The social linguistic soundscape and its influence on language choice in Stornoway

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Gaelic is a minority language across all regions of Scotland, with the exception of the Western Isles, where a majority of the population, 52.2%, self-reported to be able to speak the language (National Records of Scotland, 2013). All Gaelic speakers are bilingual in Gaelic and English (Dunbar, 2011) and research has shown that the ability to speak Gaelic need not be synonymous with using the language (NicAoidh, 2006).
This chapter discusses the findings of a unique multimodal study which explored individual linguistic practices and the negotiation of code-choice in Stornoway, the largest town in the Western Isles. Ethnographic data was collected in situ and in real time in different public spaces to assess how, when and by whom Gaelic was used in the community and the factors affecting the use of the language as an unmarked code-choice. This data was supplemented by language use diaries of bilingual Gaelic / English speakers to evaluate the communal language use against individual practices across language use domains.

The findings of this study indicate that Gaelic continues to be part of the linguistic soundscape in this community, with individual bilinguals using Gaelic in circumstances where they do not have to actively (re-)negotiate the language as an unmarked code choice. Gaelic language use was strongest in social networks and closed domains. In the public domains English was the default unmarked code-choice, with Gaelic only used in service interactions where the language was actively included in the linguistic soundscape created by members of staff.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPostmodern Individuals in Urban Communicative Settings
EditorsKapitonlina Fedorova, Jiri Nekvapil, Dick Smakman
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2022

Publication series

NameStudies in Language and Identity


  • Gaelic
  • minority languages
  • Stornoway
  • endangered languages


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