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A Century on the Census -
Gaelic in Twentieth
Century Focus

Dr. Kenneth MacKinnon

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A question relating to Gaelic was included for the first time on Scotland's national population census in 1881. A question regarding Irish had been asked in the Irish census since 1851, and pressure in Scotland, inter alia from bodies such as the Gaelic Society of Inverness, secured a question for Gaelic in Scotland for the first time. In view of the position of Gaelic speakers over the preceding centuries, the desire of a representative Gaelic body to get official statistics on the numbers of Gaelic speakers may be surprising to us today when there is marked resistance on the part of ethnic minorities - Blacks especially - to census questions regarding race, ethnicity and language. In nineteenth century Scotland the Gaelic people could still be seen as a potential threat to national homogencity, for in the previous century they had revolted, and were still capable of stout resistance to enforced emigration during the notorious Highland Clearances. There were Highland antecedents to the 'Red Clyde', for in industrial Scotland Gaelic people provided an urban Lumpenproletariat in many ways similar to the Gastarbeiter or poor Black immigrant of today. The fear amongst such today is that census statistics will in some way be used 'against them'. Perhaps they should take courage from Gaeldom's experience? For Gaeldom's champions of 1881 ("...including many of the more influential landed proprietors and other gentlemen in the north of Scotland...") could urge the then Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt to include a Gaelic question in the census. on the grounds of the "well-being of the people of the Scottish Highlands, and ... the promotion of education in that part of the country." (TGSI, 1881-83, p.51). And the statistics were used in subsequent years to improve the place of Gaelic in Highland education, with such effect that in 1888 a Welsh deputation came to London to plead for similar provisions for Welsh in the English Revised Code. (Smith, in Thomson, 1983, p.260).

The original question asked whether persons spoke Gaelic 'habitually' - and clearly from analysis of returns from urban areas, and fringe areas along the 'Highland Line', where community language-shift was then commencing, the census under-represented the number of actual speakers. In 1891, the question was changed to ask regarding actual ability to speak Gaelic alone, or Gaelic and English. Numbers of Gaelic speakers rose from 231,594 (6.76% of the Scottish population aged 3+) to 254,415 (6.84%), although language-shift from Gaelic to English was gathering momentum. The fortunes of Gaelic from then on continued to decline, as the graph in Figure 1 indicates. In his valediction to Scotland's abolished parliament in 1707, Fletcher of Saltoun lamented it as 'ane end of ane auld sang'. Scotland has since then experienced many another. Is Scotland's original but still surviving language to join them in extinction?

However between 1961 - 81, some kind of upturn seems to have occurred which deserves explanation. Whether this can be regarded as a new - or a false - dawn merits discussion. The upturn was most marked amongst schoolchildren and young adults. (See Figures 2-3.) Meanwhile, some sketch of the present geographical and demographic dimensions of Scotland's Gaelic population may be useful. To illustrate this, the distributions of Gaelic speakers in 1891 and 1981 (these years for comparability of question) are shown both by proportions of local populations speaking Gaelic, and by location of actual numbers of Gaelic speakers. (See Figures 4-7.) As between Highland and Lowland Scotland, these impressions mirror one another. Although the higher proportions of Gaelic speakers are found in the northwestern peripheries, the greater numbers of Gaelic speakers live elsewhere.

Geographical Distribution of Gaelic Speakers.

The Scottish Gaelic speech-community today numbers about 80,000. About 23,500 of these are usually resident within the Western Isles Islands Area, about 16,500 in Highland Region, about 6,000 in Argyll &; Bute District, and about 500 in the Highland area of Perthshire. These areas, which approximate to the traditional Gàidhealtachd, or Gaelic-speaking area, thus contain about 46,500 - or about 58% - of present-day Gaelic speakers. The remainder lives within the rest of Scotland mainly in the Lowlands, 15,000 of them in the Central Clydeside Conurbation centred upon Glasgow.

