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Keeping our Language Alive

19th Apr 2016

Have you ever looked at Twitter, with its hashtags and abbreviations and thought it looked like a whole different language? On 21 April don’t be alarmGaelic Twitter Day badgeed if many a post is genuinely indecipherable, because we’ll be celebrating Là na #Gàidhlig aka Gaelic Twitter Day.

Our national language is a mystery to most of us. According to the 2011 census, only 1.1% of Scotland’s population speak Gaelic as a first language, with the majority of those speakers being in the Outer Hebrides. It’s certainly never been a language native to Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a heritage within the city.

If you could travel back a few hundred years in time, you might be surprised by the range of accents you’d be surrounded by. Edinburgh has always been a city of international merchants, as well as a gathering point for migrants, both national and international. The Highland Clearances saw thousands of highlanders displaced and forced into the cities to find work, and they brought with them their families, their traditions, and of course, their language.

The language continued to be spoken (more often as a second language) through the generations of highlanders in Edinburgh, well into the 20th century. One of the gathering points for those Gaelic speakers would have The Highland Tolbooth St John’s Church, better known to us now as The Hub: the current home of the Edinburgh International Festival. The building was originally built to host the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, but in 1956 it became the spiritual home of Gaelic speakers in Edinburgh, with services in the native speaker’s mother tongue. Over time congregation numbers dwindled and the building was closed, with Gaelic services being transferred to Greyfriars Kirk, where they still happen to this day. The building lay empty for several years until the International Festival Society brought it back to life. Now they boast offices with possibly the best view in the city: some are in the 73 metre high spire!

The language may be a minority one, but every effort is being made to keep it alive. Edinburgh now boasts not only a Gaelic primary school, but a Gaelic nursery and playgroup, as well as multiple Gaelic language classes to give you a taste of the language. Why not give it a try, and you might find yourself joining in Twitter chats- the most ancient of languages, on the most current of platforms.

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