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Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)

Scottish Gaelic is spoken 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).

According to the 2011 census, 87,100 people reported having some knowledge of Scottish Gaelic. 32,400 could undertand, speak, read and write Gaelic, 57,600 could speak Gaelic, 6,100 could read and/or write Gaelic, but not speak it, and 23,400 could understand Gaelic, but not speak, read or write it. The areas with the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers (48.9%) were Highland, Eilean Siar (Western Isles) and Glasgow City. Overall 1.7% of the population of Scotland has some Gaelic.


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.

A comparison of the six modern Celtic languages

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 a B b C c D d E e F f G g H h I i
L l M m N n O o P p R r S s T t U u
(Guelder Rose)

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.

Gaelic vowels and diphthongs

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.

Gaelic consonants


Sample text

Rugadh na h-uile duine saor agus co-ionnan nan urram 's nan còirichean. Tha iad reusanta is cogaiseach, agus bu chòir dhaibh a ghiùlain ris a chèile ann an spiorad bràthaireil.

Hear a recording of this text by Frederic (Calum) Bayer


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)

Sample video in Scottish Gaelic

Information about Scottish Gaelic | Phrases | Numbers | Family words | Terms of endearment | Telling the time | Tower of Babel | Songs | Links | Learning materials

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Information about Scottish Gaelic

Online Scottish Gaelic lessons

Fuaimean na Gàidhlig - The Sounds of Gaelicàidhlig

Gaelcast - Podcasts anns a' Ghàidhlig

An Darach - Scottish Gaelic Translation

More Scottish Gaelic links

Celtic languages

Breton, Celtiberian, Cornish, Gaulish, Irish, Lepontic, Lusitanian, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Tartessian, Welsh

Other languages written with the Latin alphabet

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