In the 1981 Census, the usually resident population of Scotland totalled 5,035,315, of whom 4,843,553 were aged 3+. Of these, 82,620 were able to read, write or speak Gaelic, amongst whom were 79,307 speakers of the language, comprising 1.64% of the national population aged 3+.

Of these 79,307 speakers of Gaelic, only 20,345 resided in local neighbourhoods (census enumeration districts) in which 75% or more of the inhabitants spoke Gaelic. (Almost all these areas were in Skye and the Western Isles, but also included the Isle of Canna, western and northwestern enumeration districts in Tiree, the Kilninian enumeration district in Mull, and the Tormisdale enumeration district in Islay.) Thus only 25.65%, or just over one in four of Scotland's Gaelic speakers could have been said to live in a truly Gaelic local environment. A further 7,471 Gaelic speakers lived in enumeration districts which were between 50-75% Gaelic-speaking. These areas were chiefly in remaining areas of Skye and the Western Isles, but also included the rest of Tiree, four enumeration districts in Islay and one in Mull. So in total there were only 27,816 Gaelic speakers normally resident in predominantly Gaelic-speaking neighbourhoods. This represented 34.92% or just over one in three of all Gaelic speakers at the time of the 1981 Census.

In 1981, virtually every parish in the traditional Gàidhealtachd still had a proportion of Gaelic-speakers greater than the national average and within this area, comprising the Western Isles, Highland Region (less Caithness District), Argyll & Bute District, and the Highland area of Perthshire, there were 46,410 Gaelic speakers or 58.52% of Scotland's total. In 1981 there were thus 32,897 Gaelic speakers, or 41.48% of the national total, normally resident in areas which could not be described in any sense as Gaelic in either present-day or recent, historic character. It cannot really therefore: be said, as it sometimes is, that Scotland's Gaelic speakers are to be found mainly in the Hebrides and northwest coastal fringes. Today, the majority are in fact to be found elsewhere in Scotland. Their numbers are sufficient to liken them to a Gaelic Archipelago more populous than the Hebrides - but set in a Lowland "sea".

Problems of Communication and Administration

The problems which result from this distribution pattern of Scotland's Gaelic speakers make contacts within the Gaelic speech-community particularly difficult.. The Highland mainland is mountainous and deeply indented by the sea. Thus the small Gaelic populations of the western glens and peninsulas are very much isolated from one another. The islands are today typically connected by modern lines of communication, not so much with one another as through ferry ports on the west coast via road and rail links to the Lowland cities. In the past (prior to the 1975 reforms) Highland local government administrative areas had typically encompassed both, thoroughly Gaelic island and west-coast areas with the more populous and anglicised east-coast areas - as in the former Highland county education authority areas. In these and other ways, the Gaelic areas have in the past been divided from one another, and mutual contacts between them have been reduced. Both transport and local administration patterns give evidence of the satellitisation of these areas and their internal colonialisation.

The rôles of the present-day broadcasting and education services, and the policies of the new structures of local administration are thus of particular importance in overcoming these difficulties. The present pattern of BBC Gaelic radio broadcasting on VHF under the banner Radio nan Gàidheal provides services of a more local kind: as Radio nan Eilean in the islands, and as Radio air a' Ghàidhealtachd on the Highland mainland. In total, these stations broadcast about 25 hours in Gaelic per week, inclusive of schools' broadcasting.

In addition to the bilingual educational and administrative policies of Comhairle nan Eilean in the Western Isles, four other local authorities have formulated bilingual policies and have constituted Gaelic committees. These are Highland Region, Skye & Lochalsh District, Ross & Cromarty District, and most recently Argyll & Bute District. Although Strathclyde Regional Council has not constituted a Gaelic committee as such, it has designated a councillor with responsibility for Gaelic.

