Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)
Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about 87,000 people in Scotland (Alba),
mainly in the Highlands (a' Ghaidhealtachd) and in the Western
Isles (Na h-Eileanan an Iar), but also in Glasgow (Glaschu),
Edinburgh (Dùn Eideann) and Inverness (Inbhir Nis).
There are also small Gaelic-speaking communities in Canada, particularly in Nova
Scotia (Alba Nuadh) and on Cape Breton Island (Eilean Cheap
Breatainn). Other speakers can be found in Australia
(Astràilia), New Zealand (Sealainn Nuadh) and the USA
(Na Stàitean Aonaichte).
Scottish Gaelic at a glance
Native name: Gàidhlig [ˈkaːlikʲ]
Linguistic affliation: Indo-European, Celtic, Insular Celtic, Goidelic
Number of speakers: c. 87,000
Spoken in: Scotland, also in Canda, the USA and New Zealand
First written: c. 12th century
Writing system: Latin alphabet
Status: recognised minority language in Scotland and Canada
Relationship to other languages
Scottish Gaelic is closely related to Manx and
Irish and was brought to Scotland
around the 4th century AD by the Scots from Ireland. Scottish Gaelic was spoken
throughout Scotland (apart from small areas in the extreme south-east
and north-east) between the 9th and 11th centuries, but began to retreat
north and westwards from the 11th century onwards. All Scottish Gaelic dialects
are mutually intelligible, and written Irish can be understood to a large extent.
Scottish Gaelic is also distantly related to Welsh (Cymraeg),
Cornish (Kernewek) and Breton
(Brezhoneg), which form the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages,
also known as P-Celtic. The Celtic languages all have a similar grammatical structure,
but have relatively little vocabulary in common.
Here is an illustration of some of the differences and similarities between
the Celtic languages using the phrases 'What is your name?' and 'My name is ... / I'm ...':
Irish - Cén t-ainm atá ort?, Is mise ...
Gloss: What-the name is on-you?, Am I [emphatic] ..."
Scottish Gaelic - Dè an t-ainm a th'ort, Is mise ...
Gloss: What the name is on-you?, Am I [emphatic] ..."
Manx - Cre'n ennym t'ort?,
Ta'n ennym orrym ... / ... mish
Gloss: What'the name is on-you?, Is the name on-me ... / ... I [emphatic]"
Breton - Petra eo da anv?, ... eo ma anv
Gloss: What is your name?, ... is my name"
Cornish - Pyth yw dha hanow?,
Ow hanow yw ...
Gloss: What is your name?, My name is ..."
Welsh - Beth ydy dy enw di? (inf) , ... dwi / ... ydw i
Gloss: What is your name you?, ... I'm / ... I am"
The only word in these examples that is similar in all the languages: ainm (Irish), ainm (Scottish Gaelic), ennym (Manx), anv (Breton), hanow (Cornish) and enw (Welsh).
The word for what - Cén (Irish), De (Scottish Gaelic), Cre (Manx), Petra (Breton), Pyth (Cornish) and Beth (Welsh) - illustrates one of the sound differences between the branches of the Celtic languages. In the Gaelic languages, apart from Scottish Gaelic, it starts with C, which is why they are called Q-Celtic languages (this sound is sometimes written with a Q in Manx), while in the Brythonic languges it starts with p or b, which is why they are known as P-Celtic. Both sounds developed from the Proto-Celtic [kʷ].
- There are more similarities within each branch of these languages than between the branches (Gaelic and Brythonic), and the Gaelic languages are closer to one another than are the Brythonic languages.
There are other versions of these phrases: see the What's your name? phrases page.
Celtic connections - words that are similar in the Celtic languages
The earliest identifiably texts in Scottish Gaelic are notes in
the Book of Deer written in north eastern Scotland in the 12th century,
although the existence of a common written Classical Gaelic concealed
the extent of the divergence between Irish and Scottish Gaelic.
The Scottish Gaelic alphabet
Scottish Gaelic is written with just 18 letters each of which is named after a tree
or shrub. The consonants all have more than one pronunciation depending on their
position in a word and which vowels precede or follow them.
A grave accent on a vowel (Àà, Èè, Ìì,
Òò and Ùù) indicates a longer version of
the vowel, but these are not considered separate letters
The older Gaelic (uncial) script
or "corr litir" has not been used for several centuries in Scotland,
and has never been used in printed Gaelic. The uncial script is still
used in Ireland on road signs and public notices.
The orthography of Scottish Gaelic was regularised in the late 1970s.
For details see:
Pronunciation - vowels (fuaimreagan) and diphthongs (dà-fhoghair)
The second pronunciations, indicate with separate brackets  are used in unstressed syllables.
Pronunciation - connragan (consonants)
The connragan leathann or broad consonants are those preceded
or followed by a, o or u. Connragan caola or slender consonants
are those preceded or followed by i or e. Most consonants have different
pronunciations depending on whether they appear at the beginning of
a word or elsewhere.
The initial consonants of Gaelic words can change in various contexts.
This process is known as "lenition" and involves the addition
of an h after the initial letter. The resulting letters are
suathaich or fricatives.
Tha gach uile dhuine air a bhreth saor agus co-ionnan ann an urram 's
ann an còirichean. Tha iad air am breth le reusan is le cogais agus
mar sin bu chòir dhaibh a bhith beò nam measg fhein ann an spiorad
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information about Scottish Gaelic |
Kinship terms |
Tower of Babel |
My Gaelic learning experiences |
Information about Scottish Gaelic
Online Scottish Gaelic lessons
Fuaimean na Gàidhlig - The Sounds of Gaelic
Gaelcast - Podcasts anns a' Ghàidhlig
An Darach - Scottish Gaelic Translation
More Scottish Gaelic links
Other languages written with the Latin alphabet