Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

The Adult Learner in Gaelic Language-in-Education Policy: Language Revitalisation and the CEFR

Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

The Adult Learner in Gaelic Language-in-Education Policy: Language Revitalisation and the CEFR

Article excerpt

1. Introduction1

Scottish Gaelic (hereafter 'Gaelic') language revitalisation is high on the Scottish Government's agenda. Gaelic language acquisition is considered to have a major role to play in this revitalisation effort. As I will discuss, however, current provision does not yet fully allow Gaelic learners to fulfil their role as agents of language revitalisation. I argue in this paper that changes in policy surrounding Gaelic language acquisition could not only benefit Gaelic learners but could also have a positive effect on language revitalisation in general. I first present language revitalisation policy in Scotland. This is followed by an overview of Scottish language-in-education policy (LEP), and the challenges this poses to Gaelic learners. Finally, I propose a model for the development of a framework for Gaelic for Adults2 teaching, learning and testing which could directly address these challenges. I argue for the framework to be modelled on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and that it should take into account the formal- and socio-linguistic context of Gaelic. By doing this, I aim to show the important role second language acquisition (SLA) research can play in Gaelic language planning and policy.

2. Gaelic and language revitalisation

Since the eighteenth century, Scottish Gaelic has been in a state of serious decline. According to the latest available census results (2011), it is spoken by 1.08 per cent of the population of Scotland: this figure represents less of a decrease in speaker numbers than those reported in previous years and it is an encouraging development. The Scottish Government attributes this slowing of the decline in speaker numbers to official measures put in place under contem- porary language policy in Scotland, a major aim of which is to revitalise Gaelic as a national language and reverse centuries of language shift from Gaelic to English (Scottish Government 2013).

2.1 Gaelic language policy and planning

Bord na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic Language Board) is the non-departmental public body charged with the responsibility for implementing the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005), which was passed "with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language". Bord na Gàidhlig fulfils this role primarily through the National Plan for Gaelic 2007-2012 (Bord na Gàidhlig 2007), and the National Gaelic Language Plan 2012-2017 (Bord na Gàidhlig 2012). These are official strategies designed to reverse language shift, by "stabilising and then ultimately increasing the number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland" (Bord na Gàidhlig 2007: 9).

There is an implicit nod in the national plans towards Strubell's (1998) Catherine Wheel model, which sees reversing language shift as a self-perpet- uating cyclical process of language acquisition and use (see Figure 1).

Developed with reference to Catalan, the model proposes that intervention at any stage through the provision of minority language education, media and public services will set the Catherine Wheel in perpetual motion. The wheel can function in forward and reverse motion, and each stage may influence all other stages. However, as Strubell acknowledges (1998: 165), multiple and repeated interventions are crucial, to prevent progress being "counteracted by opposing trends or forces", including sociological, economic and political factors that may favour the use of the dominant language.

Discussing Strubell's Catherine Wheel with reference to Irish and Gaelic, Walsh and McLeod (2008) argue that in circumstances in which all users of the minority language are bilingual, the provision of goods and services in that language will not necessarily lead to their uptake. Similarly, Strubell (1998) acknowledges that products and services made available in Catalan usually arrive onto a market already saturated by Spanish language products and services, reducing the need to consume them in Catalan. …

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