Gaelic Speakers

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THE enumeration of Gaelic-speaking persons in Scotland was first instituted in the census of 1881. They were then found to number 231,594, and to amount to 6.2 per cent. of the total population of the country. In 1891 an apparent increase in this number was found, amounting to 22,821, the number in that year being 254,415; but whether this increase was genuine and founded on fact, or was due merely to a better understanding of the question as put on the householder's schedule, must remain a matter of speculation. In 1901 the number was found to have fallen to 230,806, and at the present census to 202,398. In 1891 Gaelic speakers amounted to 6.3 per cent. of the population, in 1901 to 5.2 per cent., and now amount to 4.3 per cent.; but these rates give an exaggerated impression of the decline in the number of Gaelic speakers, for the proportions are, of course, calculated on an increased population at each decennium. These rates show a drop of approximately one-sixth between 1891 and 1901, and a similar drop between 1901 and 1911, but the actual number of Gaelic speakers at the close of each decennium shows the decline to be 9.3 and 12.3 per cent., or one-eleventh and one-eighth, respectively.

In the tabulation of the censuses of 1891 and 1901, and of the present census, Gaelic speakers have been separated into those able to speak Gaelic in addition to English, and those able to speak Gaelic only. In 1891, speakers of both Gaelic and English numbered 210,677, and constituted 82.8 per cent. of all the Gaelic speakers; and those unable to speak English numbered 43,738, and constituted 17.2 per cent. of the total. In 1901, speakers of Gaelic and English numbered 202,700, and of Gaelic only, 28,106, the former being 7,977, or 3.8 per cent., fewer, and the latter 15,632, or 35.7 per cent., fewer than in 1891. By this census speakers of Gaelic and English are found to number 183,998, and to be 18,702, or 9.2 per cent., fewer than in 1901, and 26,679, or 127 per cent., fewer than in 1891; and speakers of Gaelic only are found to number 18,400, and to be 9,706, or 34.5 per cent., fewer than in 1901, and 25,338, or 57.9 per cent., fewer than in 1891. Thus, though the decreases in the number of those speaking Gaelic and English and of those speaking Gaelic only, have been approximately of the same amount, the rate of decrease in the former is little more than one-fifth of the rate of decrease in the latter. Speakers of Gaelic and English now constitute 3.9 per cent. of the total population of Scotland. In 1901 they constituted 4.6 per cent., and in 1891, 5.2 per cent. Speakers of Gaelic only now constitute 0.4 per cent. of the total population; in 1901 they constituted 0.6 per cent., and in 1891, 1.1 per cent. (Table H1.)

In Tables XLIX, L., and LI. the numbers of Gaelic speakers enumerated at this census are shown (1) by the county of enumeration; (2) by the county, or country, of birth; (3) by sex; and (4) by age—over and under 20 only. Table XLIX. deals with all Gaelic speakers, L. with speakers of Gaelic and English, and LI. with speakers of Gaelic only.

Of the 202,398 Gaelic speakers, 96,861 are male, and 105,537 are female. Of these, 44,641 are of less than 20 years of age, and 157,757 of 20 years of age and over. The number of Gaelic-speaking males of under 20 years of age is 851 in excess of that of females of those ages, but the number of Gaelic-speaking females of 20 and over is 9,527 in excess of the corresponding number of males. The ratio of male to female Gaelic speakers of under 20 is 104.0 to 100, and of female to male Gaelic speakers of over 20, 112.8 to 100; and the difference between these ratios is so large as to be suggestive of an abnormal loss of Gaelic-speaking males by death or emigration at or over the age of 20. But a comparison of the ratios between males and females of Scottish birth in the entire population of Scotland, and of over and under the age of 20, with the ratios given above, shows that the relatively greater loss among Gaelic-speaking males than among Gaelic-speaking females is not only no larger than that found among all persons of Scottish birth, but is in fact less. In the entire population the ratio of males of Scottish birth of under 20 to females of Scottish birth of those ages is 104.0 to 100, while that of females of Scottish birth of over 20 to males of Scottish birth of over that age is 115.7 to 100.

Of the 202,398 Gaelic speakers enumerated in Scotland, 48,780, or 24.10 per cent., were enumerated in Inverness; 46,926, or 2318 per cent., in Ross and Cromarty; 31,695, or 15.66 per cent., in Argyll; 24,947, or 12.33 per cent., in Lanark; 9,038, or 4.46 per cent., in Perth; 5,587, or 2.76 per cent., in Renfrew; 4,989, or 2.46 per cent., in Edinburgh; and smaller numbers in the remaining counties, the smallest numbers being 43 in Kinross, 45 in Shetland, 70 in Selkirk, and 76 in Orkney.

