Research Seminars

Research seminars

Language revitalisation: Linguistic creativity and innovation in Scottish Gaelic

Claire Nance (Lancaster University)

This paper will examine the social and linguistic outcome of the programme to revitalise Gaelic in Scotland. Several decades of concerted effort have led to a context where Gaelic is recognised as equal to English in Scottish legislation, but the language is still subject to intense negative feeling by a vocal minority of the population and suffers declining speaker numbers. Young people in Scotland can now complete their entire education from pre-school to degree level through the medium of Gaelic, yet Gaelic is now rarely used as a social language among younger generations.

I will discuss the impact of these social developments on Gaelic, concentrating on new communities of speakers in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Traditionally, Gaelic has only been spoken in urban central Scotland by migrants from the Highlands and Islands, but recent initiatives associated with revitalisation have created significant numbers of both adult second language speakers and young people acquiring Gaelic in immersion education. I will examine the linguistic behaviour of such individuals focussing on phonetics and phonology. Specifically, I demonstrate that distinct, lowland varieties of Gaelic are emerging through analysis of laterals, intonation, vowels and rhotic consonants.

In the discussion, I examine whether we can consider these developments for Gaelic as ‘new dialects’ of a minority revitalised language. I also offer some implications of the research for future policy and language planning.