Gaelic, Scots and English are Scotland’s three surviving historic languages. While many other languages are spoken in Scotland today, Scots and Gaelic are special in that, if their use were to cease here, where they are rooted, they would effectively become extinct.
The Gaelic language is a powerful symbol of Scotland’s unique heritage and nationhood which also provides enduring linguistic and cultural links to other nations in the British Isles and beyond. Its speakers number less than two percent of today’s national population but its role in the formation of the kingdom of Alba (still the Gaelic name for Scotland) cannot be gainsayed. It differs from many minority languages in that it was once the majority national tongue, the primary language of power and influence. The historical marginalisation of Gaelic within Scottish society, both politically and geographically, is something that is understood (and lamented) by Gaelic-speakers, but not always by Scots who do not speak the language, many of whom bear the misapprehension that Gaelic was always a marginal element in Scottish life.
Modern Scots is a Germanic language, descended, like modern English, from Old English, the Northern variety of which first appeared in what is now south-east Scotland in the 7th century. Then, and for 500 years thereafter, Gaelic was the dominant language in Scotland, but from the 11th century, as the feudal system established in England by the Normans was adopted by the Scottish kings, immigrants from Northern England brought their Danish-influenced speech into many parts of Lowland Scotland. Although called ‘Inglis’ at this time, the language north of the Tweed began to diverge from that spoken to the south, a process accelerated during the Wars of Independence in the era of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. ‘Inglis’ also flourished in the royal burghs established from the 12th century on, giving it an urban as well as rural presence. Over the next four centuries trading and political links with Scandinavia, the Low Countries, France and other parts of Europe helped to shape the language as it borrowed words from, for example, Flemish merchants. Some words also crossed from Gaelic.
Listen to Scots podcasts on a wide range of subjects at Scots Radio
A collection of Gaelic Cultural Sources compiled by Roddy Mac, with English translation.
The Scottish Storytelling Forum was founded in 1992 to encourage and support the telling and sharing of stories amongst all age groups and all sectors of society.
Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland is currently being developed with the aim to support all Scottish traditional dance forms as well as other traditional dance forms established in Scotland.
We host a variety of courses and workshops to give you access to quality teaching and resources for the traditional arts and Scottish culture.