Scottish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic or just Gaelic (Gàidhlig; SAMPA: /"gAlIk/) is one of the Goidelic branches of Celtic languages still in use today. The Goidelic (northern) branch includes Scottish and Irish Gaelic as well as Manx, and is distinct from the Brythonic branch which includes Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. Scottish, Manx and Irish Gaelic are all descended from Old Irish.

Table of contents
1 Differences between Scottish Gaelic and Irish
2 Official Recognition
3 Place names
4 External Links

Differences between Scottish Gaelic and Irish

Scottish Gaelic is quite similar to Irish, especially the dialect spoken in Donegal, as illustrated by the sentence "how are you?".

Scottish Gaelic - ''Ciamar a tha thu?'
Ulster Irish - Cad e mar a tá tú?
Standard Irish - Conas atá tú?

However, there are some important differences. The most obvious is that the accent, or fada, is written as a grave accent in Scottish Gaelic, as opposed to the acute accent of Irish, hence the word for "welcome" is written as fàilte in Scottish Gaelic and in Irish as fáilte. Also, the negative participle in Scottish Gaelic is cha(n) eil whereas in standard Irish it is níl, (a contraction of chan eil), as illustrated by the sentence "I have no money" (cha is still a legitimate Irish word, though):

Scottish Gaelic - Chan eil airgead agam.
Standard Irish - Níl aon airgead agam.


Some words have 'a' in Irish but 'u' in Scottish Gaelic, for instance the word for the English language Béarla in Irish and Beurla. This is due to a spelling reform and standardisation which has taken place in Ireland under the auspices of the Irish government during the 20th century. Scottish Gaelic still uses the traditional Gaelic orthography in which the quality of consonants is partially indicated by the vowels surrounding them. The vowels are divided into two groups, the hard vowels a, o, u, and the soft vowels i and e. The rule is that an interior consonant group must be surrounded by vowels of the same quality to indicate its pronunciation unambiguously. Thus the name, Caitlin, in which the first i is silent but needed to soften the tl because of the second i which is not silent. The whole word indicates a pronunciation similar to Kathleen using English orthography. If the name were to be spelt Catlain, this would indicate a pronunciation similar to 'Katlin'. The spelling Catlin cannot be used because of its ambiguity.

Using the above rule, it is sometimes unclear whether a vowel has been introduced for its own pronunciation or for its effect upon a consonant. In cases where the vowel should be pronounced the fada should be used to make it clear, although it is often missed out by fluent speakers since they already know the answer.

Consonants can also be mutated by a following h.

ConsonantNormal H-Mutated 
A table of consonants with approximate pronunciations using English spelling

This implies that there are many "silent" letters, (in the same sense that the h in the English word other is "silent"), which in Irish have been omitted:


Once Gaelic orthographic rules have been learned, the written language can be seen to be quite phonetic. However this is not generally apparent to those who try to apply English spelling rules to try and decipher Gaelic pronunciations from text. Hence the widespread mispronunciation of Gaelic personal names, such as Caitlin or Seonaid when they are used by English speakers.


cold (flu)slaghdanfuachd
(Scottish) HighlandsGarbhchríocha (na hAlban) Gàidhealtachd* (na h-Alba)
WalesAn Bhreatain Bheag**Cumrigh

* Similar to Irish Gaeltacht
** In Gaelic, this means Brittany

Official Recognition

After centuries of official discouragement, Gaelic is achieving a degree of official recognition. As well as being taught in schools, including some in which it is the medium of instruction, it is also used by the local council in the Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eileann. The BBC also operates a Gaelic language radio station Radio na Gàidheal (which occasionally puts on joint broadcasts with the Irish Raidió na Gaeltachta, and there are also television programmes in the language on the BBC and on the ITV commercial channels, usually subtitled in English. The ITV franchisee in the north of Scotland, Grampian Television has a studio in Stornoway.

However, a separate Gaelic language TV service, similar to S4C in Wales has been under consideration. As in Wales, the showing of programmes in the language as regional opt-outs on the main channels has been regarded as inadequate to the 60,027 who speak it, and as an annoyance to some of the English or Scots speaking 5,900,004 who do not.

Historically, Gaelic has not received the same degree of official recognition from the British Government as Welsh, although a Gaelic Bill is now before the Scottish Parliament.

The key provisions of the Bill are:

  • Recognising in legislation Gaelic as a language of Scotland
  • Establishing the Gaelic development body, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, on a statutory basis to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic
  • Requiring Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare a National Gaelic Language Plan for approval by Scottish Ministers
  • Requiring public bodies in Scotland to consider the need for a Gaelic language plan in relation to the services they offer.

The Columba Initiative, also known as Iomairt Cholm Cille is a body that seeks to promote links between speakers of Gaelic and Irish.

Place names

Aberdeen - Obar Dheadhain
Dundee - Dun Deagh
Edinburgh - Dun Eideann
Fort William An Gearasdan
Glasgow - Glaschù
Inverness - Inbhir Nis
Stirling - Sruighlea
Stornoway - Steornabhaigh

External Links