The importance of community events for language revitalisation for Gaelic in the Western Isles of Scotland

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The sociolinguistic profile of Gaelic has been changing significantly over the last few decades and nowhere has this been more obvious than Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES), the only one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities where a majority of the population selfreported to be able to speak the language (National Records of Scotland, 2015) but where language shift has resulted in English being the dominant language in all domains (Birnie, 2018; Munro, Mac an Tàilleir, & Armstrong, 2011; NicAoidh, 2006) This presentation discusses the findings of an ethnographic study exploring the use of spoken Gaelic in different public settings in communities across CnES. Language use surveys were used to provide an overall indication of the contribution of Gaelic to the social linguistic soundscape of the different communities as well as a wider indication of the sociolinguistic vitality of the language. This study indicated that language shift is ongoing, with low intergenerational levels of Gaelic language use, as well as the limited use of the language in day-to-day public domain interactions. Gaelic was, however, more extensively used in spontaneous interactions during community social events, such as concerts and dances, where larger numbers of individuals contributed to the social linguistic soundscape. This allowed these events to act as overt indicators of the individuals within the community willing and able to use Gaelic and these can. The findings of this study have significant implications for the way Gaelic language vitality is imagined and recognises the importance of community social events as a mechanism for language maintenance and revitalisation.
Period24 Mar 2021
Event titleXVIII International Conference on Minority Languages: ICML XVIII Bagaranor - in the long run
Event typeConference
LocationBilbao, SpainShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Gaelic
  • social linguistic soundscape
  • language revitalisation
  • language policy & planning
  • Minority Language