All About Scots Gaelic

Category: Languages

Scots Gaelic is, as the name suggests, a language native to Scotland, although not spoken as widely now as it used to be. In this post, we’re going to look at a brief history of the language, and where you can find it still “alive” today.

Scots Gaelic & Old Gaelic languages

Most languages still in existence today share common roots with others, particularly those from nearby regions. In the case of Scots Gaelic, it is derived from Irish. The language spread across Scotland in the 4th century and differed in many ways – particularly in terms of spelling and pronunciation – from Irish, but the roots can still be perceived by those with some knowledge of either language.

Changing languages in Scotland

By the 11th century, Inglis – an old form of English – and Norman-French began to replace Scots Gaelic as people’s primary language. While Norman French was largely spoken by the nobility, the common people spoke Inglis.

Within a matter of centuries, Inglis – known by the 14th century as Scots – became the official language of government and law in Scotland.

Punishment in schools

From the 18th century onwards, children began to be punished in schools for speaking Scots Gaelic. While this led to a decline in native speakers, it also resulted in the publication of the Bible in Scots Gaelic, and the education of locals to be able to read the book in their own language.


The 18th century was a difficult time for the Scots Gaelic and Irish languages, but for different reasons. In the case of Scots Gaelic, forced eviction of many households across Scotland to make way for sheep farms resulted in mass emigration. Scottish people went far and wide, to Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, taking their language with them.

Even today, there are still speakers of Scots Gaelic in Nova Scotia. The number of speakers would probably be even higher were it not for the value parents placed on their children learning English instead. In a new country, it was deemed more appropriate and beneficial to be fluent in the common tongue, in order to enable them to work and thrive.

Scots Gaelic today

Recent statistics show that fewer than 60,000 people in Scotland speak Scots Gaelic, down from nearly 300,000 in 1800. The decline of the language has meant that Scots Gaelic is officially on UNESCO’s list of Definitely Endangered languages, with children no longer learning the language as the mother tongue in the home.

Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the Scottish Bòrd Na Gàidhlig (Board of Gaelic) worked to introduce Gaelic Medium Education into the academic system. As a result, over 4,000 children from the ages of 0-18 have received education in the language.

Scots Gaelic can be heard around Scotland, whether in the Highlands or the Lowlands. Road signs, local theatre, radio and television productions and the locals of the Highlands – particularly the Outer Hebrides – as well as the Isle of Skye and Argyll & The Isles provide tourists and the linguistically curious with exposure to the language. At the same time, nearly half of all Scots Gaelic speakers in Scotland live in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas. In this way, it’s far from being a distinctly rural phenomenon. 

What next?

While we’re not experts in Scots Gaelic, we do understand Scotland. Get in touch with your translation and localisation needs to bring your message to the UK with the help of our native English translators.



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