In search of Gaelic: the social linguistic soundscape as an indicator of minority language use in a bilingual English / Gaelic Island community

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Abstract

Gaelic is a minority language of Scotland, with 1.1% of the population claiming to be able to speak the language, around a quarter of these individuals live in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the most north-westerly of Scotland's 32 administrative regions which consists of 15 inhabited islands and is considered the last remaining heartland of the language. This article looks at the findings of a unique study in the context of Gaelic which explored the social linguistic soundscape of one such island community: Barra. Using observational language use surveys, the results of this study show that the overall use of Gaelic in the public spaces of this community was very low, and, in the absence of clear linguistic or identity markers associated with Gaelic, English was the default unmarked code choice of most spoken interactions. This does not mean however that Gaelic has disappeared from this community altogether: the use of Gaelic is associated with social networks and prior acquaintance of the (preferred) linguistic norm of the participants in the interaction. The dispersed nature of this community means that opportunities for day-to-day spontaneous interactions in public spaces with those that are part of an individual's social Gaelic network are very small, but that community events allow for these linguistic practices to become a more definite feature of the social linguistic soundscape. This highlights the importance of these events for current and future Gaelic language practices
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)17 - 34
Number of pages16
JournalLiving Languages
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2024

Keywords

  • gaelic
  • minority language
  • linguistic soundscape
  • breathing spaces

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