|The Language of Scotland
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, English is the official language of Scotland. There are marked regional accents but all are distinctively Scottish.
Gaelic is still spoken in parts of the western Highlands and in the Western Isles, with English as a second language.
The Gaelic Language
Gaelic is the longest-standing language used in Scotland and can boast one of the richest song and oral traditions in Europe. It is part of a family of Celtic languages which today are spoken in six separate areas: Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in France.
Scots Gaelic emerged from the vast pan-European commonwealth of Celtic nations that eventually succumbed to the might of the conquering Roman Empire. The Celts in both Scotland and Ireland remained outwith Rome's influence and it was from Ireland that the Gaels were to come to Scotland.
The first Irish Gaels, the Scots, arrived in Scotland around 450 AD and settled in Argyll (Earra Ghàidheal), which they called Dal Riata, after the homeland they had left. While establishing themselves, they were fiercely resisted by the established Pictish people and it was not until 843 that the Gaelic leader, Kenneth MacAlpin united the Picts and the Gaels and became the first ruler of Alba which comprised most of Scotland north of Forth and Clyde. Alba has since remained the Gaelic name for Scotland. The culture of the Gaels spread throughout the country, and their language became the language of the king, court and most of the common people. James IV (1473-1513) was the last Scottish monarch to speak Gaelic.
The Slow Road to Decline
With the growth of urban centres and the emergence of Scots as the language of the royal court in the 15th and 16th centuries, Gaelic began to lose its dominance. This was accelerated by the adoption in turn of English as the official language of the country following the 1707 Act of Union which confirmed what had been the de facto position in the more populous Lowlands for several generations. Gaelic also suffered severely in the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of the Government attack on all aspects of Highland culture following the defeat of the Jacobites in 1746, and from the effects of the Clearances which destroyed many Gaelic-speaking communities throughout the Highlands.
By the middle of the 20th century, the language was at a very low ebb but in the mid 1970s, there began a grass-roots renaissance which aimed to create new generations of Gaelic-speakers. There are now numerous Gaelic playgroups, Gaelic units in primary schools, Sradagan (Gaelic Youth Clubs) and many Gaelic television programmes. Internationally renowned bands like Runrig and Capercaillie make Gaelic language and music interesting to a younger audience, and the fèisean (Gaelic tuitional festivals) and Mods (Gaelic competitive festivals) attract hundreds of young musicians. Gaelic writing is flourishing, and the National Gaelic Arts Project is involved in a wide range of cultural activities.
Yet perhaps the real success of this movement can be seen in the way in which Gaelic is gradually being reincorporated into public life for the first time in over 200 years. Until recently, the naming of official bodies in Gaelic was virtually unknown whereas there are now over a hundred bodies, including national organisations, local authorities, banks and commercial organisations who have adopted Gaelic name. There is also a new Gaelic development agency, Bord na Gaidhlig, and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, full-time vocational courses are taught through Gaelic in a Gaelic environment.
Yet there is still much to be done to ensure that Gaelic is seen to belong not to the past but as having a central role to play in Scotland's vibrant cultural future. The 2001 General Census of Scotland recorded 58,650 Gaelic speakers, most of whom live in the Western Isles, the Central belt and the northern Highlands. In 2003, the SNP MSP Michael Russell introduced a private member's bill in the Scottish Parliament which if ultimately successful will grant Gaelic full legal equality with English in public life and see it revitalised as a living entity in Scotland's social, cultural and political life.