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Scottish Social Attitudes: Attitudes towards Gaelic

Scotland Street Scene
Published: June 2022

This module from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey explores people’s attitudes towards Gaelic in Scotland.

Attitudes towards Gaelic

Last year (in 2021) 1,365 people aged 18 and over across Scotland took part in the ScotCen Panel survey. The data was collected through panel members living in Scotland who were originally selected at random to take part in the Scottish Social Attitudes survey or the British Social Attitudes survey.

Questions on attitudes towards Gaelic were funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the non-departmental public body which works to facilitate access to the Gaelic language and culture, and to encourage the use and learning of the Gaelic language. Many of the questions were asked on SSA in 2012, enabling exploration of changes in attitudes in the last decade.

Key findings from this year’s Public attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland report:

In the last decade there has been an increase in the proportion of adults in Scotland who:

  • Said they can speak the odd word of Gaelic; doubling from 15% in 2012 to 30% in 2021.
  • Have seen Gaelic road, street or public signs more than once a week in the last year; almost doubling from 14% in 2012 to 27% in 2021.
  • Are in favour of children in Scotland being taught Gaelic as a school subject for an hour or two a week; increasing from 38% in 2012 to 55% in 2021.
  • Believe Gaelic to be important to their own cultural heritage; increasing from 26% in 2012 to 31% in 2021.
  • Believe that too little public money is currently being spent on Gaelic every year; increasing from 17% in 2012 to 22% in 2021.
  • Would like there to be more Gaelic speakers in 50 years’ time; increasing from 46% in 2012 to 56% in 2021.

The following attitudes have remained stable in the last decade with the findings from 2021 as follows:

  • Those who have been exposed to Gaelic during childhood (19%) and in the last 12 months in the media/online (including via apps) (70%).
  • Feelings about hearing the language spoken; with a higher proportion (44%) saying they are comfortable with this than uncomfortable (5%).
  • Views on bilingual signage; 47% in favour of this across Scotland, 38% in favour of having bilingual signs only in areas where Gaelic is spoken and 15% in favour of solely English signage.
  • Views on importance of Gaelic to the heritage of Scotland; with most (79%) believing Gaelic important to Scotland’s heritage.

The following are key findings from new questions in 2021:

  • Nearly two thirds (65%) said that they would like to speak Gaelic better than they do now.
  • Seven in ten (70%) agree that learning Gaelic gives someone a sense of achievement. Attitudes on whether learning Gaelic improves someone’s chances of getting a job are more varied, with 10% agreeing, 28% disagreeing and 45% neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
  • From a list of seven languages, 37% place Gaelic in the top two languages that they feel are most important for children in Scotland to learn, making Gaelic the third most popular language after Spanish (53%) and French (51%).
  • 37% are in favour of Gaelic-medium schools, 38% are neither in favour nor against and 25% are against them. Of those in favour 75% feel these should be everywhere across Scotland.

Being younger (those aged 18-29), having greater knowledge of and greater exposure to Gaelic are all associated with more supportive attitudes towards Gaelic across the range of topic areas presented above. Exposure to Gaelic in childhood or recently in the media is associated with more supportive attitudes and those with more frequent recent exposure to Gaelic road and public signs hold more positive attitudes towards having bilingual signs. This suggests that increased public visibility of Gaelic is important for the preservation of the Gaelic language.

The full report and supporting documents can be found here.

Gheibhear lorg air an aithisg agus na duilleagan fiosrachaidh an seo.

About the Scottish Social Attitudes survey

The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey uses a random sample of all those aged 16 and over who live across the whole of Scotland, so it provides a robust and reliable picture of public attitudes in Scotland.

SSA has been a face-to-face survey since 1999 but last year (2021), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey was conducted as two separate surveys; one on the telephone and one primarily on the web using the ScotCen Panel.

For other Scottish Social Attitudes reports, visit our SSA research page.