Today we thought we’d explore a little bit about the history of Scottish Gaelic. Here at Culloden, or Cùil Lodair, we get quite a few questions about the language as we are lucky enough to have dual language elements in our centre. So, we thought we’d use this opportunity to give a bit more information about the language.
Gaelic is a Celtic language thought to originate from the north east corner of Ireland, which slowly spread its way across to the western areas of Scotland. Scottish Gaelic is a close relative of Welsh, Cornish and Breton, but shares a more intimate relationship with Irish and Manx Gaelic. These three Gaelic or Goidelic languages descend from a common ancestor, spoken in Ireland in the late first millennium BC and early first millennium AD. In Scotland, Gaelic became established as the main language and played a part in distinguishing the different cultures of the Highlands from the Lowlands of Scotland. The language has strong connections to the Highland clans, with laws and customs fully written and spoken in Gaelic.
As the influence of the lowlands grew and swept north into the Highlands, so did the English language that we now speak today. Gaelic declined slowly over the centuries and there were several historical events which had an impact on the language, including the Act of Union with England in 1707 and the Highland Clearances following the Battle of Culloden. Gaelic however left its mark across the whole of Scotland and its influence can be seen in the names of Scottish places, mountains, on official buildings and on bilingual road signs on the west coast and islands.
The Gaelic alphabet only contains 18 letters (the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z are not used) and looks a little different to the English one, with accented vowels and different letter sounds to get accustomed to. The roots of the language are closely connected to nature and the ancient Scottish landscape. There are more than 100 words for mountain and over 40 for bog. Indeed the letters themselves were named after plants and trees, for example, the letter ‘a’ is ailm, which translates to ‘elm’ in English.
Today the Highlands and Islands of Scotland account for 55 percent of Scotland’s Gaelic speakers. It is most widely spoken in communities in the Outer Hebrides, as well as island communities on the Isle of Skye, and to a lesser extent, Argyll & The Isles. The Highlands is also known as Gáidhealtachd, the ‘land of the Gaels’, and proudly celebrates its Gaelic heritage. Interest in the language continues to grow, with various Gaelic language courses available, dedicated television and radio channels and cultural events taking place to celebrate contemporary Gaelic culture. Thanks to this the language is enjoying an increase in speakers and learners, with many young people choosing to learn the language of their ancestors, Inverness itself now hosts a Gaelic school and many schools offer Gaelic as an option to study.
Due to a high number of Scottish emigrants in the 18th and early 19th centuries, Gaelic communities have also emerged across the world, most notably in Canada, in the Nova Scotia region, but also in New Zealand, Australia and other regions in North America. If you are interested in learning Gaelic be sure to check out http://learngaelic.net/ for more information and resources.
To leave you we thought we’d give you a quick taster of Gaelic with a few key phrases:
Good Morning – Madainn Mhath – pronounced ‘Matdeen va’
Good Afternoon – Feasgar Math – pronounced ‘Fessger ma’
Goodbye – Mar sin leibh – pronounced ‘ Mar shin leyv’
Thank you – Tapadh leibh – pronounced ‘Tapa layv’
A hundred thousand welcomes – Céad míle fáilte – pronounced ‘Cade meelah fallcha’
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and as always please like, share, tweet, follow, comment and be inspired to learn a little Gaelic.
All the best K & D.