Ghetto na Gàidhlig

2007 - 2022

Top Ten Anti-Gaelic Arguments Demolished

Here are the top 10 most common anti-Gaelic language arguments and why they’re daft:

1. Scottish Gaelic is an SNP Nationalist plot!

It was the Scottish Secretary in Thatcher’s 1980s Government, George Younger, who began funding Gaelic TV and Radio, with gradual increases supported on a cross party basis from then on. This culminated in the Gaelic Language Scotland Act 2005, introduced by the then Labour and Lib Dem coalition with cross party support. This is the legislation which requires public bodies to produce Gaelic Language Plans, the results of which are increasingly apparent.

One of the biggest supporters of the language is Prince Charles who often speaks in favour of Scottish Gaelic, it is called the ‘Royal National Mòd’ after all. The majority of Scottish Gaelic speakers are Protestant, and Rangers supporters clubs are plentiful particularly in Harris and Lewis. There are a broad mix of identities, religions and political views among Scottish Gaelic supporters and speakers, as you would expect from any group within society.

2. Scottish Gaelic costs too much money!

Scottish Gaelic speakers have jobs, pay income tax and contribute to the economy. The value of Scottish Gaelic’s cultural assets represents hundreds of millions to the Scottish economy. Through tourism, marketing Scotland abroad, Harris Tweed, Whisky, traditional music and tartan, Scottish Gaelic and it’s culture help define Scotland at home and internationally.

Regardless of this contribution, the argument that bilingual signs are costing millions is absurd! Sign manufacturers don’t charge by the letter. If a sign is being replaced or a new vehicle purchased, the fact that bilingual signage is included will not alter the cost of ‘a sign’ or ‘a van’. Gaelic schools likewise are educating Scottish children who require that education regardless of what the language of instruction is. The running costs of paying teachers or providing school books and buildings will be the same per child, whether that child ends up bilingual or not is a choice for parents to make.

The argument that non-Scottish Gaelic speakers “don’t want their taxes spent on X,Y or Z” is irrelevant. The citizens of Stornoway or Lochboisdale don’t have the same opportunity as residents of Edinburgh or Glasgow to visit Scottish Opera, or a National Theatre production, or to visit a National Museums or National Galleries building, but they pay for them through their taxes. You pay for the NHS, the police, for schools regardless of whether you are ill, a victim of crime or a parent!

3. Scottish Gaelic was never spoken here!

This claim is heard so often, made by Scots from Dùn Phris (Dumfries = hill-fort at the thicket) to Ceann Tòrr (Kintore = head of a hill), from An t-Sròn Reamhar (Stranrear = the broad headland) to Dùn Phàrlain (Dunfermline = Pàrlan’s fort) or Baile Àirneach (Balerno = sloe-tree-stead). It is a fact that Scottish Gaelic was spoken over the vast majority of modern Scotland at one time, with place name evidence also extending into the north of England. Either as a majority language, or as a minority amongst a range of other languages, native Gaelic speakers have lived and left their mark on every part of Scotland. Scotland as a nation was founded by speakers of Scottish Gaelic who defended and shaped the nation’s identity as the majority culture for hundreds of years.

Scottish Gaelic belongs to all of us in Scotland, those born here and those who choose to make their home here. Nobody is forced to learn it or even read it on signs, but it is part of our rich culture, history and contemporary identity, the language and it’s speakers should be respected and acknowledged as such.

4. Everyone can speak English anyway!

Speaking more than one language is a good thing regardless of what language that is, did you know 56% of the world is bilingual? So bilingual people are not strange or unusual. Bilingualism is a positive in itself;

  1.   It has cognitive benefits – a bilingual brain is a better brain, with better memory, a better attention span, an increased ability to multitask, and enhanced executive function
  2.   There are health benefits: it can delay the onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and lead to faster recovery from a stroke
  3.   It gives you a different way of seeing the world and a deeper understanding of your own and other cultures
  4.   It makes it easier to learn other languages
  5.  It’s an added skill that can give you an edge in the job market

  People who speak Gaelic want to speak it and enjoy doing so.

