Scottish Gaelic - A Brief Timeline (by Jan Culshaw)

Scottish Gaelic, along with Manx and Irish Gaelic is a descendant of Old Irish. In Scotland, the name is pronounced as "Gah-lic" unlike almost everywhere else where it is pronounced as "Gey-lic". Gaelic has been spoken in Scotland for a long time – exactly how long isn't really known. There are Gaelic place names known to be from the 5th or 6th century AD, and some less convincing arguments for its presence before the Roman times. However, the spread of the language was highly accelerated by the creation of larger kingdoms in the West and by the expansion of the Church.

Gaelic gradually replaced other older languages such as Pictish and Norse and by the 10th century was the main language from the Highlands to the Kingdom of Fife. This was the peak and the last period of Gaelic as a truly national language. In the South, the English speakers began to dominate and by the early 13th century Gaelic was in decline. By the 15th century the highland - lowland divide was in full force and Gaelic began to shrink into what was regarded as a regional language of the Highlands and Islands. The persecution and forced emigration of Highlanders after the battle of Culloden in 1746 hastened the decline even further.

Strangely, it might be said that the Bible was a major contributor both to the decline of Gaelic and its preservation as a living language. There was no translation of the Bible into Gaelic until the late 18th century, and this undoubtedly contributed to its decline. However, the translation of the New Testament in 1767 by Stuart & Buchanan set the literary standard for Scottish Gaelic and formed the basis of the grammar for the modern language. This was also when the major divergences from Irish Gaelic began. By the mid 20th century, the Irish had eliminated many of the silent letters still used in Scottish Gaelic and had adopted a different spelling system.

The modern Scottish Gaelic alphabet has 18 letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U. - traditionally named after trees and other plants:

ailm (elm) gort (ivy) onn/oir (furze/gorse)
beith (birch) uath (hawthorn) peith ("reed")
coll (hazel) iogh (yew) ruis (elder)
dair (oak) luis (rowan) suil (willow)
eadha (aspen) muin (vine) teine (holly)
feàrn (alder) nuin (ash) ura (heather/linden)

Sadly, this no longer seems to be the custom.

In recent times, Gaelic has seen a resurgence of interest and status and enjoys, rightly, the support of both national and local governments. Modern Gaelic has become a true literary, artistic language once more. Poetry, song, fiction, websites, even official forms now use the language – perhaps the latter being the most likely to perpetuate it!