Goidelic languages

Goidelic languages

Infobox Language family
name = Goidelic
altname = Gaelic
region = Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man
familycolor = Indo-European
fam1 = Indo-European
fam2 = Celtic
fam3 = Insular Celtic
child1 = Irish
child2 = Scottish Gaelic
child3 = Manx
The Goidelic languages, (also sometimes called, particularly in colloquial situations, the Gaelic languages or collectively Gaelic), historically formed a dialect continuum stretching from the south of Ireland, through the Isle of Man, to the north of Scotland. There are three modern Goidelic languages: Irish ("Gaeilge"), Scottish Gaelic ("Gàidhlig"), and Manx ("Gaelg"). However, older versions of literary Scottish Gaelic and Irish were similar enough to have been considered dialects of a single language.

The Goidelic branch is also known as Q-Celtic, because Proto-Celtic *"kʷ" was originally retained in this branch (later losing its labialisation and becoming plain [k] ), as opposed to Brythonic, where *"kʷ" became [p] . This sound change is also found in Gaulish, so Brythonic and Gaulish are sometimes collectively known as "P-Celtic". In Celtiberian, *"kʷ" is also retained, so the term "Q-Celtic" could be applied to it as well, although Celtiberian is not a Goidelic language.

Early Modern Irish was used as a literary language in Ireland until the 17th century, and its equivalent, Classical Gaelic was used as a literary language in Scotland until the 18th century. Later orthographic divergence is the result of more recent orthographic reforms resulting in standardised pluricentric diasystems. Manx orthography is based on English and Welsh and was introduced in 1610, and was never widely used.

Goidelic is one of the two major divisions of modern-day Insular Celtic languages. The other is the Brythonic languages, which are spoken in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.


Although Irish and Manx may be referred to as Irish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic (as they are Goidelic or Gaelic languages) the use of the word "Gaelic" is usually unnecessary because the terms Irish and Manx, when referring to language, only ever refer to these languages, whereas Scots by itself refers to a Germanic language and Scottish can refer to things not at all Gaelic. The word "Gaelic" by itself is sometimes used to refer to Scottish Gaelic and is thus somewhat ambiguous, although in this context it is usually pronounced IPA|/ˈɡalɪk/ (that is, the same as Gallic), rather than IPA|/ˈɡeɪlɪk/.

Furthermore, due to the politics of language and national identity, some Irish speakers are offended by the use of the word "Gaelic" by itself to refer to Irish.Fact|date=October 2008

Similarly, Scottish Gaelic speakers find offensive the use of the obsolete word "Erse" (from "Erisch", "Irish") to refer to their language.Fact|date=October 2008 This term was used in Scotland since at least the late 15th century to refer to Gaelic, which had previously been called "Scottis".Fact|date=October 2008

The names used in languages themselves ("Gaeilge" in Irish, "Gaelg" in Manx, and "Gàidhlig" in Scottish Gaelic) are derived from Old Irish "Goídeleg", which in itself is from the originally more-or-less derogatory term "Guoidel" meaning "pirate, raider" in Old Welsh. The Goidels called themselves various names according to their tribal/clan affiliations, but the most general seems to have been the name rendered in Latin as Scoti.


The family tree of the Goidelic languages is as follows:

* Goidelic
** Primitive Irish, ancestral to:
** Old Irish, ancestral to:
** Middle Irish, ancestral to:
*** Irish
*** Scottish Gaelic
*** Manx

History and range

Goidelic languages were once restricted to Ireland, but sometime between the 3rd century and the 6th century a group of the Irish Celts known to the Romans as "Scoti" (now known as the Gaels) began migrating from Ireland to what is now Scotland [cite book| last=Gillies| first=William| chapter=Scottish Gaelic| pages=145–227| title=The Celtic languages| editor=Martin J. Ball and James Fife (eds.)| location=London| publisher=Routledge| year=1993| id=ISBN 0-415-01035-7] and eventually assimilated the Picts (a group of peoples who may have originally spoken a Brythonic language) who lived there. Manx, the former common language of the Isle of Man, is closely akin to the Gaelic spoken in north east Ireland and the now extinct Gaelic of Galloway (in southwest Scotland), with heavy influence from Old Norse because of the Viking invasions.

The oldest written Goidelic language is Primitive Irish, which is attested in Ogham inscriptions up to about the 4th century AD. Old Irish is found in the margins of Latin religious manuscripts from the 6th century to the 10th century. Middle Irish, the ancestor of the modern Goidelic languages, is the name for the language as used from the 10th to the 12th century: a great deal of literature survives in it, including the early Irish law texts. Early Modern Irish covers the period from the 13th to the 17th century: a form of it was used as a literary language in Ireland and Scotland, consistently until the 17th century and in some cases well into the 18th century. This is often called Classical Irish while the Ethnologue gives the name "Hiberno-Scottish Gaelic" to this purely written language. As long as this written language was the norm, Ireland was considered the Gaelic homeland to the Scottish literati.


