Bilingualism: use it or lose it

Bilingualism: why boosting the rights of minority language speakers could help save Gaelic in Scotland

In recent months there has been talk of a ” Gaelic crisis” in Scotland, based on a study that predicts Gaelic may be disappearing across the country. I do not speak Gaelic, but I have spent five years researching bilingualism, and as a German native speaker who has lived in Scotland for over a decade, I am intimately familiar with what it means to communicate in a second language.

A response to the study that predicts Gaelic to be at crisis point. Let’s ignore the silly statement that “despite … the historic presence of the Scots language, Scotland has remained mostly monolingually English”. The article has decent things to say about language attrition, “Some will notice that they can no longer master complex grammatical structures, others may find that their vocabulary has shrunk or that they struggle to pronounce words or sentences without an accent”. To counter this, “there are two key factors that can help to prevent this problem: motivation and usage. People who are motivated to maintain language skills are more likely to do so, but they need opportunities to use the “at risk” language” She concludes, “Countries which adopt formal guidelines that set clear expectations of when people should have the right to use a minority language – for example Welsh in Wales or English and French in different areas of Canada – generally have a higher rate of bilinguals. This implies that if we strengthen the rights of minority language speakers, it will be a first step towards increasing their number – and possibly preventing languages like Scottish Gaelic from becoming extinct”.

Scroll to Top