Statement on the University’s Draft Gaelic Plan

The Celtic Society is committed to supporting Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen. We were very happy to see that the university’s Gaelic Language Plan Advisory Group has chosen to actively consult the university community on its draft for the new Gaelic Plan. This will provide direction for the use and promotion of Gaelic at our university. However, that being said, we feel this proposed Gaelic Plan is lacking in ambition.

Celtic Society President Frederic Bayer in front of the bilingual entrance sign to the King's College campus

Our President in front of the bilingual entrance sign to the King’s College campus

In terms of the visibility of the language, the University clearly falls short on bilingual signage on campus when compared to other universities with significant Gaelic departments. We know that signage has little influence on promoting active use of Gaelic, but visibility is an important step to making the community aware of its presence. The University of Aberdeen attracts students from all over the world, but many of them will study and live here in complete ignorance of Gaelic due to its lack of visibility, and the draft plan does not seem to address this.

On that note, the same can be said of Doric with the university’s failure to promote the mother tongue of many of the students from the North East. However, we welcome the foundation of the North-East Scots Language Board and hope to work with them in future to raise the visibility of Scottish languages on campus.

We must acknowledge qualities of the Gaelic Plan in many respects, and the innovative proposals it puts forward, even though tokenistic gestures seem to have gained precedence over a renewed commitment to more ambitious past aims. As part of the previous Gaelic Plan, the University intended to set up a Taigh na Gàidhlig (Gaelic residence scheme) similar to the one offered by the University of Glasgow, an aim which was never fulfilled.

The new draft Gaelic Plan only recommends that students moving into university accommodation should be able to ask for Gaelic speaking flatmates. However, new students who intend to study Gaelic but have no existing proficiency – who vastly outnumber the new students who do – are unlikely to take up that option, and university accommodation is not an attractive option to most returning students due to availability and pricing.

Another shortfall of the Gaelic Plan, which has been a persistent problem, is the lack of a dedicated role of Gaelic Officer at the university. So far, tasks relating to the promotion of Gaelic has been delegated to staff members with many other commitments, meaning that the language has not been a priority at any level. The University of Glasgow has a full-time Gaelic officer, and the University of Edinburgh a part-time one, which puts us at a serious disadvantage when it comes to attracting Gaelic students.

In short, the Celtic Society still awaits to see the final Gaelic Plan to assess the final ambitions. We will continue to support all efforts by the University of Aberdeen to promote Gaelic, and we hope that the University will fulfill its stated aims in this regard.

Our response has been publicised in the Press & Journal and on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal’s Aithris na Maidne.

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