Gaelic revival myth scotched by student

January 12, 1996

A Strathclyde University research student has thrown cold water over the recent outpouring of enthusiasm about a Gaelic revival.

The Scottish Office Education Department, says Gaelic language and culture has been enjoying a period of growth, while the brochure from Comunn Na Gaidhlig, the Gaelic development agency extends a "welcome to Scotland's Gaelic renaissance".

But Mandy Gloyer said the latest census figures on people who spoke, read or wrote Gaelic showed a continuing decline to 1.4 per cent of the Scottish population, compared to 5.2 per cent a century ago.

"Gaelic activists think this is rock bottom, and that there's now an upturn. The evidence they use is the number of children in Gaelic nursery and primary schools, and adult learners," she said.

"Revival, to these activists, encompasses more than merely an increase in the rise of the Gaelic language. They accept, seemingly without question, that language forms the basis of cultural identity," Ms Gloyer said. "From this perspective, it was easy to see why the language revival was so critical. If the language dies out, a cul-ture and a people are dying with it."

But Ms Gloyer said her initial research suggested that the increased interest in language learning was not the same as a sustained commitment to Gaeldom.

Some of the parents of children in Gaelic nurseries in the central belt had a Gaelic connection. But many of the children appear to be there "accidentally", she said. Parents might simply live nearby, be attracted by the good facilities, or believe that it was valuable for children to learn another language.

"I'm sceptical that there is a revival, and if there is, it's not going to be a working, community language as it was. I don't think it's going to be anyone's first language in the future," she said.

Classifiying a group of people by the language they spoke ignored any debate about what constituted group identity, and tacitly assumed that language was a key element in this, Ms Gloyer said. She now aims to see whether these views are shared by groups which have been more muted in the current debate.

"People may class themselves as Gaels or Highlanders or whatever, and it may be irrelevant whether they speak Gaelic or not."

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