The proportion of the population of the counties able to speak Gaelic is found to average 4.25 per cent., and to vary from 60.66 per cent. in Ross and Cromarty, 58.67 per cent. in Sutherland, 55.89 per cent. in Inverness, 44.70 per cent. in Argyll, 11.44 per cent. in Bute, 9.97 per cent. in Nairn, and 7.27 per cent. in Perth, to less than 0.3 per cent. in Kincardine, Orkney, Selkirk, Shetland, and Wigtown. In Lanark this percentage is 1.72, and in Edinburgh, 0.98.

Speakers of Gaelic unable to speak English were enumerated in fourteen counties, the: great majority of them—98.55 per cent—being in three counties. In Ross and Cromarty they numbered 9,110, and constituted 49.51 per cent. of the total; in Inverness, 7,670, or 41.68 per cent.; in Argyll, 1,355, or 7.36 per cent.; and in Sutherland, 188, or 1.02 per cent. In Perth 41 speakers of Gaelic only were enumerated; in Lanark, 20; in Renfrew, 6; in Caithness, 3; in Bute, 2; and in Dumbarton, Edinburgh, Elgin, Fife, and Haddington, 1 each. By a scrutiny, it was ascertained that the majority of speakers of Gaelic but not English, in counties other than Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Perth, Ross and Cromarty, and Sutherland, were elderly widows.

Of the 202,398 Gaelic speakers, 58,469, or 28.89 per cent., were born in Inverness; 55,173, or 27.26 per cent. in Ross and Cromarty; 41,525, or 20.52 per cent. in Argyll; 13,994, or 6.91 per cent. in Sutherland; 9,223, or 4.56 per cent. in Perth; 7,118, or 3.52 per cent., in Lanark; and smaller numbers in the remaining counties, the smallest being 12 in Kinross, 13 in Selkirk, 25 in Kirkcudbright, 26 in Berwick, 36 in Shetland, and 40 in Wigtown.

The proportion of Gaelic speakers born in the different counties averages 4.51 per cent., and varies from 64.55 in Ross and Cromarty, 59.76 in Inverness, 59.61 in Sutherland, 50.74 in Argyll, 12.24 in Bute, 6.88 in Perth, 5.69 in Nairn, and 1.79 in Elgin, to less than 0.1 in Berwick, Fife, Kirkcudbright, Peebles, and Selkirk.

Of the Gaelic speakers of Scotland, 4,358, or 2.15 per cent., were reported to be of Irish birth, and presumably were speakers of Irish, not Scottish, Gaelic. These amount to 0.25 per cent. of all persons of Irish birth enumerated in Scotland. (Table H2).

A comparison of the number of Gaelic speakers enumerated in the counties with the number born in them, affords an indication of the amount of migration among the Gaelic-speaking community. Thus the number of Gaelic speakers born in Argyll exceeds the number enumerated there by 9,830, and this number amounting to 23.67 per cent. of the Gaelic speakers born in the county, indicates a migration of that amount from Argyll to other parts of Scotland. The migration of Gaelic speakers from the County of Inverness amounts to 9,689, or 16.57 per cent., from Ross and Cromarty to 8,247, or 14.95 per cent., from Sutherland to 2,155, or 15.40 per cent., from Perth to 185, or 2.01 per cent., and from Caithness to 154, or 8.37 per cent. The counties in which the number of Gaelic speakers enumerated exceeds most largely the number born therein, and therefore the counties to which this migration mostly tends, and the amounts of the excess, are, Lanark, 17,829; Edinburgh, 4,021; Renfrew, 3,871; Dumbarton, 2,598; Stirling, 1,304; and Fife, 1,179. Some of these latter figures may contain, and almost certainly do contain, numbers of Irish, and consequently it is not safe to assume that they are entirely composed of migrants from Highland counties.

