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Public Attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland

Authors: Rachel Ormston, Susan Reid,  Fiona O’Hanlon (University of Edinburgh), Lindsay Paterson (University of Edinburgh)

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Gaelic has become more prominent in Scotland in recent decades, especially since the Scottish Parliament passed the Gaelic Language Act in 2005. The language has been increasingly used in broadcasting, schools, and public affairs. But there is little research evidence about the attitudes of people in Scotland to Gaelic. A representative sample of adults in Scotland was thus asked their views as part of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in 2012. This Briefing summarises the results.


Respondents were asked about their exposure to Gaelic in their past and present, and their preferences about this in the future. 16% of people reported that they had heard Gaelic in the past as a child, either at home or amongst their wider family or community. Respondents were asked whether they currently heard Gaelic spoken in their home or community. Only 4% of the sample had heard Gaelic spoken in their home by family members or visitors in the last 12 months, compared to 70% who had heard Gaelic in their homes by means of the media – whether on television or on radio. A similar contrast existed for the community context, with 12% of the sample reporting having heard Gaelic spoken in a public place (for example the street or a shop) in the last 12 months, and 58% of the sample reporting having seen Gaelic on road signs or on other public signs. Such results show the impact of public sector interventions to support the Gaelic language, with the media providing exposure to Gaelic in the home, and road signs and other public signs doing so in the community