Gaelic gets a shot in the arm

March 31, 2000

There are hopes of a boost for Gaelic in Scottish colleges and universities following the United Kingdom's decision to back Council of Europe protection for minority languages.

The Westminster parliament is expected to ratify the European charter for regional or minority languages within the next three months. This calls for "resolute action" in promoting the languages and the provision of facilities for teaching and studying them.

Ronald Black, of Edinburgh University's Celtic department, said: "Having a dynamic and well-supported minority language in our midst is a very European thing. Europeans can't understand the kind of people who say it's a waste of money, that should be put into teaching kids French and German. A forward-thinking, culturally aware modern European state cultivates indigenous languages, minority languages and foreign languages equally."

Mr Black said Gaelic was important because it is one of Scotland's oldest languages, the repository of rich and valuable literature and folklore. But while Gaelic was offered at primary-school level, higher education was hit by the "big hole" in provision in secondary schools.

"We rely on a good stream of decently educated young Gaelic speakers," he said.

Rob Dunbar, a Glasgow University legal expert, said: "I think this creates principles, which we haven't had until now, that ensure Gaelic education matters at all

levels, including post-secondary."

Governments were left with a significant amount of room to interpret and implement the charter, he said, but it created general principles that positive measures must be taken to promote the language.

Mr Dunbar said it implied support for university Celtic departments and colleges such as Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye and Lews Castle on Lewis, which offers courses in Gaelic. If, in future, institutions want to rationalise courses, the government could have a special obligation to ensure they continued to carry out teaching and research in Gaelic.

Academic specialists believe ratifying the European charter will encourage moves by the Scottish political parties to give Gaelic special legal status under the Scottish Parliament.

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