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The Indigenous Minority Languages of the British Isles and Ireland (BIMLs) in question consist of the following:



Scottish Gaelic




Ulster Scots (Ullans)


Along with most of the other major languages of Europe, these languages all belong to the Indo-European language family. However, they belong to different sub-branches of Indo-European.

Cornish, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Manx and Welsh belong to the Celtic branch of Indo-European. Celtic, in turn, divides into two distinct subgroups: P-Celtic (or Brythonic) and Q-Celtic (or Goidelic). Cornish and Welsh are P-Celtic languages, whilst Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Manx are Q-Celtic languages. The names for the two subgroups arise from the reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European *qw. In P-Celtic this became a bilabial stop (/p/), whilst in Q-Celtic it became a velar stop (/k/): compare the word for ‘four’ in Welsh (pedwar) and Scottish Gaelic (ceithir), both descended from Proto-Indo-European *qwwetwor. 

There also exists a further P-Celtic language, Breton, which is spoken in north-western France. As this is not indigenous to the British Isles, it does not fall within the scope of our project. For the same reason the Channel Island languages Jeriaise and Guernsiaise are not included. However, we would welcome contact with scholars and commercial language engineers working on these languages. 

In contrast, the two varieties of Scots are not Celtic languages, but belong instead to the Germanic branch of Indo-European. Although they are very closely related to some dialects of English, they are recognized as separate languages.

Welsh is widely used in all sectors of life in Wales and has joint official status in the Principality. Although only 18.7% of the total population consider themselves to be Welsh-speaking (1991 Census figures), this figure rises to 43.7% in Dyfed and 61% in Gwynedd. Welsh is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum in Wales. Furthermore, as a consequence of the Welsh Language Act 1993, the public sector must offer its services bilingually in Wales. The use of Welsh in the public sector also extends to central (UK) government departments, and it is similarly widely used both by companies and by other bodies in the private sector. 

Irish and Ullans have both been given increased recognition in Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Executive has pledged to promote them. Official bodies – the Irish Language Agency and the Ulster Scots Agency – have been set up to help in this process.  

According to the 1991 Census, only 1.4% of the population are speakers of Scottish Gaelic, although this figure will be rather higher regionally since almost all Gaelic speakers live in the highlands and western islands. Following devolution the Scottish Executive has given considerable priority and funding to maintaining and encouraging the use of Gaelic. For instance, the report of the Executive’s Gaelic Taskforce (Gaelic: Revitalising Gaelic as a National Asset) states that “as a foundation stone in the building of the new Scotland, the Gaelic language will be an integral and dynamic component of a robust and self-assured community with economic and social stability and pride in its linguistic and cultural identity”.  

Both Manx and Cornish have undergone revival, and there are now once again some native speakers who are bilingual in these languages and English. In terms of direct transmission, the last native speaker of Cornish died in the 18th century and the last native speaker of Manx in 1974. The use of Manx is receiving substantial support from the Isle of Man government and it is being taught again in schools. Cornish, at present, has no such public-sector support, although there is a strong pressure group (Agan Tavas) seeking to acquire this: its web-site states that the “lack of Cornish language facilities and support is no longer just a language issue, but is rapidly becoming a civil rights and political issue too”. 

Related to Scots is Shetlandic, not covered by the LER-BIML project. Shetlandic is considered by Shetlanders to be distinct from Scots and indeed shows independent evidence of influence from a now dead Nordic language, Norn, previously spoken in Shetland. This is especially evident in the vocabulary. John Tait's article Shetlandic, Scots and Norn - the origins of Shetlandic discusses the issues. Also related to Shetlandic and Scots is the dialect of Orkney.   




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