|Spoken in|| United Kingdom |
|Region|| Scotland |
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Glengarry County, Ontario
|Total speakers||58,552 in Scotland. 92,400 people aged three and over in Scotland had some Gaelic language ability in 2001 with an additional 2,000 in Nova Scotia. 1,610 speakers in the United States in 2000. 822 in Australia in 2001. 669 in New Zealand in 2006.|
|Writing system||Latin (Gaelic variant)|
|Official language in||Scotland|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.|
Scottish Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic: Gàidhlig) is a Celtic language native to Scotland. A member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, Scottish Gaelic, like Modern Irish and Manx, developed out of Middle Irish, and thus descends ultimately from Primitive Irish.
The 2001 UK Census showed that a total of 58,652 (1.2% of the Scottish population aged over three years old) in Scotland had some Gaelic ability at that time, with the Outer Hebrides being the main stronghold of the language. The census results indicate a decline of 7,300 Gaelic speakers from 1991. Despite this decline, revival efforts exist and the number of younger speakers of the language has increased.
Scottish Gaelic is not an official language of the European Union, or of the United Kingdom, which does not have any de jure official languages. However, it is classed as an autochthonous language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which the UK government has ratified. In addition, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gave official recognition to the language and established an official language development body ‒ Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
Outside of Scotland, dialects of the language known as Canadian Gaelic exist in Canada on Cape Breton Island and isolated areas of the Nova Scotia mainland. This variety has around 2000 speakers, amounting to 1.3% of the population of Cape Breton Island.
Aside from Scottish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic the language may also be referred to simply as Gaelic. In Scotland, the word Gaelic in reference to Scottish Gaelic specifically is pronounced , while outside Scotland it is often pronounced English pronunciation: /ˈɡeɪlɨk/.
Scottish Gaelic should not be confused with Scots, which refers to the Anglic language variety traditionally spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland. Prior to the 15th century, the Anglic speech of the Lowlands was known as Inglis ("English"), with Gaelic being called Scottis ("Scottish"). From the late 15th century, however, it became increasingly common to refer to Scottish Gaelic as Erse ("Irish") and the Lowland vernacular as Scottis. Today however the word Erse in reference to Scottish Gaelic is considered pejorative.
The Gaelic language was introduced to Scotland by settlers from Ireland, probably in the 4th century. The word Scot, and all such derivations (Scotland, Scottish, etc.) derives from Scoti, the Latin name for a people that traveled to Scotland from Ireland, and it is possible that this tribe brought Gaelic speech to Scotland.
Scottish Gaelic itself developed after the 12th century, along with the other modern Goidelic languages. Scottish Gaelic and its predecessors became the language of the majority of Scotland after it replaced Cumbric, Pictish and in considerable areas Old English. There is no definitive date indicating how long Gaelic has been spoken in today's Scotland, though it has been proposed that it was spoken in its ancient form in Argyll before the Roman period. No consensus has been reached on this question; however, the consolidation of the kingdom of Dál Riata around the 4th century, linking the ancient province of Ulster in the north of Ireland and western Scotland, accelerated the expansion of the language, as did the success of the Gaelic-speaking church establishment, started by St Columba, and place-name evidence shows that Gaelic was spoken in the Rhinns of Galloway by the 5th or 6th century. The language was maintained by the trade empire of the Lordship of the Isles, which continued to control parts of Ulster until the 16th century.
The Gaelic language eventually displaced Pictish north of the River Forth, and until the late 15th century was known in the Scots' English language as Scottis, and in England as Scottish. Gaelic began to decline in parts of mainland Scotland from the beginning of the 15th century, accompanying its decline in status as a national language, and eventually the highland-lowland line began to emerge.
From around the early 16th century, Scottish-English speakers gave the Gaelic language the name Erse (meaning Irish in Scottish-English), and thereafter it was invariably the collection of Middle English dialects spoken within the Kingdom of Scotland, that they referred to as Scottis (see Scots language). This in itself was ironic, as it was at this time that Gaelic was developing its distinct and characteristic Scottish forms of the modern period.
Scottish Gaelic was called "Erse" partly because educated Gaelic speakers in Ireland and Scotland all used the literary dialect (sometimes called Classical Gaelic) so that there was little or no difference in usage. When Classical Gaelic stopped being used in schools in both countries, colloquial usage began to predominate, and the languages diverged.