Age, Sex and Social Distribution of Gaelic-Speaking Abilities

Age and sex statistics for Gaelic speakers were first reported for the 1921 census. The effects of recent war in the national population resulted in a reduced birth rate, and the reductions of numbers amongst young adult males. Within the Gaelic population these effects were very much more pronounced. The greatly reduced numbers of young adults, especially males, indicates that the Gaelic population bore a disproportionate share of war casualties and dislocation. This was exacerbated by lower birth rates and a shift from Gaelic to English as the language of child socialisation.

This process continued throughout the middle part of the century, but in 1971 some slight increase in Gaelic speakers occurred amongst children (as shown inFigure 2). By 1981 this had become more pronounced amongst 10- 14 year-olds. This effect can be shown to relate specifically to those areas with primary Gaelic teaching schemes. Comparison of areas with bilingual and second-language primary schemes in 1981 with the corresponding areas ten years earlier in 1971 before the inception of these schemes in their present form suggests that education has had an enhancing effect of Gaelic-speaking ability amongst young people. (MacKinnon 1985).

The Gaelic population is on the whole an ageing sector of the population - but there were proportionate increases of Gaelic speaker's amongst older children and young adults in their early thirties in 1971 - 81 (as shown inFigure 3). This was a feature only of the most strongly Gaelic-speaking areas, comprising the Western Isles, Skye and Tiree in which over 50% of the population are Gaelic-speaking, and where various forms of bilingual education have been in operation since the late '50s and where more thorough-going bilingual primary Gaelic teaching schemes have operated since the late '70s. The demographic "bulge" also occurred amongst teenaged groups in other areas with second-language primary Gaelic teaching schemes, which comprise mainland Highland areas whose local native Gaelic speakers are middle-aged to elderly.

This situation illustrates the position of the Gaelic population in areas where Gaelic was being taught as a second language in primary schools in 1981, but where Gaelic had ceased to be the predominant community language. The population profile of Gaelic speakers in the essentially Lowland area is greatly attenuated in the age-ranges of childhood and youth.

Since 1981, a further second-language scheme has been introduced in northeast Perthshire, the Wester Ross scheme lapsed in 1986 through staffing difficulties, but by 1988 Gaelic-medium primary units had been established in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, South Uist, Skye and Lewis.)

There are within the present-day Gàidhealtachd a number of areas in which the proportion of young people (aged 5-24) speaking Gaelic matches or exceeds the proportion in the older age-ranges. These areas may be said to demonstrate some viability in their maintenance of the language. At the 1981 Census, these areas comprised some 30 of the 140 enumeration districts of the Western Isles, chiefly in western Lewis, southern Harris, the Uists and Barra, and some 9 of the 50 enumeration districts in Skye, chiefly in its northern and southern extremities. It is interesting that there were examples of such potentially viable Gaelic communities in close proximity to such anglicising centres as Stornoway and the military base on Benbecula. In some other areas Gaelic maintenance in the 5-24 age-range was within 1-2 percentage points of the older generations, as in the Western Isles communities of Barra and Vatersay, or within 3.4 points, as in the remainder of Harris, Scalpay and remoter parts of Lewis. (See MacKinnon 1987a.) In the Isle of Ornsay postcode sector of Skye, the incidence of Gaelic was stronger in the 3-24 age-range than amongst the older population - the likely result of the estate policies of Fearann Eilean Iarmain,. which uses Gaelic as the language of business and daily administration. (MacKinnon 1984b.)

In these strongly Gaelic communities, supportive attitudes and usage of the language seem less well represented amongst younger women, compared with other age and sex groups. There is a definite differential migration of younger women, as compared with younger men, from the most strongly Gaelic areas. (MacKinnon 1977, 1984b, 1986.) Other research suggests that within the occupational continuum of Gaelic communities, Gaelic is best conserved within the semi-skilled agricultural group, which comprises the crofting "core" of these communities. Supportive attitudes and Gaelic-speaking abilities weaken away from this core in both directions - towards the skilled technical and commercial occupational groups on the one hand, and towards the unskilled and non-crofting manual occupational groups on the other. (MacKinnon 1977, 1985, 1986a, b.)

The Gaelic Upturn - Stabilisation, Regeneration or Respite ?

