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SCOTTISH GAELIC. The Celtic language of the West Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. GAELIC-speaking Scots arrived from Ireland on the west coast of what is now Scotland in 3–5c AD. As they gradually gained power, their language spread throughout the country, though not the whole population; in the south-east, for example, it was probably used mainly among the ruling classes. With the increased influence of NORTHERN ENGLISH, the use and prestige of Gaelic began to decline and since the 12c there has been a gradual retraction. Political factors, social pressures, and educational policies have combined to threaten the language with extinction. In the later 20c, more positive attitudes have developed and efforts are being made to sustain Gaelic, encourage bilingual policies, and give it a valued place in school and preschool education. Many, however, fear that these measures are too little too late. Gaelic is now used as a community language virtually only in the Western Isles. At the 1981 census, there were little over 80,000 speakers, with only a few hundred under the age of five and there are few monoglot speakers above this age.

Scottish Gaelic has an ancient literary tradition and paradoxically its literature flourishes in the 20c, with such poets as Sorley MacLean, Derick Thomson, and Iain Crichton Smith (also a novelist in English). Public performance and composition in Gaelic are encouraged by the National Mod, an annual competitive festival of music and poetry organized by An Comunn Gaidhealach/The Highland Association, founded in 1891 to support the Gaelic language and culture and the Highland way of life. Comunn na Gàidhlig (the Gaelic Association) was set up in 1984 with the more specific aim of promoting the language.

Gaelic BORROWINGS from English and SCOTS are numerous and increasing, especially in technical and administrative fields: for example, teilebhisean television, rèidio radio, and briogais trousers (from Scots breeks). The influence of English on Gaelic syntax is considerable and rapidly extending, now that virtually all adult speakers are bilingual. Pronunciation has been less affected, but phonemic changes based on English or Scots are noticeable in the speech of children of Gaelic-speaking immigrants to the cities. More of these children now speak Gaelic, because of a recent increase in Gaelic playgroups and schools. The language is taught in three of the Scottish universities, two of which (Edinburgh and Glasgow) have a chair of Celtic. See CELTIC LANGUAGES, HIGHLAND ENGLISH, IRISH, SCOTTISH ENGLISH.

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