5. Children should focus on learning English!

Gaelic Medium Education is a bilingual education, so children end up completely fluent in both. They get all the education children in English language schools get, and Scottish Gaelic ability with all the advantages of bilingualism listed above. Evidence shows that GME children outperform their monolingual peers, including in English. Learning the more complex European grammar of Scottish Gaelic gives a far greater understanding of the grammar of other European languages, including English.

6. Learning Scottish Gaelic is insular!

Scottish Gaelic is often branded insular by those claiming to be international ‘citizens of the world’, in the vast majority of cases these people are monolingual English speakers. A Scottish Gaelic speaker has access to all the culture an English speaker does, and everything in Scottish Gaelic too – books, music, poetry, history, a whole other cultural heritage. Frankly, if you’re an English-only speaker and are offended by a living language and culture on your own doorstep it says a lot about the open mindedness of your own outlook.

7. They should learn a useful language instead!

In Scotland, Scottish Gaelic is a useful language. It would be great if we could all learn Spanish, German or Chinese too, but opportunities to use them in Scotland are rather limited. Scottish taxes pay for the education of Scotland’s children and to equip them to leave our shores rather than to seek work in Scotland, to identify with their country and history seems counterproductive. Children in Gaelic Medium Education (GME) are fluent Scottish Gaelic and English speakers, their English will be as good, if not better, than their monoglot peers. However, they are also taught foreign languages at GME schools and unlike children in English only schooling, GME children are far better equipped to learn additional languages.

8. The bilingual signs are confusing!

There is no evidence whatsoever that bilingual signage is dangerous or confusing to drivers. The vast majority of countries in Europe and the wider world provide signage in multiple languages as a norm. English speakers who complain about the dangers of bilingual signage on the A9 will no doubt manage fine off on holiday in France or Spain! The majority of Scottish place names are anglicised, meaningless translations from Scottish Gaelic, we’d happily accept all English origin names remain that way, provided all Scottish Gaelic origin names are presented monolingually in their correct form!

9. Scottish Gaelic is gobbledygook that sounds funny or doesn’t make sense!

That’s because you don’t speak it. No languages make sense to those who can’t speak them which leaves non-speakers with no context or meaning for the sounds heard, what does English ‘sound like’? You don’t know because you understand the sounds as words. This seems a fairly obvious and fundamental explanation of language.

10. Scottish Gaelic is a dead language!

People who say this mean they wish it were dead. If Scottish Gaelic were a dead language they wouldn’t be making the effort to fulminate against it in the papers! Scottish Gaelic is a living native language spoken continuously in Scotland since Scotland was established as a nation (by Gaelic speakers).

Mòran taing do Nation.Cymru airson an liosta acasan a chur a-mach agus a thug oirnn seo a dhèanamh! Cùm suas i!


[Anti-Gaelic Bingo was created by Emily McEwan – original here: – reproduced with thanks]


Comments (21)

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  1. Welsh Sion says:

    Shame you have to face the same questions we have received (and continue to receive) and repeat the same answers to ignorant, monolingual dinosaurs, as we do for Cymraeg in Cymru.

    You have my full support, as a professional Celtic linguist, a language cousin and a human being.

    Cofion cynnes i’r Alban a’i hiaith Geltaidd – and all its other languages and cultures, too.

    1. Pat Kieran says:

      It’s hard to believe that the Welsh have to face criticism of the use of Welsh, considering how many speakers there are by percentage.

  2. Geoff Bush says:

    What an excellent article, I often find myself defending Gaelic education and language and this list provides more coherent arguments in favour.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

      Hear! Hear!

