Census: Mixed fortunes for Gaelic

Map showing spread of Gaelic speakers across Scotland.
Map showing spread of Gaelic speakers across Scotland.

Results from the 2011 census show mixed fortunes for Gaelic, with the Western Isles boasting almost half of all people with skills in the language.

Overall, the language declined by 5.8 percent between 2001 and 2011, seeing a fall from 92,400 speakers to 87,100.

A total of 57,600 people reported they could speak Gaelic, with 32,400 saying they could also write it.

The rest consisted of who can understand Gaelic but not speak it. The number who speak Gaelic at home is 25,000, which is 0.5 percent of Scots.

Between 2001 and 2011 there was a fall in people who could speak Gaelic of all ages above 18 years.

The proportion of speakers aged 65 and over fell from 1.8 percent in 2001 to 1.5 percent in 2011.

But proponents of the language are encouraged by the results showing a rise in speakers below the age of 18.

In 2001, 0.5 percent of three-to four-year-olds could speak Gaelic, compared to 0.7 percent in 2011.

For five-to eleven-year-olds, 0.9 percent spoke Gaelic in 2001, rising to 1.13 percent by 2011.

The number for 12-to 17-year-olds also rose, from one percent to 1.1 percent.

Just under half (49.7 percent) of those able to speak and write Gaelic live in the Western Isles.

The Islands also topped the number of people speaking Gaelic at home: 73.7 percent.

The proportion of people aged three and over with some Gaelic skills was also highest in Eilean Siar at 61 percent.

Domhnall MacNeil, Comunn na Gàidhlig, said:

“The fall in speakers over 18 is disappointing but expected. It’s encouraging that the percentage of younger speakers has risen, which is in no small way down to Gaelic Medium education.

“It’s important that people see Gaelic as a language that has value and we should encourage its connection with the community to achieve this.

“We knew that the older population of speakers would decrease but the rise in younger speakers confirms that we’re going in the right direction.”