When crossing the Scottish border, we’re greeted with a sign that reads “Fàilte gu Alba” and to the average driver it may mean nothing but others will know it’s Scottish Gaelic for “Welcome to Scotland”. No different to “Fáilte go hÉirinn” signs in Irish or “Croeso i Gymru” equivalents for Welsh at their borders, immediately we’re made aware that we’ve entered a nation of rich Celtic culture; yet this heritage has been minoritised.
As written by Paul Kavanagh in Scotland’s Language Myths: “A minoritised language is a language which was once the language of the majority of a given country or large geographical region, but due to political and other factors became socially marginalised.” The Gaelic-speaking tradition predates even the reign of medieval Scottish Kings following Irish Gaelic’s arrival to Scotland around 500 AD.
Sadly, since then historical events like the Battle of Culloden and the ensuing Highland Clearances, education acts that banned Gaelic in schools, and the emergence of English-speaking dominance in society have seen Scots Gaelic wilt away. Of course, this plight is not exclusive to Gaels as many minority languages worldwide are in the same battle to exist in their own heartlands.
Bilingualism is the rule and not the exception in many countries, so why should Scotland differ? However, the next argument tends to be “well, be bilingual with a useful language!” That’s where our Scotsman readers come in. With over 1.5 million learners signed onto Gaelic on Duolingo, popular TV shows like Outlander featuring Gaelic, and new businesses opening like the Gaelic Cafe in Stornoway (which will hopefully inspire others), there is clearly a drive to use the endangered tongue.
So, to help us articulate that best we created an engagement post that read “Scottish Gaelic is worth learning because…” and our Scotsman readers offered hundreds of insightful answers that we have condensed into this well-meaning list of twenty-one reasons to learn Gaelic.
1. Gaelic is worth learning because… It connects us to our heritage
For most contributors, the number one reason cited for learning Scottish Gaelic was “heritage” and the connection that it offered them to Scotland and its history. As LearnGaelic says: “Gaelic is a Celtic language and has been spoken by the Gaels of Scotland for over 1,500 years. It is an integral part of Scotland's heritage and cultural identity, especially for people in the Highlands and Islands.” One Gaelic speaker told them that there are “so many different things in Gaelic that make you understand Scottish culture, the landscape of Scotland and the people.”
2. Gaelic is worth learning because… It’s a beautiful language
As it would be said in the language itself, “tha a’ Ghàidhlig àlainn” (Gaelic is beautiful!) Many people commented that Scottish Gaelic is a beautiful and “evocative” language that “spoke to their soul” in a way that English just couldn’t. The Celtic tongue has a unique charm the same way that other languages have their own. Several comments expressed an appreciation of how Scottish Gaelic has unique phrases and proverbs that frame things in their own distinctive way. One fun proverb goes: “Ruithidh an taigeis fhein le bruthaich” which is “even a Haggis will run down hill” i.e., even an idiot could do that.
3. Gaelic is worth learning because… You unlock its beautiful music
In Dónall Ó Héalaí’s ‘Irish language’ TED Talk, speaking of a song about a mother’s loss over her son performed in Irish Gaelic, he said: “I’ve never heard grief sound so beautiful.” The same is said of Scottish Gaelic as one of our readers said that “Scottish Gaelic and Irish laments are some of the most beautiful music on Earth.” However, Gaelic is not limited to sombre tones. Modern artists like Julie Fowlis sang in Gaelic for Disney’s “Brave” and Gillebride MacMillan sang in Outlander’s Gaelic score. Even in a ‘land down under’ Australian DJ Timmy Trumpet, renowned for Jazz, featured Gaelic in his song “Oracle”.
4. Gaelic is worth learning because… There’s a wonderful community
Regardless of whether or not you’re in Scotland there are many ways to connect with others via Gaelic. Plus, given the language’s endangered status and limited opportunities to use it, members of those communities are often happy (even grateful) to have you. The Gaidhlig Scot website confirms that there’s many “Gaelic Organisations working across Scotland to develop and support the use of the Gaelic language and culture.” Or, if you visit Scottish regions like the Outer Hebrides, you could encounter Gaelic organically in places like Stornoway. If not, the online Gaelic-learning communities are fun and very supportive.