Descended from Irish Gaelic and brought to Scotland by Irish settlers, at one time almost all Scots spoke Gaelic. A rich heritage of music and folklore developed over the centuries, despite the suppression of the language from the 18th century in the wake of the Jacobite uprisings and subsequent Highland Clearances.
While going into sharp decline in eastern and southern Scotland, the language retained a strong foothold in the northern and western parts of the country. The Outer Hebrides is Gaelic’s main stronghold, with more than 50% of the population reported to be Gaelic speakers, while there are also significant pockets in Inverness, the Highlands and the city of Glasgow.
Today there are some 60,000 Gaelic speakers in total, around 1% of the population. It is recognised as a minority language and bilingual signs are appearing throughout Gaelic-speaking areas, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. And the language remains at the core of a thriving Gaelic culture that includes music, dance, arts and crafts.
One unusual feature of Scottish Gaelic is that it is recognised as a minority language in another country – Canada. The majority of speakers, around 2,000, are in Nova Scotia where some 25,000 Scottish Gaelic speakers settled in the 1770s. Cape Breton Island, off the east coast of Nova Scotia, is a particular stronghold.
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