A NEW report is warning that Gaelic will cease to be a community language within a decade.
And there are alarm bells for Welsh as well in the stark conclusions laid out in the report prepared by the Highlands and Islands University.
The research was undertaken in two of the remaining Gaelic-speaking communities in Scotland: Staffin on the Isle of Skye, and Tiree in Argyll and Bute, in the Highlands and Islands.
Although 52% can still speak the language in these communities, inter-generational transference has broken down completely, community face-to-face interactions through Gaelic have plummeted, and fewer than 2% of teenagers speak Gaelic with each other.
Report Author Professor Conchur O’Gallogain says that without community use of language, all government efforts to boost Gaelic on an official and bureaucratic level will be of no use at all.
In recent years, the SNP Government have put up bilingual Gaelic/English signage all over Scotland, and have also encouraged new Gaelic language initiaitives.
But the new civic promotion of Gaelic is happening ironically at exactly the same time as the remaining Gaelic speaking communities in Scotland are dying on their feet.
‘It’s clear that language survives and thrives in communities of speakers, rather than on a rootless institutional or symbolic level’ said Professor O’Gallogain.
Although Scotland and Wales are very different in one respect (only 1% speak Gaelic in Scotland, compared to 21% in Wales), some of Professor O’Gallogain’s words ring true here as well.
Welsh has also been institutionalized and bureaucratized over recent years, in ways which are often divorced from the natural Welsh-speaking communities in the west.
And we also have the civic, individualized approach to language promotion here rather than an emphasis on bolstering and revitalizing the natural Welsh-speaking communities.
Perhaps one of Professor O’Gallogain’s recommendations for Gaelic could be considered here as well.
He is suggesting setting up new Gaelic Community Trusts in the remaining Gaelic-speaking communities, run by local people, away from the dead hand of officialdom.
Which can promote the use of Gaelic on a community level aligned to social and economic development through the language.
Perhaps Welsh Community Trusts could also be considered for the main Welsh-speaking community areas in Wales today: Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmrthenshire.
Next year’s census returns are likely to show further losses in the Welsh speaking heartlands.
It’s time for a whole new language planning model for Wales.
Revitalization of the core Welsh speaking areas has got to be put at the heart of any language restoration project for Wales.