The latest edition of An Naidheachd Againne (“Our News” or “The News At Us”) is available to members of An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach (ACGA). The quarterly newsletter — now in its 26th year — is a leading source of information in and about Scottish Gaelic around the world, published by our association in North America. Most of the articles, news stories, columns, and features are bilingual, with some features, such as the serialized fantasy novel, Sgoil nan Eun, published only in Gaelic.
The Spring 2020 issue starts with “Alba 2030 : Buaidh is Piseach / Prospects for Gaelic in 2030,”an important article by Dr. Wilson MacLeòid (McLeod), professor of Gaelic at the University of Edinburgh. In December, about 60 people, MacLeòid included, gathered at the Scottish Parliament to discuss where they expected or hoped the language would be at the end of this new decade. There are few opportunities for concerned Gaelic speakers to gather together in this way, he notes. Here’s an excerpt:
“Chan eil e idir furasta fàisneachd a dhèanamh a thaobh na bhios an dàn don Ghàidhlig san àm ri teachd Anns na 1950an bha mòran eòlaichean glè dhubhach mu chor a’ chànain, agus iad an dùil gum biodh i marbh am meadhan an 21mh linn. ….
.. It is by no means easy to make predictions about the future prospects for Gaelic. In the 1950s many observers were very pessimistic about the outlook for the language, with some predicting that Gaelic would die out by the middle of the 21st century.”
Fortunately, the status of Gaelic is in many ways much more secure in the early 21st century. But is it sustainable? That’s a question MacLeòid addresses in this issue’s lead article.
As always, there’s information about upcoming events, online learning resources, interesting websites, grammar and conversational Gaelic, and more. To receive the newsletter, simply join ACGA, following the link on this website. The cost for an annual membership, which includes four issues of the newsletter, is only $35. If you’d like to review back issues, visit our free archive.
You may have recently learned that Scottish Gaelic-medium education is now the “default” option in Scotland’s Western Isles, the contemporary heartland of the language. What may surprise many outside Scotland is that this wasn’t already the case — after all 52% of people in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides aged three years or older are Gaelic speakers, according to the 2011 UK Census.
But Gaelic-medium education has been an option in na h-Eileanan Siar only since 1987, and English-medium has been the default. The decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) to make Gaelic-medium the default choice, while allowing parents to opt for English-medium instruction, is an important step for a community fighting to keep its language alive.
But it’s only one step. Gaelic-medium education has grown rapidly in recent decades, and that’s given the language and its speakers a big boost in terms of confidence and visibility. The overall number of students enrolled in Gaelic-medium units is still small, however, and the challenges facing Gaelic speakers include a lack of economic opportunities for young people in traditional Gaelic communities.
How many students are in Gaelic-medium education? In 2018, the last year for which data are available, there were 4,343 students receiving Gaelic-medium education throughout Scotland, according to the Scottish Government’s pupil census. That’s out of a total of 693,251 pupils at primary, secondary, and special schools in Scotland. There were another 6,555 students in Gaelic classes, learning Gaelic as a second language.
In the Western Isles, 1,050 out of 3,326 students were in Gaelic-medium units, including 731 primary-school students and 319 secondary school students. That’s just about a third of the total. However, another 2,060 students — 62 percent of the total — were reported to be enrolled in “Gaelic learner classes,” with only 216 secondary school pupils reported in programs with “no Gaelic.”
There’s another key number in the 2018 Scottish Pupil Census, however: The number of students with a language other than English as their main home language. In that census, only 520 students claimed Scottish Gaelic as their main home language — not just in the Western Isles but in Scotland. For those who believe language transmission starts at home, not in school, that’s a bad number.
The Western Isles policy to make Gaelic the default language of primary and secondary education is the right step and corrects more than a century of neglect of Gaelic in the schools at best and outright persecution at worst. But much more attention must be paid to the use of Gaelic in the home, and to the creation of economic opportunities in Gaelic-speaking communities.