Kirsty NicDhùghaill

Project title: Practical and psychological barriers encountered by fluent speakers in using Scottish Gaelic intergenerationally

Despite growth in institutional provision for Scottish Gaelic, the numbers of Gaelic speakers recorded in the census declined by almost a third between 1981 and 2011. This decline is especially acute in the ‘Gaelic heartland’ of the Western Isles and the Isle of Skye. In Skye, the population in 2011 was 10,013 of whom 29.4% could speak Gaelic – a decline from 49.9% in 1991. Studies have shown that intergenerational transmission of the language in these communities has almost ceased and that the use of Gaelic in community settings has declined very considerably.  

Skye is at the forefront of Gaelic development nationally, particularly in the field of education: the island is the home of the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which offers degrees taught entirely through the medium of Gaelic, and in 2018, Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Phort-Rìgh opened, the first dedicated Gaelic school in a traditional Gaelic-speaking area. However, there are significant concerns about the extent to which young people who have learned Gaelic through formal education have become active speakers of the language and integrated into Gaelic-speaking communities. This study will investigate intergenerational use of the Scottish Gaelic language in traditional Gaelic speaking communities on the Isle of Skye, focusing on when, where and to whom fluent speakers of Gaelic use the language, and how this wider dynamic impacts in-home transmission of the language to children.  

Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship

Field: Celtic Studies

University: University of the Highlands and Islands

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