Pòl air a’ mhachair ann an Uibhist a Deas (Paul on the machair in South Uist)
Two-thirds of the world’s 7000-7500 languages are Indigenous languages. One-third of Indigenous languages are experiencing language loss and “as many as 90% are predicted to fall silent by the end of the century” (McCarty, 2018, p. 23). However, languages do not simply “die”, nor do they magically disappear. All languages change over time, but language shift, endangerment, or “death” is not natural nor is it unavoidable.
Languages are endangered and threatened due to inequitable sociopolitical structures and deliberate processes of oppression, discrimination, and violence. In this BILD blog post, I will illustrate some of the causes of Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) language endangerment. Gàidhlig is an endangered Indigenous language in Alba (Scotland) with approximately 57,000 speakers, around 1% of the Scottish population.
Is mise Pòl Miadhachàin-Chiblow. ’S e Gàidheal a th’ annam. Rugadh agus thogadh mi ann an Glaschu, Alba. My name is Paul Meighan-Chiblow. I’m a Scottish Gael. I was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. I am in the process of reclaiming Gàidhlig, my familial language, as an adult learner.
My worldview and experiences as a Gàidheal (Scottish Gael) growing up in Glaschu (Glasgow) inform my research and work as a critical sociolinguist. I was raised by my mother, Angusina MacGillivray, who is from the Gàidhealtachd, more specifically, Dalabrog (Daliburgh), in the northwestern island of Uibhist a Deas (South Uist) in na h-Eileanean Siar (Western Isles) (Figure 1). The Gàidhealtachd is comprised of the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland, also known as the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Uibhist a Deas is one of the heartlands of the now endangered Gàidhlig with some of the strongest Gàidhlig-speaking communities in the world, ranging from 62% to 79% of the respective community populations.
Figure 1: Map of Alba (Scotland), na h-Eileanean Siar (the Outer Hebrides), and Uibhist a Deas (South Uist) (Google, n.d.).
I would hear Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) all the time around my fluent speaking grandmother, Dolina Walker, who moved the family to Glaschu for work reasons when my mother was a teenager, and who lived down the street from us. However, Gàidhlig was not available to me in school. I did not understand why at the time, but now as an adult learner of Gàidhlig I do. Gàidhlig and Gaelic culture were almost eradicated due to many factors, such as the forced eviction of the Gàidheil (Gaels) from their traditional homes and lands during the Highland Clearances in the mid-18th to -19th centuries and the destruction of centuries-old Gaelic clan-based society after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 by British government and imperial forces (MacKinnon, 2017). Patrick Sellar in 1816 described Gàidhlig as the “barbarous jargon of the times when Europe was possessed by savages”, and John Pinkerton wrote of the Scottish Gaels in 1794 (quotes found in MacKinnon, 2017, pp. 35-38):
Had all these Celtic cattle emigrated five centuries ago, how happy had it been for the country! All we can do now is plant colonies among them; and by this, and encouraging their emigration, try to get rid of the breed.