THE recent report highlighting the failings of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the quango charged with developing and promoting the Gaelic language in Scotland, has predictably turned in certain quarters into an excuse for attacking the Gaelic language itself.

In the past week we’ve seen calls for Gaelic to be returned to the Highland and Island cultural box, complaints about Gaelic roadsigns and Gaelic bilingual education.

And we’ve seen that hoary old excuse for cultural cringery being trotted out, being told by people who really ought to know better that the Gaelic language was never spoken in certain parts of the country which are littered with towns and villages with names which only make sense in Gaelic.

So this is as good an opportunity as any to once again rebut some of these damaging myths and stereotypes. It is a matter of fact that at one point in Scottish history, the Gaelic language was the sole or dominant language everywhere on the Scottish mainland north and west of a line drawn very approximately from Gretna Green to Musselburgh.

It is a matter of fact that there were pockets of native Gaelic to the east and south of this line. It is a matter of fact that at one time, Gaelic was even spoken natively in parts of Cumbria in England.

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The proof of this claim lies in the countless place names littering the Scottish landscape which are Gaelic in origin. Even within the confines of the city of Edinburgh, there is a significant body of Gaelic language place names created by native Gaelic-speaking communities in the Edinburgh area.

Now, of course, this does not mean that Gaelic was ever the only language of Edinburgh. But what it does mean is that at one time, Edinburgh was home to a significant Gaelic-speaking community which was not only numerous, but was also culturally and politically influential. Edinburgh place names like Craigentinny from Creag an t-Sionnaich (the rock of the fox), Corstorphine from Crois Thoirfinn (Thorfinn’s cross), or Balerno from Baile Àirneach (the farm of the hawthorns), are a testament to that Edinburgh Gaelic community.

A study of Midlothian place names carried out in the 1940s discovered that as many as a quarter of the place names in the county are of Gaelic origin.

In other lowland counties, the proportion of Gaelic place names is even greater. Fife is full of Gaelic names, and the county was at one point entirely Gaelic speaking. A recent study of place names in the county discovered that new places names were still being created in Gaelic in Fife well into the 13th century. That doesn’t mean that Gaelic ceased to be spoken in Fife at that date; what it means is that Gaelic was still culturally and politically important enough in Fife for it to be used in the creation of new place names. It will certainly have continued in use in Fife for some generations after it lost that status.

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Although opponents of the Gaelic language characterise it as a Highland or Island language, the reality is that Gaelic remained a living language in the Scottish Lowlands until well into the 18th century. The last- known speaker of Ayrshire Gaelic was a certain Margaret McMurray, who lived in the village of Maybole where she passed away in 1760.

However, there are suggestions that knowledge of the language lingered on in parts of southern Ayrshire and Galloway until the early decades of the 1800s.

The real claim of Gaelic to the status of a national language of Scotland lies in the role that Gaelic played in the very creation of the nation of Scotland itself. Originally, the word Scot meant a Gaelic speaker. It was only much later that it became extended in meaning to refer to anyone who was a subject of the King of Scots. The tree of Scotland has Gaelic roots. You can only understand the beginnings of Scottish history by reference to texts written in an early form of Gaelic.

Then there are those who indulge in whataboutery. What about Pictish or Cumbric? They were once spoken in Scotland too. Should they not be accorded the status of national languages as well? Well, no. The reason is simple. In order to be a national language, a speech form must be capable of functioning as a language. There are simply not enough surviving records of Cumbric or Pictish in order to revive them in any meaningful way. We possess no connected texts in these languages. We know almost nothing about their grammar or syntax. They survive solely in words recorded in place and personal names. We lack the most basic information about them – no one could tell you what the personal pronouns or numerals were in Pictish.

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Cumbric was closely related to Mediaeval Welsh, but we have very little information about how it differed, as it must have differed, from the language then current in Wales. You can no more use Mediaeval Welsh as a proxy for the Cumbric of southern Scotland than you could use Welsh as a substitute for the revival of the Cornish language.

Asking why Pictish or Cumbric are not accepted as a modern national language of Scotland is like asking why there are no velociraptors in Edinburgh Zoo.

They are fossil languages, attested in merely a few linguistic scraps of information. They cannot be revived, and they cannot function as languages in the 21st century. Gaelic, on the other hand, is a living, vital, and fully attested language which still has fluent speakers today.

If we accept that Gaelic, along with English and Scots, is a national language of modern Scotland, that means that the proper territory for the Gaelic language is all of Scotland.

Road signs in the language are not there for the benefit of Gaelic speakers who might get lost without them – instead, their function is to signal that this is a place where the Gaelic language is respected, welcomed, and encouraged. That’s really what those who object to bilingual signage are objecting to.

The shortcomings of a quango which was supposed to be entrusted with developing and promoting the language are the shortcomings of that institution, not of the Gaelic language itself or the goal of promoting and developing the language. After all, when there are shortcomings with the health service, we use that as an argument that we need organisations which deliver a better health service, not to argue that we don’t need a health service at all.