As has been noted (Figure 1) the decade 1961-71 marked an upturn for Gaelic in numbers of speakers. This increase, of almost 10%, from 80,978 to 88,892 speakers, was a feature of Lowland rather than Highland Scotland. The numbers of Gaelic speakers in the Highlands and Hebrides actually continued to decline. However, in 1981, although some small overall contraction on the 1961 figure occurred: back to 79,307 (or 82,620 depending on definition), there were for the first time ever actual increases, both numerical and proportional in Gaeldom's core heartlands: the Western Isles and parts of Skye. (MacKinnon 1987a).

Some of this variation might be explained by changes in census question, and change in definitions of population. But there have clearly been actual changes in the numbers of children and young adults being returned as Gaelic speakers in these areas. Such changes, as have been seen, also occurred in other Highland areas with supportive Gaelic educational practice.

In any process of language-shift, there are of course factors which are promoting the abandonment of one language for another, stabilisation of the status quo, and actual reversion to an anterior state. The situation at any given time represents the resultant of these factors. Thus for Gaelic in the later 20th century, there have been very clearly a number of stabilising and regenerating factors sufficiently effective to overcome the processes of attrition which have operated during the modern period.

The Gaelic communities have over long periods been subjected to high rates of migration - chiefly of younger people, and more especially women. (MacKinnon, 1986a, b) Lack of employment facilities at home has been the spur, opportunities for further education and employment in the services and industrial centres have been the magnet. Gaelic communities have probably been adequately reproducing themselves biologically, but the haemorrhage of population has continued to reduce the size of the speech community. Within the speech community changing patterns of societal diglossia have reduced the domains within which Gaelic has predominated. The supersession of the Gaelic Society schools in the 19th century by Board Schools after 1872 in which English held sway typified the process. In the 20th century, commerce, public administration, and broadcasting represent other, adventitious, processes. More recently the slippage of the church as a predominantly Gaelic domain represents a potentially powerful anglicising factor operating from within the community. (MacKinnon, 1986, pp. 73-75).

Amongst the stabilising factors for Gaelic has undoubtedly been crofting. The survival of Gaelic as community speech can be readily correlated with the incidence of crofting within the local community (as further discussed in MacKinnon, 1987b, p.2). Without the passing of crofting legislation in 1886, there would probably be no surviving crofting community anywhere today - and no survival of Gaelic as community speech either. Arran, for example, was as Gaelic an island as any in the Hebrides a century ago. Landowner interests ensured it was not included in crofting legislation. The last club farm in run-rig survived into the 1940s - and today few regard Arran as part of Gaeldom. There is hardly a single native Gaelic speaker left. John Burrel's promise on taking over as factor to the Duke of Hamilton's estates in 1766 has eventually been fulfilled, that there would be "not one single inch of community in the whole island." (Milne 1982, pp. 2-3) But within the counties in which the Crofters' Commission operates as a 'gatekeeper', the numbers of crofts and crofters gradually dwindles, month by month. Crofting, as at present constituted, can only secure for Gaeldom some measure of staying the attrition, and slowing its eventual demise.

Whether the recent improvements in Gaelic broadcasting, and the introduction of the bilingual administrative policy in the Western Isles might also have some stabilising effect is even more debatable. The inception of Radio nan Gàidheal in 1985 was intended to be the precursor of an all-Gaelic channel, similar to BBC Radio Cymru in Wales. The limitation of the licence fee has meant that BBC Scotland's total Gaelic output is only around 25 hours a week. For about half the year both BBC2 and ITV put out a half-hour's Gaelic current events on television - although the situation for children's programme television on both BBC and ITV is somewhat better. The inception of an all-Gaelic radio channel would not be too much to expect in terms of public service provision for the language and its speech-community. Television airtime goes nowhere towards providing an all-round variety of programming sufficient to sustain a media domain for Gaelic, as does Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) for Welsh. As a significant language-stabiliser, the place of Gaelic in the broadcasting media would need to be greatly expanded. And as justification, it can still be argued that the portion of Gaelic speakers in the population still fails to secure its proportionate share of airtime.

