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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a Celtic language that people speak in parts of Scotland
a Celtic language that people speak in parts of Ireland

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun Gaelic came into English from the Gaelic language itself, and was first used in the mid 17th century.


If you have visited Scotland in recent years you will have seen Gaelic everywhere, and in particular on road signs and public vehicles, where the Gaelic name is given alongside the English one. Any impression that the language is flourishing, however, is illusory. A recent study from the University of the Highlands and Islands raised a red flag about the status of Scottish Gaelic. The authors warned that, despite efforts to promote it, Gaelic is habitually spoken by a small number of mainly older people living on a few of the country’s many western islands. Worryingly, the language is little spoken in the home and by young people in particular, who show little interest in it. A similar situation exists in Ireland where, despite seemingly large numbers of speakers, Irish Gaelic is little spoken in the home and in normal social situations. Both countries may well look for ideas on how to remedy the situation to Wales, where around half the people who can speak Welsh do so on a day-to-day basis.


“Whilst there has been a small degree of stabilisation in the number of Gaelic speakers since the 2001 Census, the reality is that Gaelic as a community language is currently in a high-risk situation that can only be ameliorated through a new approach that has its foundation in real engagement with the language community.”
(University of the Highlands and Islands website)

Related words

Celtic, endangered, Scots, Welsh

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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