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.