Since 1975, there have been notable advances in the place of Gaelic in local administration. The Western Isles - one of only three 'most-purpose' single-tier authorities in the new system - took a Gaelic title Comhairle nan Eilean, and two of its first new policies were to institute bilingual policies in primary education and local administration. The bilingual administrative policy was liberal and permissive, enabling individuals who wished to use Gaelic in transactions with the local authority to do so, and councillors who wished to speak in Gaelic at meetings to do so (with simultaneous translation for members unable to follow Gaelic.) Some committee meetings were held in Gaelic - and bilingual signs made their appearance on public buildings, to be followed by Gaelic street and place-name signs. These last engendered the predictable squeals from incomers, monoglots and certain local commercial interests - and even led to some sign daubing by militant pro-English activists! Highland Region set up a Gaelic committee which has funded a useful number of activities, and some token of bilingual signposting.

These modest advances for Gaelic in the local government field have been greatly fêted as being a great advance on anything which had ever happened before. Any such demands had in the past been stoutly resisted by 'the powers that be' (viz. bilingual signs in Skye in the early "70s.) In reality, the policies only amount to liberal measures of common justice and human rights. Many Gaelic speakers are happy enough to use English, of which they have a fully adequate command. Had such measures been introduced with the inception of local government in the Highlands a century ago, they may very well have had some stabilising effect in instituting an official domain within which Gaelic was able to survive. But Highland administration was then in the hands of the local landed proprietors, by then a class either ethnically English or English-educated.

The factors which have engendered some measure of language-regeneration for Gaelic have been chiefly educational. In the late '50s both Inverness-shire and Ross-shire instituted policies for the use of Gaelic as an initial teaching medium up to about age 8 years in primary schools in the Gaelic areas. In the late '70s a more thorough-going bilingual primary project got under way in the Western Isles, which was extended to all schools in the early '80s, and similar provisions were made in Skye by Highland Region. In 1981 a voluntary Gaelic playgroups' organisation commenced, and by the late-'80s had established over 30 'cròileagain'or Gaelic-medium playgroups, about half in Gaelic areas, and half in urban centres elsewhere. The success of this movement attracted grant moneys and enabled full-time and part-time paid staff to be appointed. This in turn stimulated the inception in 1985 of the first Gaelic-medium primary units in Inverness and Glasgow. By 1986/87, 68 pupils were being educated through Gaelic as a teaching medium at four schools: in Inverness, Glasgow, Skye and Lewis. In 1987/88 two further such schools commenced in Skye, and in the following session two others in Edinburgh and South Uist.

Unfortunately, in 1979 when Comhairle nan Eilean was contemplating an extension of its bilingual policy to the secondary sector, which would have been supported by the then Labour-controlled Scottish Education Department, its nerve failed. The ensuing delay and a change of government wrecked what might have been the best chance for the survival of Gaelic in the Western Isles. The incoming Conservative government insisted on a two-year feasibility study, which eventually reported in 1987, testifying to the effectiveness of the bilingual primary education policy. Meanwhile some minor advances in bilingual education have occurred in Western Isles secondary schools. A new six-year secondary for the southern isles opened in Benbecula in August 1988, and was heralded as an opportunity for a new start. A pilot bilingual secondary scheme had commenced at Lionel some two years earlier, with some useful curriculurn development. In 1988 the pupils proceeding from the Glasgow Gaelic-Medium Unit were to receive some form of bilingual secondary education at the neighbourhood comprehensive at Hillpark. Prior to these developments the paradoxical situation was that the Scottish system had developed bilingual education at primary and tertiary levels - but had omitted a linking secondary stage.

