The Gaelic Language

The Gaelic Language

Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) is an historical language of Scotland which belongs to the family of ‘Celtic’ languages. More specifically, it is a member of the Q-Celtic languages together with Irish and Manx Gaelic. Along with varieties of Scots, including Doric, Shetlandic and Orcadian, Gaelic is recognised as one of the indigenous languages of Scotland.

Today there are some 58,000 speakers in Scotland. In 2005 the Scottish Parliament passed legislation with a view to securing the status of Gaelic as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 is testament to a new political will to support Gaelic’s revival. There is also a new understanding in the general population of the value of Gaelic to Scotland. This unprecedented support to Gaelic in Scotland means this is a very exciting time to be studying Gaelic. Find out more by following the links below.

Gaelic in the North East

Although often overlooked, parts of the North East were in the Gaelic-speaking Gaidhealtachd, latterly in the parishes of Upper Deeside. The last native speaker of Aberdeenshire Gaelic was Mrs Jean Bain of Braemar, who died in 1984. Another important historical link is to the Book of Deer. Compiled at the Celtic Monastery of Deer in Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, the Book is a tenth century manuscript (with twelfth century additions) that provides a unique insight into the early church, culture and society of Scotland, England, and Ireland during this period. It contains some of the oldest examples of Gaelic writing to have survived from Medieval Scotland.

Today there are some 2500 people with knowledge of Gaelic in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire. In Aberdeen City, continuous Gaelic education is available from pre-school to degree and postgraduate degree level.

Get Involved in Aberdeen's Gaelic Community

Staff and students at the University of Aberdeen play an important role in the local Gaelic community, through membership and support of Club Gàidhlig Obar Dheathain (Aberdeen Gaelic Club), Còisir Ghàidhlig Obar Dheathain (Aberdeen Gaelic Choir) and the Scottish Culture and Traditions Association (SCAT).

The University plays an important community role through the activities organised by Comann Ceilteach Oilthigh Obar Dheathain (Aberdeen University Celtic Society).

Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen

Gaelic has been taught as a subject at the University since the eighteenth century. Many distinguished Gaelic scholars have passed through as students or staff.

Professor John Stuart Blackie studied at the University in the 1820s and was appointed Chair in Humanities in the 1830s. In the first half of the twentieth century, the late Professor Derick S. Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais) and Iain Crichton Smith (Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn) studied at the University; Thomson later became the Head of the University’s Celtic Department in 1956. In more recent years, the renowned Gaelic scholar Donald MacAulay was a Reader in Celtic and Donald Meek held the first Chair in Celtic.Sanas - Roinn an Fhoglaim

This long and prestigious history is recognised in the University's draft Gaelic Language Plan 2012-17, which commits to promoting and developing Gaelic in the University within the framework of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.

The plan demonstrates the University’s commitment to enhance students’ experience of studying Gaelic within the School of Language and Literature, and to broadening opportunities for all students to enjoy the Gaelic language and culture.

In addition to courses provided in the School of Language and literature, the University’s School of Education is one of the leading providers of Gaelic education programmes. The University’s Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies also supports Gaelic. The Institute publishes a literary magazine, Causeway / Cabhsair, which frequently includes the poetry and short stories of established and developing Gaelic writers.

Useful Links

Where is Gaelic Spoken?

During the eleventh century, Gaelic was the main language of most of Scotland (including parts of the North East), as Gaelic place-names evidence. Since this period the language has receded. Geographically, a ‘Gaidhealtachd’ region emerged around the late fourteenth century. Today, the Highlands and Islands region accounts for 55 percent of Scotland’s 58,652 Gaelic speakers. It is the island communities of Skye, the Western Isles and, to a lesser extent, the Argyll Islands, which are now regarded as the ‘Gaelic heartlands’.

Emigration from the Gaidhealtachd has been commonplace since the eighteenth century, when Gaelic-speaking communities were established in the urban towns and cities of Glasgow, Greenock, Paisley, Edinburgh, Dundee and Perth. Today, all Scotland’s cities have vibrant Gaelic-speaking communities.

The number of emigrants in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were so large that Gaelic communities were also established in other countries. The largest and most well-known of these was in Canada. There is still a notable Gaelic presence in Canada, most especially in Nova Scotia, where there is still a small community of na­tive speakers and a larger group of people who are learning the language. In contemporary society, the Gaelic community is increasingly global in its membership.