Irish is one of Ireland's two official languages (along with English) and is still fairly widely spoken in the south, west, and northwest of Ireland. The legally defined Irish-speaking areas are called the Gaeltacht; all government institutions of the Republic of Ireland (in particular, the parliament ("Oireachtas"), its upper house ("Seanad") and lower house ("Dáil"), and the prime minister ("Taoiseach")) are officially named in this language, even in English. At present, Irish is primarily spoken in Counties Cork, Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, and, to a lesser extent, in Waterford and Meath. Irish is also undergoing a revival in Northern Ireland and has been accorded some legal status there under the 1998 Belfast Agreement. 1,656,790 (41.9% of the total population aged three years and over) regard themselves as competent Irish speakers.cite web
title=Census 2006 – Principal Demographic Results
publisher=Central Statistics Office
] Of these, 538,283 (32.5%) speak Irish on a daily basis. The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish". Combined, this means that around one in three people (~1.8 million) on the island of Ireland can understand Irish to some extent. Before the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, the language was spoken by the vast majority of the population, but the famine and emigration, as well as an implication by the English ruling classes that Irish was for the ignorant, led to a decline which has begun to reverse only very recently. The census figures do not take into account those Irish who have emigrated, and it has been estimated (rightly or wrongly) that there are more native speakers of Irish in Britain, the US, Australia, and other parts of the world than there are in Ireland itself.

The Irish language has been officially recognised as a working language by the European Union. Ireland's national language is the twenty-first to be given such recognition by the EU and previously had the status of a treaty language.

cottish Gaelic

Some people in the north and west of Scotland and the Hebrides still speak Scottish Gaelic, but the language has been in decline. There are now believed to be approximately 1,000 native speakers of Scottish Gaelic in Nova Scotia and 60,000 in Scotland.

Its historical range was much larger. For example, it was the everyday language of most of the rest of the Highlands until little more than a century ago. Galloway was once also a Gaelic-speaking region, but the Galwegian dialect has been extinct there for approximately two centuries. It is believed to have been home to dialects that were transitional between Scottish Gaelic and the two other Goidelic languages. Most other areas of the Lowlands also spoke forms of Gaelic, the only exceptions being the area which lies on the south-eastern part of the modern border with England - the area called Lothian in the Middle Ages - and the far north-east (parts of Caithness), Orkney and Shetland.

The very word "Scotland" in fact takes its name from the Latin word for a Gael (Irish), "Scotus". So "Scotland" originally meant "Land of the Scots (Irish)", or "Land of the Gaels". Moreover, until late in the 15th century, it was solely the Gaelic language used in Scotland which in English was called "Scottish" or - more authentically - "Scottis". "Scottis" continued to be the English name for the language, although it was gradually superseded by the word "Erse", an act of cultural disassociation which contributed to the language's declining status. In the early 16th century the dialects of northern Middle English, also known as Early Scots, which had developed in Lothian and had come to be spoken elsewhere in the Kingdom of Scotland themselves later appropriated the name Scots. By the seventeenth century Gaelic speakers were restricted largely to the Highlands and the Hebrides. Furthermore, the culturally repressive measures taken against the rebellious highland communities by the British crown following the 2nd Jacobite Rebellion of 1746 caused still further decline in the language's use - to a large extent by enforced emigration. Even more decline followed in the 19th and early 20th centuries

The Scottish Parliament has afforded the language a secure statutory status and "equal respect" (but not full equality in legal status within Scots Law [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/4467769.stm] ) with English, sparking hopes that Scottish Gaelic can be saved from extinction and perhaps even revived.


Today Manx is used as the sole medium for teaching at five of the island's pre-schools by a company named _gv. "Mooinjer Veggey", which also operates the sole Manx primary school—the _gv. "Bunscoill Ghaelgagh". Manx is taught as a second language at all of the Island's primary and secondary schools and also at the Isle of Man College and Centre for Manx Studies.

Goidelic influence

There are two languages that show Goidelic influence, although they are not Goidelic languages themselves.

Shelta language is sometimes thought to be a Goidelic language, but it is, in fact, a cant based on Irish and English, with a primarily English-based syntax.

The Bungee language in Canada is an English dialect spoken by Métis that was influenced by Orkney English, Scots English, Cree, Ojibwe, and Scottish Gaelic.

Other Celtic languages

All the other living Celtic languages belong to the Brythonic branch of Celtic, which includes Welsh ("Cymraeg"), Breton ("Brezhoneg"), and Cornish ("Kernowek"). These are sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Gaelic".

Pictish was the ancient language of much of modern day Scotland, but its exact relation to the other Celtic languages is not certain.

For extinct Celtic languages of the European mainland, see Continental Celtic languages.

ee also

* Differences between Scottish Gaelic and Irish
* Irish:* Connacht Irish:* Munster Irish:* Newfoundland Irish:* Ulster Irish
* Manx
* Scottish Gaelic:* Canadian Gaelic:* Galwegian Gaelic


External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=90049 Ethnologue file on Goidelic languages]
* Scottish Gaelic Wikipedia
* Irish language Wikipedia
* Manx Wikipedia
* [http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/gaidhlig/ga-ge/coimeas.html Comparison of Irish and Scottish Gaelic]

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