Gaelic is a Celtic language that includes the speech of ancient Ireland and the dialects that have developed from it, especially those usually known as Irish, Manx and Scots Gaelic. Gaelic constitutes the Goidelic subbranch of Celtic (Dictionary. com, 2012). Scottish Gaelic is very similar to Irish and Manx, which are both Celtic languages. Gaelic also resembles some other languages such as Welsh and Breton. The phonetics of Gaelic are said to be more complicated than English but once a person learns Gaelic, it is easier to figure out how a word is spoken, by its spelling. Currently, the language is used by a limited number of occupants in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The language holds an official status in Scotland. Gaelic uses the Latin system of script.
This used to be the language that was widely spoken in the country of Scotland and has seen its golden days. There are disagreements among scholars about the origin of Gaelic. According to the common legend, Gaelic was introduced in southwest Scotland by immigrants from Ireland in the Christian era. Some intellectuals believe that the language was introduced in the country several centuries before the Christian era. There is a common debate about the glory days of the language and how did it lose its position in the country. Currently, it is not an official language of the United Kingdom or European Union but it holds the status of an indigenous language in European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
The language was introduced by the Irish to Scotland in the 4th century. Gaelic developed more in the 12th century and was in its glory days. Majority of the population in Scotland used Gaelic at that time. There is a controversy about how long has the language been practiced in the Scotland but the scholars have not reached a consensus yet. Spanning between 4th and 15th century Gaelic was a widely spoken language it was used by majority of the population in the country. It even replaced the Pictish language in the region. Around the period of the 10th century, Gaelic gained the position of official language in Ireland and Scotland. It was being used by the royal families and it led to its high status glorified it even further. The decline of Gaelic began after the 15th century. It lost its status as a national language in Scotland and was it stopped being used in schools which became a major setback for it. The new generations did not learn the classical Gaelic in school which resulted in more informal use of the language. It eventually became the reason for Gaelic becoming diverged. The last Monarch to speak Gaelic was James IV (Cranntara. org. uk). According to some scholars, during the 16th century it was the motive of government to establish English as the language spoken all over the region and they considered Gaelic to represent an unnecessary diversity in language. Around the 14th century there was a clear differentiation between the lowlanders and highlanders of the region. Language was one of the main points of distinction because lowlanders grew up speaking Teutonic and highlanders grew up speaking Gaelic (Scottishhistroy. com, 2012). The attempt to suppress the Highlands resulted in the suppression of the language they spoke. Highlands were considered to be uncivilised and low class people and Gaelic was considered to be the language of the uneducated and uncivilised. In spite of all these setbacks, Gaelic has a history of rich literature. There were no significant efforts till the end of 20th century to revitalize or sustain the language.
A language withers with time when there are not enough people to use. It is a slow process and it happens over the course of centuries. Gaelic is no exception to it. The language has become scarcely used over the course of years and in spite of efforts by the government to revive the language, lesser people are using it by the passage of time. Parents are the main source of learning a language and the transfer of Gaelic from parents to their children has not been strong. This is the reason that Gaelic seems to be an endangered language even in the regions where there is the highest population of the speakers. The scope of learning Gaelic in schools is much less compared to learning though parents who speak Gaelic.
There is a low population of speakers who only speak Gaelic. Almost all speakers of Gaelic are also fluent in English. The parents prefer to express themselves in English to their children and as a result, the children learn English before they go to school. The older Gaelic speaking population might prefer to carry a conversation in English but the young generation prefers English over Gaelic. One of the reasons could be that the youngsters find the English movies and music attractive. They like to watch the soap operas that are popular around the world and they like to listen to music that is popular worldwide and all these sources of entertainment are available in contemporary English. There is a very small amount of media availability in Gaelic language. The users of Gaelic have declined considerably and it can be classified under the endangered languages of the world. English has overshadowed Gaelic and the growing popularity of English all over the Europe and the world can be one of the main reasons for this decline.
When the English speaking population of Scotland moved throughout the country for business or farming purposes they brought their language with them and it promoted English throughout the Gaelic speaking regions. English has become a predominant language across the world. Higher education at best places across the world, latest innovations and majority of the world’s information is available in English. It is one of the reasons why the Gaelic speaking population demanded the training of their children in English so that they can succeed in the future. It accounted for the further decline of already endangered language. The speakers of the language mainly resided in the rural areas of the country. The people who wanted to move to the urban areas were bound to learn English to be able to communicate better with people and succeed. The commercialisation and industrialisation spread English throughout the country and it became essential to know English if one wanted to succeed (Scotlandhhistory. com, 2012).
According to the Scotland Gaelic report in census 2001, the 1. 45% population of the country could speak, write or read Gaelic. This number had declined from 1. 34% in 1991. 92, 400 people out of 4. 9 million of the total population in Scotland had some proficiency in the language in 2001. This report indicated that the reader and writers of Gaelic increased by 7. 5% and 10% respectively in the past 10 years. According to this report, the primary knowledge of the language was on a decline but the in depth knowledge of the population in Gaelic had increased over the past decade. A child was more likely to speak the language if both the parents spoke Gaelic than if one of the parents were Gaelic speakers. The families where none of the parents were Gaelic speakers represented a low population of Gaelic speaking children. Around 26, 700 people in Scotland were found to be able to understand Gaelic but they were unable to read write or speak it (scotland. gov. uk, 2005). The total number of Gaelic speakers declined from around 250, 000 in 1901 to around 52, 000 in 2001. This demonstrates how fast the language has been declining over the past century (scotland. gov. uk, 2005).
