Andrew HN Gray (Letters, 29 August) is right to point out that several languages were spoken in ancient Caledonia, but Gaelic was plainly “the first language” of the emerging Scottish kingdom, until it was displaced by northern English (Scots) in the early middle ages.
After King James VI left for London in 1603, the Scots tongue was reduced to its current rank of dialect. Nowadays, it is hardly ever heard in official public discourse, with the happy exception of local news broadcasting in the Northern Isles.
King James also began the long campaign to destroy Gaelic, by compelling the Highland chiefs to have their eldest sons educated in English (Statutes of Iona, 1609). This culminated in the Education Act of 1872, which forced everybody to be educated in English.
As a learner, I struggle to express myself correctly, while fluent native speakers sometimes have difficulty in reading Gaelic, because the use of their native tongue was strictly forbidden at school – sometimes on pain of the tawse.
The poetry of Edwin Muir, Robert Burns and Duncan Ban Macintyre is equally precious, and all three tongues should be cherished and promoted as part of Scotland’s heritage.