PARENTS may hold the key to securing the future of Gaelic – whether they speak the language or not, research suggests.

A study by Strathclyde University found a "positive" attitude from mums and dads about a minority language could be a "first step" towards using it in the home, with spin-out benefits on its practice in wider society.

Researchers found some parents without Gaelic encouraging their children to read and watch TV in the medium, with some going on to learn it themselves.

The findings are said to suggest that "embarrassment" about using Gaelic found by academics in the 1990s is ending.

Almost 250 surveys of parents and children were carried out on Lewis and the Italian island of Sardinia, where the indigenous language is spoken by fewer than 1 million people.

Nine in ten respondents wanted Gaelic or Sardinian to be taught in schools and around three quarters said speaking these tongues was just as important as using English or Italian.

The same number said learning minority languages at school was equally as important as studying educationally established languages like German or Spanish.

More parents and children in Scotland were "positively predisposed" to their minority tongue than in Italy.

The results appear in Bilingualism and Minority Languages in Europe, a new book co-edited by Dr Fraser Lauchlan of Strathclyde and Dr Maria del Carmen Parafita Couto of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Lauchlan said the results are "significant": "This study demonstrated clearly the positive value placed on minority languages – in our research, Gaelic and Sardinian – not only by parents and children who spoke them but also by those who did not.

"Thirty years ago such positive attitudes would not have been found, even among those who spoke these minority languages.

"Research from more than two decades ago found that there was almost a level of embarrassment about speaking such languages and they were discouraged for many years.

"It is only in recent times that there has been a re-emergence of the importance placed on these languages, possibly because of a better understanding of the benefits that being bilingual can bring, but also because of their promotion at national or regional level by governments, including the specific introduction of legislation."

He went on: “It may be parents who hold the key regarding how a minority language is promoted.

"If parents have a positive attitude, it could be a first step towards a language’s increased use within the home, and this in turn could have a positive impact on the practice of the language in wider society.

"This could even be true for parents who don’t speak the language."