The Gaelic Language Act
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act came into being in 2006 as an initiative for maintenance and revitalisation of the Gaelic language. Bòrd na Gàidhlig is a public entity that was established under this Act to promote and preserve Gaelic. Bòrd na Gàidhlig works to promote Gaelic as an official language. This body contributes towards getting Gaelic the same status as English language in Scotland. (Gaidhlig. org. uk, 2012). Gaelic has now been enshrined in legislation, the Gaelic Language Act (Scotland) 2005 grants official status to the language for the first time.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig holds powers to undertake strategic language planning for Gaelic at a national level. The Gaelic Language Act requires the Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare a National Plan for preservation and promotion of Gaelic. The Bòrd holds the power to involve certain public bodies to participate in preparing and implementing a Gaelic language plan. The Bòrd’s is entitled to its say on matters related to using Gaelic in Education. It’s also under this body’s prerogative and to give advice to the Scottish ministry on matters related to the Gaelic language. The Bòrd is also responsible for the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (Gaidhlig. org. uk, 2012).
The National Language Plans are required to be renewed every five years at the minimum. The Bòrd is required to seek people’s opinions in drafting the new plans which is subject to approval by the Scottish ministry (Gaidhlig. org. uk, 2012). The Bòrd has the power to ask a public body to contribute to the Gaelic language plan by drafting and implementing it. The Bòrd also has the provision for accepting suggestions from the public on improving Gaelic in the country.
It also provides guidance to education authorities with regard to Gaelic-medium education. There have been many efforts made by the government to preserve Gaelic over the past many decades. However, the decline of users demonstrate that rigour and effectiveness of these efforts are in question. There are many plans made at the regional and national level to revitalise and sustain the language but the efforts do not seem to be enough. There are initiatives taken in the fields of education, broadcasting and even public to encourage the usage of this language. Gaelic is considered an integral part of the Scottish heritage but it has still been on the decline for over a century. The presence of language is weak all over the country and it’s getting weaker by each passing year. The influence of English has been one of the primary reasons for the decline of Gaelic. It might fade away as a language if the current generation shows no or little interest in pursuing the usage.
Criticism of Gaelic Language Act & barriers to success
The efforts to revitalise and sustain Gaelic led to the formation of Bord na Gadhlik and the Gaelic Language Act, 2005. However, the success of implementation of these plans is in question. The Gaelic Language Act, 2005 and the Bord both strive to increase the usage of Gaelic in schools, homes, public places, work and in education. They strive to increase the number and percentage of total users of the Gaelic language. They can make efforts to promote the language in the parliament or promote it by airing the Gaelic programmes over the television or radio but the actual challenge is how to increase the usage of language in homes where the children can learn it in infancy. The Gaelic Language Act, 2005, was able to establish Gaelic as an official language of Scotland which is the same status that English enjoys in Scotland. However, the main challenge is how to get the people to prefer this language over English or at least get them to use it as frequently as they use English. Embedding Gaelic in culture and education are vital to revitalisation and sustenance of the language.
Gaelic Language Act, 2005, has started some programmes for revitalisation of Gaelic such as, providing funds for development, awards for work in the field of promoting Gaelic and encourage companies and government offices to use it. There are campaigns being made to use Gaelic in everyday usage at home and at work. The usage of Gaelic in schools and a medium of instruction is also being promoted. The real problem lies in the implementation of these plans because the power that National Gaelic Language Plan holds is not enough to implement it successfully all over the country.
The position of Gaelic is really weak in the country and it requires rigorous efforts to revitalise the language and start reversing the influence of English. The current efforts from the National Gaelic Language plan might not be enough to do that. The general public is not keen to start using or increasing the usage of this language. The young generation that can carry the beacon of Gaelic to the next generation is generally not interested in making it their preferred language. They mostly prefer to use English, even in the situations where they can use Gaelic instead.
The position of Gaelic has been on a decline in spite of the various efforts by the government. There are Acts and laws in place to protect the language but the main challenge comes in when we it comes to implementation of the national plans and acts. Gaelic might be headed towards becoming an ancient scarcely used language mainly due to the limitations of its usage and the low number of population of its users. The older generation has more speakers of the language than the young ones. The increasing shift towards English can be attributed to the popularity of the language and global usage.
Some of the main steps that can be taken to revitalise and maintain Gaelic are to promote it within the education system so that the students can learn the language while they are young. The language should be implemented in the schooling system, both primary and secondary. The system should enable all children to acquire and to be educated in both their community languages (University of Edinburgh, 2004)). The flaws in the language which prevent it from being used in higher education institutions and government bodies should be corrected by investing in the language development. Also, the gap should be filled between the policies and their implementation.
There should be more digital media available in Gaelic. The younger generation is more inclined towards using the language if it is available in popular formats. For example, the entire series of Harry Potter is available in Gaelic and the children should be encouraged to reach the Gaelic version instead of the English one. Other media formats such as popular movies dubbed in Gaelic can be a great resource for learning. Interesting books in Gaelic and Gaelic TV channels with interesting programmes for youngsters can play an important role in promoting the language. They need to connect with the young audience in order to effectively promote the Gaelic. Gaelic is an integral part of the Scottish heritage and it might be worthwhile to appeal to the people to use Gaelic in order to preserve their heritage.
More and more people are being raised as bilingual and it should not be seen as a threat as long as they use Gaelic as frequently as English. The children need English to communicate with a larger group of people and to capture the opportunities for their better future. The National Gaelic Language plans will have to be more aggressive and widely implemented if they want to revitalise and sustain the language.
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