  3. Kenny Smith says:

    Hear hear sir! I wish Gaelic and Scots were more accepted in this country. I also have had the same feeling of exasperation explaining this. Unfortunately a lot of people can’t see past their own prejudice and call Gaelic a taig language and Scots slang, it’s beyond belief. At Celtic connections I love the sound of Scots Gaelic, there’s something deeply spiritual when it’s against music, really gets the hairs on end. I would love to have the time and patience to learn it. I would love the SG to do more in promoting Gaelic and Scots I’m not sure why they don’t. I’ll finish by saying I had the dead language argument with someone who is an academic who in the same sentence said Latin is worth learning, yeah sure by all means but he just couldn’t get to grips with what he was saying, unreal

  4. JP Tonner says:

    我会说汉语,可是在苏格兰的时候,它不敢用. With regard to point 7, learning Gaelic is infinitely more useful in Scotland than Mandarin. For a kick off, it enhances our awareness of our daily speech, from great words (snazzy, boggin, grotty) to great place names (Drumchapel- Ridge of Horses). Secondly, it connects us to Europe, particularly when you start to see shared roots with Latin languages. Learning Gaelic is fascinating as it enhances your understanding of the geographic place and time we occupy, 学习汉语没有哪个好玩儿.

  5. carthannas says:

    Math dha rìribh a Mhàrtainn. Great Màrtinn.

  6. Terrie says:

    I am from across the pond, but my heart and heritage is in Scotland. I wish I knew the language. Been to the Highlands and listened to a radio station speaking the language, beautiful. There are tunes I listen and sing to and have no idea what I am saying. I hate the fact when you go to learn another language Scottish Gaelic isn’t one of them. I applaud this article sorry there is such flack with it being in schools.

  7. Jean Nisbet says:

    Thank you for this, a Mhartainn. Gaelic and Scots are equally precious and it saddens me that we are still having to argue with other Scots about encouraging their existence.

  8. Interpolar says:

    I can only agree with the article. Otherwise, may I propose that countries like Sweden bin their language? After all, nearly 100% of the population are proficient in English.

    What needs to be discussed more is the linguistic and cultural rape of my forefathers who were wantonly forbidden to speak their mother tongue anywhere near school. It is a loss I feel today, as I have never learnt their language.

  9. Catriona Grigg says:

    Many thanks!
    I’m a Gaelic learner and probably will be to the end. I dream of being fluent but am happy that I can now known what the names of the hills and rivers mean. I can connect to the land as I couldn’t before.
    My dream is that every school in Scotland will offer Gaelic as a subject.

  10. Robert Pollock says:

    My cousins emigrated from Govan to Cardiff where they were obliged by the Welsh government to learn Welsh at secondary school in their first few years at secondary school. The 2011 Welsh language census, showed 19% of the population spoke Welsh. Could not a similar thing be done in Scottish Schools?

  11. Craig P says:

    You forgot number 11.,

    “I’m a bigot who feels uncomfortable experiencing Gaelic.”

    I don’t know much Gaelic beyond topographical names, but the seemingly pointless Gaelophobia you get everywhere in Scotland puzzles me. Why is it so important to some people to hate Gaelic?

  12. Neil Macowan says:

    I’m all for proming/preserving the Gaelic, but I does seem absurd to have bilingual road signs in places like Glasgow, where there are probably more Urdu speakers.

    1. Caran Neonach says:

      It seems absurd to have your nose out of joint about something that does not exist.

  13. Sophie says:

    I was talking to some friends of friends the other day originally from Northern India. A couple. Chetna, the wife’s mother tongue is Kashmiri, her husband Tipu’s is Manipuri, if I remember rightly. But they also had to learn Hindi and Bengali because it’s just useful, and then of course English, because it’s spoken everywhere. And Marathi because they live in Mumbai now. And they both speak a bit of Urdu. And varying amounts of a few others they’ve picked up along the way. These are languages with different alphabets and roots from each other. They were so unphased at the idea of learning and speaking different languages. I’d recently been arguing at dinner with people about Gaelic and I thought how ridiculous it is that people complain so much about a language. Of all things!

  14. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    I don’t know if it’s still the case but at one time to be employed in Teaching or Civil Service it was necessary to be proficient in ‘Irish’?

  15. Edwin Moore says:

    A fine piece thanks

  16. Martin/Mairtín. says:

    I thought the translation of an t-Srón reamhar was more accurately ‘the fat nose’. Mhait dhuit.

  17. davy says:

    Na hooch na agus a wheech. Kimerah cannabinoid, Agus ahitchmakilt anhaggis a wheech the noo

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