A final regenerative factor for Gaelic has been commercial. In 1971 a Highland entrepreneur and Gaelic learner, Iain Noble, bought the former MacDonald Estate in Sleat and commenced to operate a series of business enterprises through the medium of Gaelic, attracting young and able Gaelic speakers at all levels of employment. These businesses comprising Fearann Eilean Iarmain have prospered, and their effect can be seen in census returns both in the demographic and linguistic revival of the local community. The education authority has even had to build a new school and institute a new bilingual policy as a result. The promotion of co-chomainn(multipurpose community producer co-operatives) by the Highlands and Islands Development Board has gone hand-in-hand with a much more liberal and supportive social and linguistic policies. These attempt policies similar to Fearann Eilean Iarmain - and promote some degree of local enterprise culture in a Gaelic context, to date with only one business failure.

The sociolinguistic and historic interest in the Gaelic speech-community today lies in its capacity to survive. That it does is truly remarkable, given the power of forces which are operating against it. The factors which are stabilising and regenerative in effect are not particularly powerful in comparison: the crofting way-of-life, a modest place in the media, pre-school and primary education, and some local business enterprise culture. Nevertheless, they could form a platform for new policies to enable Gaeldom to survive and prosper even in these unfavourable times.

One suggestion argued recently (MacKinnon, 1987a, p. 10) was the acquisition of Highland estates by the HIDB - Strath, North Harris and Knoydart which were for sale in recent years would have been ideal - and their development for Gaelic homesteading as Co-chomainn, under Crofter's Commission powers (instead of sporting interests controlled by foreign syndicates.) This is the successful model of the Jewish Kibbutzim, which restored Hebrew as a vernacular, first in Europe in the late 19th century through the leadership of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda - and then in the 20th laid the foundation for David Ben-Gurion's vision of a Hebrew-speaking working-class in Israel. The administrative structures and powers for such a policy in Scotland already exist.

A Second Century of the Census?

With the 1991 Census the Gaelic question will have truly entered its second century. This will be a point of especial interest for the fortunes of the Gaelic community. Will it have started to slide over a precipice of return, or will the stabilisation of 1961-81 have laid the foundations for some true measure of regeneration? My theoretical paper at the British Sociological Association 1983 Cardiff Annual Conference on the societal incorporation of speech-communities in general and the Gaelic speech-community in particular (MacKinnon, 1984a) attempted to outline various processes and models. Four ideal-typical 'trajectories' upon a Gaelic-English 'catastrophe surface' were posited, and Gaeldom was seen as occupying the third position as proceeding from an original 'folk society' through the stages of 'internal colony', 'incorporated satellite' into membership of a 'developed class society'. Whether the United Kingdom itself takes the pathway into becoming a 'multi-ethnic state' rather than a 'developed class society' in the problematic economic and political future may be an external determinant of the possibilities open to Gaeldom. What of the internal determinants?

Previous studies have indicated a number of demographic processes and social correlates which associate with Gaelic, language-maintenance and shift. A previous study of Baffa and Harris (1976-78) indicated that, inter alia, younger women tended to be extruded from the community and those remaining evidenced the lowest levels of language and cultural loyalty, Gaelic usage in the family and community, and Gaelic language abilities. There was likewise also an association of lesser levels of Gaelic loyalty, usage and ability with commercial, junior managerial and skilled non-manual occupational categories, technical and vocational educational experience, adherence to the established church, and non-voting and alliance political tendencies. The highest levels of Gaelic loyalty, usage and ability associated with semi-skilled manual occupations (which included crofting), elementary or junior secondary educational levels, adherence to the free churches (or, in Barra, Roman Catholicism) and Labour or Nationalist voting tendencies. (MacKinnon, 1985a, 1986) Analysis of a current study undertaken on a wider remit in Skye (MacKinnon, 1988) and the Western Isles is beginning to confirm some of these findings as wider features of Gaeldom more generally.