If the above comparisons are restricted to the figures applicable to persons of over 20 years of age, instead of extending to the figures applicable to those of all ages, the resulting rates of loss by the Highland counties are apparently higher. Taking the figures of the male sex of 20 years of age and over, it is found that the loss by migration into other Scottish counties amounts in Argyll to 26.81 per cent., in Inverness to 21.47 per cent., in Ross and Cromarty to 20.19 per cent., and in Sutherland to 17.97 per cent.; and that the corresponding figures relative to females are in Argyll 32.30 per cent., in Inverness 23.82 per cent., in Ross and Cromarty 19.70 per cent., and in Sutherland 20.57 per cent. The migration of these Gaelic-speaking persons in Scotland may be generally described as being of a nature similar to the results shown by a study of the birthplaces of the population of Scotland, and indicated by the figures given in Table F3 and F4, on pages xcvi. to xcix.

Special statistical studies based on the figures dealing with the speakers of Gaelic in the insular parishes of the counties of Argyll, Inverness, and Ross and Cromarty, were included in Parts 6, 90, and 31 of Volume .1. of the Report, being the Parts dealing specifically with the census of these counties, and the figures there stated are summarised in Tables 113 and 114 appended to this section of the Report. These parishes were selected for this purpose as they form the majority of all parishes in Scotland in which the Gaelic language is extensively and habitually used.

Gaelic speakers in these parishes number 66,081, and constitute 89.0 per cent. of their aggregate population. Of these, 15,746, or 23.8 per cent., speak Gaelic only, and 50,335, or 76.2 per cent., speak both Gaelic and English; the former constitute 21.2 per cent., and the latter 67.8 per cent., of the aggregate population. In 1881 the Gaelic speakers in these parishes constituted 92.3 per cent. of the aggregate population; in 1891 this rate was 91.3, and in 1901, 89.3. A comparison of the percentages of the population able to speak Gaelic but not English in these parishes shows a much heavier fall; in 1891 these persons constituted 4.16 per cent. of the total population; in 1901, 3.03; and now constitute only 2.25. The fall in this rate in twenty years amounts to 1.91, or 45.9 per cent. Thus, while there is good evidence that the proportion of the population without a knowledge of English is greatly reduced, there is no evidence of a similar reduction in the proportion having a knowledge of Gaelic; in other words, the evidence points to the change consisting in a knowledge of English being added to, rather than substituted for, a knowledge of Gaelic.

An examination of the age distribution of those able to speak Gaelic but unable to speak English shows that the reduction in their total number has taken place more in later school, younger working, and middle age periods, rather than in early life or in older age. In 1891 the number of Gaelic-speaking children of three and four years of age unable to speak English constituted 72.6 per cent. of the population of those ages, and this rate is now found to be practically unchanged, being 72.7. The rate in age period 5 to 9 has fallen since 1891 from 49.1 per cent. to 36.6 per cent.; in age group 10 to 14, from 23.9 per cent. to 6.0 per cent.; in age group 15 to 19, from 25.6 per cent. to 2.9 per cent.; in age group 20 to 24, from 29.3 per cent. to 3.3 per cent.; in age group 25 to 29, from 33.6 per cent. to 4.0 per cent.; and in age group 30 to 34, from 36.4 per cent. to 7.8 per cent. But in the higher age groups the change is not so great; in age group 35 to 39 the fall is from 36.2 per cent. to 11.6 per cent.; in age group 40 to 44, from 43.7 per cent. to 18.9 per cent.; in. age group 45 to 49, from 45.1 per cent. to 23.7 per cent.; in age group 50 to 54, from 52.3 per cent. to 29.2 per cent.; in age group 55 to 59, from 51.6 per cent. to 29.9 per cent.; in age group 60 to 64, from 61.2 per cent. to 36.5 per cent.; in age group 65 to 69, from 60.9 per cent. to 42.7 per cent.; in age group 70 to 74, from 59.2 per cent. to 47.6 per cent.; in age group 75 to 79, from 64.5 per cent. to 53.3 per cent.; and in age group 80 and over, from 70.5 per cent. to 59.6 per cent. Thus, among the population of age group 15 to 19, the proportion of Gaelic speakers unable to speak English has, during twenty years, been reduced by 88.7 per cent., and in age group 20 to 24 by the same amount, but in age group 3 to 4 it has not been reduced, while in age groups of over 70 the reduction amounts to less than 20 per cent. The fact that in these parishes the proportion of children of under school age able to speak Gaelic but unable to speak English remains as high as it was in 1901, is indicative that the use of Gaelic in the homes is as prevalent now as it was then, and consequently indicates that there is little likelihood of Gaelic becoming a dead language for many years to come. (Tables 113 and 114).





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