Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Gaelic in Scotland: the History of a language, 1400-1914 HIST5135

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Humanities
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

This course will study the history of the Gaelic language in Scotland and explore the mechanisms by which a language, spoken by up to half the population in Scotland around 1500, was spoken by only 4.5% of Scots by 1901 (and 1% today). The spotlight will fall on initiatives taken by a scotophone (and latterly anglophone) government and church, by means of education, administration and religion, to curb and control Gaelic and the various ways in which Gaelic speakers responded to such initiatives and to the declining status of their language over the centuries.


2 x 1 hour sessions for ten weeks (10 lecture and 10 seminar hours).

Requirements of Entry

Standard entry to Masters at College level.

No prior knowledge of the Gaelic language is necessary.

Excluded Courses





■ 3500 word essay (70%)

■ a 15 min oral presentation (20%) and associated powerpoint presentation (weighted at 10%)

■ general oral contribution to seminars (10%)

Course Aims

This course aims to:

■ provide students with an overview of the pressures being brought to bear on a speech and language group from central authority - and how Gaelic speakers reacted to these pressures.

■ introduce students to the ways in which historical analysis can help in understanding the dynamics that affected Gaelic Society.

■ develop an understanding of the interaction of the Gaidhealtachd with the Anglophone, Scotophone and wider world from a variety of perspectives.

■ help develop critical and analytical skills through the close reading of sources by studying historical documents and historiographical debate (in translation where necessary).

■ develop primary source research and essay writing skills.

■ encourage the development of transferable skills by fostering individual initiatives, personal choice and group discussion.

■ encourage the development of presentation skills, enhancing their employability.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ describe the forces at work in changing the dominant speech in communities. 

■ discuss critically and fairly assess the distinctive features of Gaelic society in Scotland and demonstrate awareness of a variety of responses to Anglicisation and acculturation.

■ critically and fairly evaluate the intentions and motivations of politicians, educationalists and administrators and their agendas regarding language in the Highlands.

■ engage with and comment on debates in historiography and Gaelic Studies.

■ contextualise and analyse a number of primary sources (accessed either in English or in Gaelic, in translation, as may be necessary).

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.