A group of friends sit having a conversation. They are all wearing tartan.

VisitScotland / David N Anderson

Three years ago, the UN proclaimed that 2019 was to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019). The announcement came in response to a recommendation by the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Languages, which stated that 40% of the world’s languages were in danger of disappearing – that’s 2680 languages!

What is IYIL2019?

The IYIL2019 is an opportunity to help promote and protect indigenous languages, to improve the lives of speakers, and to achieve the objectives of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Led by UNESCO, activities throughout the year will include international conferences, training courses, festivals, exhibitions, online events and film screenings.

Why are indigenous languages important?

We all use language to communicate, to define our identity, and to preserve our history and culture. Language is crucial to good governance, peace building, sustainable development and the protection of human rights. In this British Council Scotland film, Gaelic Singer Anne Martin talks of the important place indigenous languages hold in ‘global conversations about breaking down barriers.’

Most of us take for granted our ability to use our chosen language without restriction, but not everyone is so lucky. The majority of the world’s almost 7,000 languages are spoken by indigenous people, many of whom find themselves politically and socially isolated by location, history, culture and tradition. The loss of indigenous speakers means the loss of unique cultural heritage, complex knowledge systems, and historic environmental protection measures. 

Celebrating Scotland’s Indigenous Languages

In Scotland, our indigenous languages are Gaelic and Scots. Both are protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and Gaelic has official status as a ‘national language’ of Scotland under the Gaelic Language Act (2005). 

The Scottish Government’s 2018-2019 Programme for Government pledged continued support for ‘the distinct and significant contribution that Scotland’s indigenous languages make to the cultural life of Scotland’. Particular emphasis was placed on establishing new Gaelic schools and initiatives in areas of low population, and together with Creative Scotland, organising a Scots language conference to mark IYIL2019. 

We had a look at some other events celebrating Scotland’s indigenous languages in 2019. Here are some of our favourites…

Doric Language Classes at Aberdeen University

From January, Aberdeen University are doubling classes in North-East Scots, or Doric, after the huge success of their autumn classes. Beginner’s classes are aimed at newcomers to the region or locals who want to re-connect with their heritage, while advanced classes will help people converse, write or translate Doric.

Mòd Ghlaschu at Celtic Connections 2 February

An Comunn Gàidhealach hosts an evening celebrating today’s Gaelic culture in Scotland. The night will feature traditional and contemporary Gaelic stars, one-off collaborations and a ‘veritable army of choirs’.

Beò Music Festival at Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye 17-18 May

Two days of music from some of the best Gaelic talent, including The Vatersay Boys, Trail West, and Beinn Lee, all in the beautiful gardens of Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye! 

Celtic Media Festival, Aviemore  4-6 June

2019 also marks the 40th anniversary of the Celtic Media Festival. The annual 3 day celebration promotes the broadcasting and film talent in indigenous languages and cultures of the Celtic Nations and Regions.

Ceòlas Summer School, Isle of South Uist 7-12 July

The best traditional musicians in Scotland and Canada descend on South Uist to tutor school students of all ages in Gaelic music, dance and language. Ceilidhs and guided walks will also feature in this celebration of Hebridean culture.

Inspired to learn more? You can visit the official website of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. If you are interested in learning more about indigenous languages in Scotland, Creative Scotland have great resources on their website

Did you know?

  • There are approximately 6,700 languages in the world
  • There are 370 million Indigenous people in the world
  • 90 of the world’s countries have indigenous communities
  • There are 5 thousand different indigenous cultures