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Scottish Gaelic today
History of Scottish Gaelic
Features of Scottish Gaelic
Scottish Gaelic today by Kenneth McKinnon
Although only 93,282 of Scotland's 5,062,011 population (1.8%) have any sort of knowledge of Gaelic according to the 2001 Census, there is still strong support amongst supporters of the language to increase recognition and Gaelic-based services in education, broadcasting, the arts and in local and national administration.
Over the past thirty years, the Gaelic cultural scene has been enriched by the growth of theatre and television production companies and literary and arts organisations. These have drawn upon a wealth of traditional culture, including folksong and vernacular verse, many deriving from the suppression of the bardic schools in the early 17th century. More formal verse of the bardic period, and later, are well represented in current publications, as well as more recent genres such as plays and novels.
The Royal National Mod is the Gaelic language's premier cultural festival and has a tradition stretching back to 1892. It is held annually in October at a different location in Scotland and gives competitors and spectators a chance to celebrate the Gaelic language and culture through music, dance, drama, arts, literature as well as a chance for Gaels and non-Gaels alike to get together.
Gaelic-medium education is seen as one of the most important factors in enabling the language to be maintained amongst children and young people. Without it, the future generation of Gaelic speakers are unlikely to maintain their knowledge and use of Gaelic in the face of the powerful social and commercial pressures of English. Although it is possible for students to be schooled through the medium of Gaelic from preschool to college, it is relatively rare. Gaelic-medium primary education, which commenced in 1985 with two schools at Inverness and Glasgow, has grown to 60 schools, with almost 2000 pupils. However, secondary school education in Gaelic is less well provided for: currently, 36 schools teach 974 fluent speakers, with a further 14 schools giving students the option of a Gaelic medium stream. A Gaelic further and higher education college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, was established in 1972 and degree courses have been available at the University of the Highlands and Islands since 1998.
There was some presence of Gaelic from the earliest years of radio and since the mid-20th century on television. However media output greatly increased with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal from the mid-1980s, and an increased television budget in the 1990s. Now there are demands for around-the-clock radio provision and a dedicated digital television channel.
Government decisions can influence the fortunes of minority languages greatly and in 1997 the Labour Government put in place some measures to protect the Gaelic language, appointing a Minister for Gaelic and setting up taskforces. With devolution, the Scottish Executive set up further ministerial groups which have resulted in improved provisions for Gaelic, including the establishment of a Gaelic Language Board, Bòrd na Gàidhlig. The future of Gaelic as a continuing language of home and community very much depends upon the outcome of such initiatives.