Language and culture as a societal asset
: Strategic alignment of language policy to a sustainable socio-economic market for gaelic

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


    Assuming that languages, in particular threatened or minority languages, require
    supportive socio-economic markets in order to thrive (Grin, 2003a), this thesis
    explores language and culture as societal assets, specifically for the extant
    Gàidhealtachd Gaelic-speaker group. The core of this doctoral work lies in
    understanding how these assets may be strategically aligned with national language
    policy to create the beneficial socio-economic market conditions required to develop
    a more secure, sustainable future for Gaelic, given its currently imperilled situation
    (Ó Giollagáin et al., 2020).
    The study objectives included defining the extent of the active speaker group,
    particularly in the Gàidhealtachd; characterising Gaelic’s socioeconomy, and how its
    participants understand its scope and dimensions; and identification of language
    policy spheres viewed as successful in relation to sustaining Gaelic as a societal
    practice or supporting linguistic and economic attainment.
    This thesis breaks new ground by outlining an au courant depiction of the Gaelic elite
    cohort’s private observations and thought processes regarding Gaelic’s socioeconomic
    condition. These opinions highlight contradictions with the public
    pronouncements of the leadership cluster which constructs and dispenses national
    language policy. Concurrently, the priorities, successes and weaknesses of such
    policy as perceived by participants in Gaelic’s purported socioeconomy are
    assessed, meaning themes pivotal to the language’s future emerge. These matters
    are further scrutinised in relation to contemporary debates on Gaelic, which are
    broadly centred on the mechanics of language policy and provision, and the
    problematised ideological contestation of individual and group identity. Such
    discussion is largely disengaged from the lived societal realities and concerns of the
    Gàidhealtachd group.
    Emergent findings depict a dysfunctional Gaelic development and leadership
    system, in which sub-optimal results arise from confusion over the purpose of
    revitalisation, a lack of cohesive planning, the misplaced prioritisation of sectoral interests over communal concerns, and the failure to identify solutions to pressing
    problems. There has been a simultaneous apparent policy shift away from
    positioning the Gàidhealtachd communities as ‘the most valuable resource we have’
    for developing and sustaining a social market for Gaelic (Bòrd na Gàidhlig, 2007a:
    23) to focus instead on numerical growth predicated on increasing enrolments in
    Gaelic-medium education by attracting an urban population which may have little or
    no prior connection to Gaelic language and culture (McLeod, 2018: 86).
    While the socio-economic participants identify home and community as priority
    areas, they perceive Gaelic language policy as privileging sectoral interests and
    individual attainment while the Gaelic leadership continues to pursue public sector
    language planning which fails to afford the Gàidhealtachd group any real agency in
    addressing socio-economic challenges.
    This research offers evidence-based recommendations for action which may change
    how Gaelic policy-makers engage with their work, and how such recalibrated policy
    could be implemented in societal situations to benefit the workforce of a putative
    Gaelic socioeconomy and have a tangible impact on how the Gàidhealtachd group
    faces its future challenges with confidence.
    It is intended that the research outcomes will be shared with leaders in all strata of
    Gaelic society in the hope that the supportive socio-economic conditions necessary
    for Gaelic to survive and flourish, particularly in the Gàidhealtachd, can be attained.
    Date of Award30 May 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of the Highlands and Islands
    SponsorsESF studentship
    SupervisorConchúr Ó Giollagáin (Supervisor), Philomena De Lima (Supervisor) & Iain Caimbeul (Supervisor)

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