There are implications of such findings for the 'new wave' of Gaelic organisations which have come into being in recent years. Some of the more important of these include COGA (Comhairle Oileanaich Gàidhealach Alba - Highland Students' Council of Scotland) which was established in the mid-'70s to link together the highly dispersed students from the Gaelic areas in Scotland's universities and colleges. It organised demonstrations which prompted improvements in Gaelic broadcasting. Strì (Strive) and Ceartas(Justice) in the late '70s stemmed from this initiative and engaged in direct action, chiefly over roadsigns. Their chief activists subsequently became practically involved in stimulating the Gaelic playschools' movement, which in turn led to demands for Gaelic-medium primary education. This had to be conceded under the Conservatives' 'Parents' Charter'. Over the previous century, the leading Gaelic organisations, such as the Gaelic Society of Inverness and An Comunn Gàidhealach had done nothing like it. (Although An Comunn under its first; professional director and education director had begun to articulate and achieve new advances for Gaelic from the late '60s.)

Since then, a new 'semi-official' organisation CNAG (Comunn na Gàidhlig - the Gaelic Association) has been established, CLI (Comunn Luchd-Ionnsachaidh - the Learners' Association, CNSA (Comhairle nan Sgoiltean Àraich - the Nursery Schools' Council), and a Gaelic Arts' Officer, all with various forms of official funding. These new bodies all seem to be having much more effect in promoting a place for the language in public and cultural life, education - and even the media.

The prospects for intergenerational transmission of the language crucially lies with the young women. There is no Gaelic women's movement such as Merched y Wawr in Wales, but Pàrant is Pàisde (Parent and Toddler), groups have been formed. CNAG has founded a number of Gaelic youth clubs in Skye and the Western Isles, with a full-time education officer and three field workers serving these areas. There seems scope too for demonstrating - especially to the instrumentally-oriented technical, vocational, commercial and managerial identities in Gaeldom the significance of language in the restoration of business and community enterprise. The Faroes experience has been something of an example for Gaeldom, but Gaeldom has its own examples now in Fearann Eilean larmain, Sabhal Mór Ostaig, and the Co-chomainn movement, now with its ,own co-ordinating body B> ACE-HI (Association of Community Enterprises - Highlands and Islands.)

If anything, the churches which led Gaeldom a century ago (whilst politically the Highland Land League enabled the people to resist eviction and secure protective legislation) seem a much muted voice in the land today. Sabbath schools are often a strongly anglicising factor - even in the Free Church, whilst the Free Presbyterians almost seem to be preaching that Gaelic is- frustrating God's purpose and the propagation of the Gospel. There seems to be a general lack of vision that the language, its culture and way-of-life having historically been much bound up with the Christian witness and message in the Highlands and Islands might yet be a bulwark against the materialist values of wider society that the churches of Gaeldom still so eloquently excoriate.

Perhaps the implications for the new Gaelic initiatives lie in enabling the Gaelic people to appreciate the relevance of their language and culture to their social and economic survivability in the present and future. The significance of language in spiritual life is not appreciated by the Highland churches (as it is in Wales), and the political significance of language is only beginning to be realised by the political parties in Scotland. (It has long been recognised abroad, more recently in Wales, and in England today it is being realised by working-class groups in the Isle of Dogs, where Cockney forms an integral part of anti-Yuppy activism!)

The Gaelic experience is but one facet of contemporary multi-cultural Britain - a state which has yet to formulate any policy worth the term of multiculturalism. The Gaelic experience - past and present - may be valuable not only in its own Scottish context, but more widely amongst the hundred-plus recognisable ethno-cultural and minority-language groups in Modern Britain. British Sociology has in the past ignored in the grand imperial British manner the fact that British society has always been both multilingual and multicultural. Carter drew attention to the 'assumption of British homogeneity' at the 1972 BSA Annual Conference (Carter, 1974). British sociologists have so long been obsessed with problems of class, they have only just woken up to the sociology of culture. As members of an historically multicultural society, they should have been first to realise that it may be because we have failed adequately to provide for the social needs of our indigenous minorities, that we have failed so far adequately to create policies appropriate to our immigrant communities.

