Businesses in Scotland are increasingly using Gaelic in signs and marketing material, according to language group Commun na Gaidhlig – but what is the history of this language, and can translation technology rescue its heritage?

The £35,000 study by Commun na Gaidhlig found that most businesses thought the use of Gaelic in visual marketing helped them stand out to consumers who are becoming much more conscious of how their money is spent. The Gaelic language group provides grant assistance for bilingual signs, in an effort to make the use of the language much more prominent, particularly in the Western Isles. Some groups, such as the An Comunn Gaidhealach, argue that Gaelic should be the islands’ main language for public affairs, and that translation technology should be utilised to help those who don’t already speak the language.

Gaelic history

Scottish Gaelic, not to be confused with Scots, has an extremely long history. Gaelic was introduced to Scotland by Irish settlers probably around the 4th Century, although it is thought that an ancient form of the language existed in Argyll before the Roman period.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 forbade generations of Gaels to speak their native language in the classroom, and the first solely Gaelic-medium secondary school, Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu (“Glasgow Gaelic School”), was only opened in 2006. After the 2001 census, it was estimated that only 1.2% of the Scottish population had any Gaelic speaking ability. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 has helped to significantly improve recognition of the language, although it still receives less recognition from the UK Government compared to Welsh.

Image credit: David Jones