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Scottish Gaelic language
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Scottish Gaelic language

Scottish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic or just Gaelic (Gàidhlig; SAMPA: /"gAlIk/) is one of the Goidelic branches of Celtic languages still in use today. The Goidelic (northern) branch includes Scottish and Irish Gaelic as well as Manx, and is distinct from the Brythonic branch which includes Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. Scottish, Manx and Irish Gaelic are all descended from Old Irish.

Scottish Gaelic is more correctly known as Highland Gaelic to distinguish it from the now defunct Lowland Gaelic. Lowland Gaelic was spoken in the southern regions of Scotland prior to the introduction of English.

There is a Scottish Gaelic Wikipedia at http://gd.wikipedia.org

Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig na h-Alba)
Spoken in: Scotland, Canada
Region: Scottish Highlands, Nova Scotia
Total speakers: 61,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 gd
ISO 639-2 gla

Table of contents
1 Differences between Scottish Gaelic and Irish
2 Grammar
3 Official Recognition
4 Place names
5 Personal Names
6 Loanwords
7 See also
8 External Links

Differences between Scottish Gaelic and Irish

Scottish Gaelic is quite similar to Irish, especially the dialect spoken in Donegal, as illustrated by the sentence "How are you?"

Scottish Gaelic - ''Ciamar a tha thu?'
Ulster Irish - Caidé mar a tá tú?
Standard Irish - Conas atá tú?

However, there are some important differences. The most obvious is that the accent, or fada, is written as a grave accent in Scottish Gaelic, as opposed to the acute accent of Irish, hence the word for "welcome" is written as fàilte in Scottish Gaelic and in Irish as fáilte. Also, the negative participle in Scottish Gaelic is cha(n) eil whereas in standard Irish it is níl, (a contraction of chan eil), as illustrated by the sentence "I have no money" (cha is still a legitimate Irish word, though):

Scottish Gaelic - Chan eil airgead agam.
Standard Irish - Níl aon airgead agam.


Some words have "a" in Irish but "u" in Scottish Gaelic, for instance the word for the English language Béarla in Irish and Beurla. This is due to a spelling reform and standardisation which has taken place in Ireland under the auspices of the Irish government during the 20th century. Despite changes promoted by the
Scottish Examination Board from 1976 onwards, Scottish Gaelic speakers still generally use the traditional Gaelic orthography in which the quality of consonants is partially indicated by the vowels surrounding them. The vowels are classified as caol ("slender", i.e. e and i) or leathann ("broad", i.e. a, o and u). The spelling rule is
caol ri caol is leathann ri leathann
(slender to slender and broad to broad). This means that an interior consonant group must be surrounded by vowels of the same quality to indicate its pronunciation unambiguously. Thus the name, Caitlin, in which the first i is silent but needed to soften the tl because of the second i which is not silent. The whole word indicates a pronunciation similar to Kathleen using English orthography. If the name were to be spelt Catlain, this would indicate a pronunciation similar to "Katlin". The spelling Catlin cannot be used because of its ambiguity.

Using the above rule, it is sometimes unclear whether a vowel has been introduced for its own pronunciation or for its effect upon a consonant. In cases where the vowel should be pronounced the fada should be used to make it clear, although it is often missed out by fluent speakers since they already know the answer.

Consonants can also be mutated by a following h.

ConsonantNormal H-Mutated 
A table of consonants with approximate pronunciations using English spelling

This implies that there are many "silent" letters, (in the same sense that the t in the English word often is "silent"), which in Irish have been omitted:


Once Gaelic orthographic rules have been learned, the written language can be seen to be quite phonetic. However this is not generally apparent to those who try to apply English spelling rules to try to decipher Gaelic pronunciations from text. Hence the widespread mispronunciation of Gaelic personal names, such as Caitlin or Seònaid when they are used by English speakers.


cold (illness)slaghdánfuachd (cf. Irish fuacht 'cold temperature'
(Scottish) HighlandsGarbhchríocha (na hAlban) Gàidhealtachd* (na h-Alba)
WalesAn Bhreatain Bheag**Cumrigh

* Similar to Irish Gaeltacht
** In Gaelic, this means Brittany


Gaelic has a number of interesting grammatical features:

tha taigh agam - I have a house
an cat aig Iain - Iain's cat

For example:

tha i bòidheach - she's beautiful
tha ise bòidheach - she 's beautiful (as opposed to somebody else)

Grammatical emphasis carries over into other situations:
an taigh aicese - her house
chuirinnse - I would put
na mo bheachd-sa - in my opinion

Official Recognition

After centuries of official discouragement, Gaelic is achieving a degree of official recognition. As well as being taught in schools, including some in which it is the medium of instruction, it is also used by the local council in the Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean. The BBC also operates a Gaelic language radio station Radio nan Gàidheal (which regularly transmits joint broadcasts with its Irish counterpart Raidió na Gaeltachta), and there are also television programmes in the language on the BBC and on the ITV commercial channels, usually subtitled in English. The ITV franchisee in the north of Scotland, Grampian Television, has a studio in Stornoway.

However, a separate Gaelic language TV service, similar to S4C in Wales and TG4 in Ireland, has been under consideration. As in Wales, the showing of programmes in the language as regional opt-outs on the main channels has been regarded as inadequate for the 60,027 who speak it, and as an annoyance to some of the English or Scots speaking 5,900,004 who do not.

Historically, Gaelic has not received the same degree of official recognition from the British Government as Welsh, although a Gaelic Bill is now before the Scottish Parliament.

The key provisions of the Bill are:

In Nova Scotia, there are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 native speakers, most of them now elderly. In May 2004, the Provincial government announced the funding of an initiative to support the language and its culture within the province.

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Gaelic.

The Columba Initiative, also known as Iomairt Cholm Cille, is a body that seeks to promote links between speakers of Gaelic and Irish.

Place names

Aberdeen - Obar Dheathain
Dundee - Dùn Dèagh
Edinburgh - Dùn Éideann
Fort William - An Gearasdan
Glasgow - Glaschu
Inverness - Inbhir Nis
Perth - Peairt
Stirling - Sruighlea
Stornoway - Steòrnabhagh

Personal Names

Gaelic has a number of unique personal names, such as Donnchadh, Dòmhnall. Some names were borrowed from Norse: Somhairle, Tormod, Fearchar. There are also distinctly Gaelic forms of names with cognates in other European languages: Eòghan, Iain, Catrìona, Anna.

The most common form of Gaelic surname is, of course, those beginning with mac (son (of)), such as Mac Gille Eathainn (MacLean). The female form is nic, so Catriona MacPhi is properly called in Gaelic, Catrìona Nic a'Phi.

Several colours give rise to common Scottish surnames: bàn (Bain), ruadh (Roy), dubh (Dow), donn (Dunn).


The majority of Gaelic's vocabulary is native Celtic. There are a number of borrowings from Latin, especially in the religious domain (eaglais, bìoball), Norse (sgeir), Scots (sgealp) and, in common with other European languages, neologisms tend to be formed from Greek and Latin roots (telebhisean). A worrying trend for some Gaelic speakers is the increasing use of English words within a Gaelic grammar. Verbs like "watch-eadh" (watching) and "catch-eadh" (catching) are commonly used on Leòdhas (Lewis).

Going in the other direction, Gaelic has influenced Scots (gob) and English, particularly Scottish Standard English. Loanwords include: slogan, brogue, jilt, clan, strontium.

Source: MacBain's Etymological Dictionary.

See also

External Links