- Scottish Gaelic is a branch of the Celtic language family, closely related to Irish and Manx, and more distantly to Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The inter-relationships and time periods of their evolution can be roughly summarized with this chart.
- The ethnic term “Scot(ti)” originally referred to Gaelic speakers.
- Scottish Gaelic is the only language spoken in the original territory of the Kingdom of the Scots that survives to the present.
- Gaelic was first committed to writing on ogam stones no later than the 4th century CE in both Britain and Ireland.
- Gaelic literature was being written by the late 6th century, two or three generations before Old English.
- Gaelic was the language of the leaders and intelligentsia of the Kingdom of the Scots for several centuries. Gaelic placenames can be found in virtually every region of modern Scotland.
- There is a complicated relationship between “Gaelicness” and “Scottishness” – not all Scots are Gaels, but not all Gaels are Scots.
- Until the 20th century, being a Highlander was synonymous with being a Scottish Gael: nearly all Highlanders spoke Scottish Gaelic into the 20th century, some exclusively. The word Gàidheal means both “a Gaelic speaker” and “Highlander” in Gaelic itself, as there was originally no distinction.
- Although small numbers of Highlanders were among British immigrants to North America in the 17th century, especially as prisoners of war, the first planned settlements occurred in the 1730s to Georgia, New York Province, and the Carolinas.
- Highlanders made up the bulk of Scottish emigrants to North American colonies between the 1760s and 1770s. Smaller numbers emigrated directly to the United States after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, but most Highland emigration between 1783 and 1840 was redirected to British North America (now Canada).
- Many Canadian-born Gaels were drawn to the United States for economic reasons during the late-19th and 20th centuries, especially to urban areas such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, and Duluth.
- Many of the largest North American cities had Scottish Gaelic societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which held events at which people sang Gaelic songs, gave Gaelic recitations, played music, danced and shared their heritage.
- Although there were many Gaelic-speaking communities throughout the US and Canada in the 19th-century, most of these experienced terminal decline between the World Wars. The only communities left where Gaelic is still used are in Nova Scotia, and they are struggling to keep their language and culture alive.
- Gaelic is still a living language in Scotland, although it is in a highly vulnerable state.
- There are still numerous Gaelic-speaking immigrants scattered throughout the U.S. who were born in Scotland and Canada. According to the U. S. Census Bureau’s most recent linguistic survey, there are between 1,389 and 1,899 Scottish Gaelic speakers living in the country.
- There are hundreds of people learning Scottish Gaelic throughout the United States who wish to reclaim their ancestral heritage and engage with it as a living culture.
Essential Books on Scottish Gaeldom in Scotland and North America
Charles Dunn. Highland Settler: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Cape Breton and Eastern Nova Scotia (1968).
James Hunter. A Dance Called America: The Scottish Highlands, the United States and Canada (1995).
Douglas and Caroline Switzer Kelly. Carolina Scots (1998).
Michael Newton. We’re Indians Sure Enough: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States (2001).
Michael Newton. “ ‘Becoming Cold-hearted like the Gentiles Around Them’: Scottish Gaelic in the United States 1872-1912.” eKeltoi 2 (2003): 63-131 at this link.
Michael Newton. Highland Settlers (2003/2012).
Michael Newton. Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders (2009).
Michael Newton (ed.). Celts in the Americas (2013).
Michael Newton. Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada (2015).
Periodicals Focusing Primarily on Scottish Gaelic Studies