A recent study of mother-tongue in our society quoted an Urdu speaker: 'There isn't another language which is part of the experience of the English native speaker, and that's where the problem lies.' (Wells, 1987) At least in Gaelic Scotland that is not the case - and perhaps from our 'peripheries' the solution may start to be found.


The substance of this paper has arisen out of findings of an earlier Social Science Research Council-assisted project 'Ethnic Communities: the Transmission of Language and Culture' (Small project grant, ref HR 4039/1), and on current work on the project 'Language-Maintenance and Viability in the Scottish Gaelic Speech-Community', funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Personal research grant ref. GOO 23 23 28), which assistance and that of the Hatfield Polytechnic for secondment, media services and research support is gratefully acknowledged.

Permission to use Census Small Area Statistics (SAS 1981 and RSAS 1971) is acknowledged with thanks, in that material from Crown Copyright Records made available through the General Register Office (Scotland) and the ESRC Data Archive has been used by permission of the Controller of H.M. Stationery Office. The assistance of An Comunn Gàidhealach, Inverness and the Research and Consultancy Committee of the School of Business and Social Sciences, Hatfield Polytechnic, in the purchase of census material is also gratefully acknowledged.

The assistance in making available census small area statistical material of ESRC Data Archive (per Dr. N. Walford), Highland Regional Council Department of Planning (per M. Baldwin), Comhairle nan Eilean Department of Planning and Development (per R. MacKay and D. McKim) and the Highlands and Islands Development Board Library (per R. Ardern) are all gratefully acknowledged, as is the assistance of the Crofters' Commission for making available crofting registration statistics (per Mrs D. M. Urquhart.)


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  • MacKinnon, K., (I 985) Gaelic Language Regeneration Amongst Young People in Scotland 1971-1981 From Census Data, Hatfield: Hertis Publications.
  • MacKinnon, K., (1986a) 'The Scottish Gaelic Speech-Community Some Social Perspectives', (Plenary paper to First International Conference on the Languages of Scotland, University of Aberdeen, 26-29th July 1985) in Scottish Language, Winter 1986, No. 5 pp. 65-84.
  • MacKinnon, K., (1986b) 'Gender, Occupational and Educational Factors in Gaelic Language-Shift and Regeneration', (paper to the Third International Minority Languages Conference, University College of Galway.) in MacEoin, G., et al. (eds.) (1987) Third International Conference on Minority Languages: Celtic Papers, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 47-71.
  • MacKinnon, K., (1987a) 'Language Retreat and Regeneration in the present-Day Scottish Gàidhealtachd', (paper to the First International Seminar on Geolinguistics, Stoke-on-Trent, May 1987) Hatfield: Hertis Publications; forthcoming in Williams, C., (in press) Essays in Geolinguistics, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • MacKinnon, K., (1987b) 'Occupation, Migration and Language- Maintenance in Gaelic Communities - Some Social and Demographic Aspects' (paper to the Ninth International Seminar on Marginal Regions, Sabhal Mór Ostaig, Skye, July 1987) Hatfield: Hertis Publications.
  • MacKinnon, K., (1988) Gaelic Language Maintenance and Viability in the Isle of Skye, Hatfield: Hertis Publications.
  • MacKinnon, K. & MacDonald, M. (1980) Ethnic communities: The Transmission of Language and Culture in Harris and Barra, Hatfield: Hertis Publications.
  • Milne, A. P., (1982) Arran: an Island's Story, Arran: Kilbrandon Publishing.
  • Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol X (1881-83) 'The Gaelic Census'. Inverness pp. 51-58.
  • Smith, J. A. (1983) 'Gaelic Teaching in Schools', in Thomson, D. S. (ed.) (1983) The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, Oxford: Blackwell, p.259-263.
  • Wells, G., (1987) 'Concepts of "Mother Tongue" and "Native Speaker" in Relation to the Teaching of Languages to Adults: a Discussion and Survey of Usage and Opinions amongst Learners and Teachers', unpublished M.Sc. dissertation, University of Edinburgh.

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