The plight of Scottish Gaelic
By Guillermo Garrido
Edinburgh, Scotland, Feb 4 (EFE).- Gaelic is one of Scotland’s three official languages but centuries of persecution has left it clinging on for survival in the country’s remote northwest.
Once the language of the royal courts and the aristocracy, the Celtic tongue endured a period of social marginalization that reduced its territory to the Highlands of Scotland, Wilson McLeod, director of research for Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, tells Efe.
Currently there are an estimated 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, representing just 1% of the population, and most are found in the Highlands, particularly on the Outer Hebrides.
The Highlands, and the language, suffered from the turbulence of the 17th and 18th centuries.
“The Highlands experienced huge economic transformation, there was forced emigration, very high levels, in what we call the Highlands Clearances,” McLeod adds.
Highlanders aligned themselves with the attempts of Catholic pretender to the throne Charles Edward Stuart — better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie — against William of Orange. The struggle all but ended with Stuart’s brutal defeat at the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
“A very disruptive time that broke the traditional Highland society in many ways, and English was brought in and imposed often in the education system and Gaelic was devalued and marginalized,” Wilson says.
He adds: “The Gaelic language itself was never banned but it was very much discriminated against and viewed as a problem that needed to be dealt with or even eradicated.
“There’s a famous enactment from the Scottish government or the Scottish parliament in 1616 that said that Gaelic was one of the chief causes of the continuance of barbarity and that it needed to be abolished.”
Centuries later, and despite negative public opinions on the use of Gaelic, British royals rekindled a love for the language, McLeod says.
Queen Victoria (1837- 1901) had her diaries translated into the language. She and her husband Prince Albert reportedly encouraged their son, who would become King Edward VII, to study Gaelic as a child.
That appreciation for the language has passed down the generations.
The current monarch, King Charles III, has expressed his passion for the language in the past.
Since the 1980s, Gaelic has witnessed a resurgence in Scottish education.
In Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, the Gaelic Books Council is trying to forge out a space for the language.
One of its initiatives is Leugh is Seinn le Linda — Read and Sing with Linda, an educational program led by Linda MacLeod, who says she is trying to “bring and encourage Gaelic to be spoken at home.”
MacLeod, a native Gaelic speaker from the Hebrides, points out two challenges facing the language — Highland depopulation and the continued impact of political history.
“If young people aren’t getting the opportunities or support to have work, to have land, to have accommodation (…) it’s very, very difficult for young people today to move back to the Highlands.”
The 1872 Education Act that forbade the use of Gaelic in the classroom and at school had an “enormous impact,” she added.