“Stepping back from the brink: a sociolinguistic perspective on the decline of Scottish Gaelic”, an online seminar hosted by CIOL Scottish Society, 21 November 2020.
Scottish Gaelic is in crisis and its use in Scotland’s island communities is at the point of collapse. This was not a particular optimistic message for Scottish CIOL members during the group’s first online event. Some attendees pointed out that despite being a minority language, vibrant Gaelic speaking communities are evident in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere. However, Prof. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), presented current research into the vernacular community use of Gaelic, and explained the difference between language learners (for example pupils at Gaelic medium schools on the Scottish mainland), and those acquiring the language within a community of vernacular speakers. He contended that only speakers in the latter group acquire full competence as native speakers, and in sufficient numbers to ensure communal renewal over future generations.
Prof. Giollagáin gave a fascinating and insightful summary of the decline of Scottish Gaelic, and census data showing the drop amongst the 3 – 17-year-old age-groups was particularly hard-hitting, given how crucial young speakers are to the language’s survival beyond the current generation of vernacular speakers. He explained the complex sociological aspects that have led Gaelic to this critical point, and the range of urgent Governmental interventions required to protect and sustain vernacular speaker communities in the Western Isles, Staffin, Skye, Tiree and Argyll and Bute.
Fiona Baillie, Scottish CIOL.
This talk presents evidence from the recently published sociolinguistic survey of the vernacular Gaelic communities in the Scottish islands: The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community. The findings of this study indicate that the social continuity of Gaelic in the Western Isles has been lost, as a result of the societal weakness of the Gaelic-speaking group in its remaining vernacular habitat. Under current circumstances, the remaining communal use of Gaelic will not survive beyond this decade. The concluding chapter of the book sets out in detail a model for the revival of the Gaelic community. The proposed new model for community-led Gaelic revitalisation in the islands, termed the Participatory Minority Language Cooperative, is based on a comprehensive language-in-society approach. The various facets of this approach will be explored in the talk.
Prof. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin
Prof. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin is the Gaelic Research Professor in the University of the Highlands and Islands and the director of the UHI Language Sciences Institute. He is also the academic director of Soillse, a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research project, led by the UHI. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin is a prominent scholar in language planning and minority language culture and sociology. He has written extensively on issues concerning the sustainability of minority cultures, especially the Gaeltacht/Gàidhealtachd communities in Ireland and Scotland. Conchúr previously lectured in the School of Political Science and Sociology in the National University of Ireland Galway on the sociology of language. His teaching and research interests include language planning, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. He is the primary author of the most comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of the state of Gaelic in the vernacular communities ever conducted, The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community. The study, undertaken at the University of the Highlands and Islands, provides in-depth analysis of the use and transmission of Scottish Gaelic as a communal language in the Western Isles, in Staffin in the Isle of Skye and in the Isle of Tiree in Argyll and Bute.