The language features prominently in the first two seasons of the time-traveling drama and without subtitles—to put us in the shoes of Claire, who has no idea what’s being said.

Gaelic is very much a real language.  It was widely spoken in the Highlands in the 18th century and is still spoken today in the Western Isles and in some small communities like Partick in Glasgow.  Outlander has increased interest in the language, and new resources like a Duolingo course have become available.

According to The National, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) gave Gaelic the “endangered” classification because “children no longer learn it as their mother tongue.”  The Government has been increasing the availability of Gaelic learning in schools, but rather than being spoken in the home, Scots Gaelic has become an “acquired skill” that must be learned in school.

The National spoke with Màrtainn Bàillidh, one of the creators of the Gaelic course on Duolingo, which has almost 500,000 users.  He says that new interest in the language is great but not enough.  He suggests “increasing social density of the language in the Western Isles is a very good start,” but says that community support and teaching is needed.

Gaelic is not that tough to learn, but you can’t just go to Scotland and find a Gaelic speaker to practice with

Màrtainn says: “Gaelic is seen as something that relates purely to the Western Isles, when in fact it is everything up to Culloden – it was central to the Scottish story.  There is such a lack of awareness that people don’t value the language; don’t value the culture; and don’t understand their own heritage.  If we can address that, then this would make a huge difference.”

You might remember that speaking Gaelic was outlawed after Culloden so losing Gaelic would be a huge loss, not just as a language but to Scottish culture.  The National also spoke to Calum Ross, a Gaelic singer, and he agreed “that without the desire to learn Gaelic, it will not survive for much longer.”  So it will take both passion and policy changes to bring Gaelic back to being a way of life in some Scottish communities.  It is worth the effort though.

Have you tried to learn Gaelic after watching Outlander?  Share with us in the comments below.

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