"Scant acknowledgement” of the Gaelic crisis in the islands

Gaelic in the islands is at a crossroads of change.Gaelic in the islands is at a crossroads of change.
Gaelic in the islands is at a crossroads of change.
​A leading academic on Gaelic policy and implementation has lamented the lack of action in addressing the decline of the language in island communities, calling for a “systemic change” in approach if it is “to survive as a community language for years to come”.

Iain Campbell, a Research Fellow in the Languages Sciences Institute of UHI, was one of the authors of a report, “The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community”, which stated that the language will disappear as a community language in the islands in the space of a generation if current policies are pursued.

The report preceded a conference in Stornoway last year which supported calls for a change of direction, more geared towards a grass-roots approach, and more focused on the needs of communities, including wider consideration of the economy and population retention.

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However, writing in the Gazette this week (See The Big Read in the print version), Mr Campbell says there has been precious little progress made on addressing that challenge.

“A good place to start in changing how the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig address the challenges would be to engage with the recommendations of the Gaelic Crisis research, and from the Soillse conference,” he said.

“So far, there has been scant acknowledgement of the recommendations of this conference, and even less consideration has been afforded to meaningful actions. Unless there is a systemic change in how support and funding are targeted towards the needs of island communities, it is highly unlikely that Gaelic will survive as a community language beyond the current generations of Gaelic-speaking islanders

“Irrespective of a possible new Scottish Languages Act, it is highly questionable whether the Gaelic Language Plans of Public Bodies are making much difference in supporting an increase in the number of fluent Gaelic speakers and daily users of the language.

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“There is clearly a mismatch between expectations of what language plans can achieve and how they impact on the wider community dimensions of supporting Gaelic.”

And Mr Campbell’s intervention comes as a language campaign group strongly attacked the new Scottish Cabinet for its failure to have anyone with a defined Gaelic or languages brief.

“Misneachd”, who describe themselves as a grass-roots activists' movement, were reacting to Humza Yousaf’s new cabinet, which fails to make any mention of who will take responsbility for Gaelic and the national development agency Bord na Gaidhlig.

In a joint statement with Scots language campaigners, Oor Vyce, Misneachd said: “As a new Government team is now in place, we see no clear accountability for Scots or Gaelic, and this lack of clarity does not provide our communities with confidence that concerns around preserving and developing our unique linguistic heritage in Scotland will be sufficiently addressed.

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“While we heard some warm words around Scots and Gaelic and a lot about protecting minority rights during the SNP leadership campaign, we now need those words backed up with action and the rights of Scotland’s linguistic minorities advanced. Both languages require immediate action to prevent further decline.

“The Scottish Government consultation report on future support for Gaelic and Scots, and on a promised Scottish Languages Bill is due in the coming months, and it is vital that this report brings together groups from across the two communities to provide Scots and Gaelic a louder voice within Government.

“We need a Minister for Scottish Languages who can provide accountability and work with wider Scottish society to help advance the rights of Scotland’s minority language communities.

“We urge Humza Yousaf and the Scottish Government to take immediate action to appoint a Minister for Scottish Languages to address the urgent issues facing Scotland’s linguistic heritage.”