Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand

In 2001 and 2002 St John Skilton carried out a survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand using different means- participating in Scottish Gaelic community activities, carrying out interviews, forming focus groups, and sending out a questionnaire to which he received 178 responses. His description of the situation and his analysis were part of his doctoral work at the University of Sydney, which he finished at the University of Fribourg: The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand PhD 2004.
Skilton examines from many angles the position in Australia of Scottish Gaelic, a language spoken by few, but the heritage language of many. He discusses the demography of the speakers and learners; he shows how opportunities to use and learn the language are shaped by the language practices in Australia – such as the language policies and the teaching of language at schools. He also discusses how the speakers and learners felt about the language. The situation of Scottish Gaelic as a minority language in Australia is both interestingly similar to, and interestingly different from, the situation of minority Indigenous languages in Australia. I quote here one of his concluding summaries.

9.2.7 Summary: The Non-economic Benefits of Scottish Gaelic
An anonymous respondent at a Highland Gathering reported that an acquaintance of his had learned Scottish Gaelic in order to use in songs he composed. The respondent said that this was in order to make money [SoSGA_N4]. Such an economic analysis of the use of Scottish Gaelic is exceedingly rare in my data. The discourse describing the language focuses instead on its value as a bearer of culture. In Extract 6.13, a teacher at one of the Gaelic events describes it as a language of poetry, music and song. The principal benefits of Scottish Gaelic for most SoSGA respondents are expressed in cultural or heritage terms. The cultural associations of Scottish Gaelic therefore serve to highlight further what Scottish Gaelic might mean in Australian society. Chapter 4 showed that language learning at educational institutions was heavily biased towards a small number of languages with cultural or economic status, particularly Japanese and French. The government has variously promoted languages, via financial incentives, that it believes benefit trade (DETYA 2001c). Separately, English is promoted as a key to social integration, either as a way of transmitting ‘values’ (Smolicz 1995b; Dixson 1999), or as a way to ensure economic integration for migrants (DIMIA 2002b). These motivations are overtly political and economic. The learning of Scottish Gaelic contrasts with these motivations. It is most certainly not economically advantageous. It is most certainly not assimilatory either, because most SoSGA respondents are already economically and linguistically well positioned within the society. Therefore, Scottish Gaelic clearly offers benefits that are not measurable economically. Fingal and others express ethnic belonging and cultural heritage motivations, and some emphasise a combination of cultural and intellectual motivations.
Motivations expressed for learning and maintaining Scottish Gaelic can be linked to particular revivalist ideologies. Crucially, the SoSGA respondents can afford to study, learn and devote time to Scottish Gaelic. In discussing the ideologies of Irish revival outside the Gaeltacht after the establishment of Eire, Ó Laoire (1996) discusses how the cultural nationalism espoused by an urban, bourgeois, political elite did not match the economic aspirations of the Irish population. He therefore sees a “class difference in response to cultural nationalism” (Ó Laoire 1996, p. 56). After the establishment of the Free Irish State in the 1920s, Irish had a more symbolic role than a socio-economic one (Ó Laoire 1996, p. 56). In Dublin, the ‘converts’ who changed from using English in the home to using Irish ‘invariably came from the upper middle class stratum – the families of government ministers, civil servants and teachers’ (Ó Laoire 1996, p. 61).
For the SoSGA respondents, there is a strong bias towards well-educated, economically stable, older respondents. This might imply a correlation between socio-economic class and support for the language. In Ireland, it seems likely that it is partly those who can ‘afford’ to support the language that do so (Ó Laoire 1996, p. 61). For SoSGA respondents it is not necessarily material wealth, but availability of spare time, or adequate socio-economic standing.
Generally, those supporting Scottish Gaelic are well positioned, not subordinated. On the one hand, for SoSGA respondents, it indicates that a ‘market’ for Scottish Gaelic exists despite lack of economic benefits in learning it. Ideology could lead to significant emotional and practical investment in something that is unlikely to reward learners financially. In ways that can be compared to Irish and Hebrew, ideology is clearly an important factor for some respondents.

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