It is possible to argue that in the course of the last four centuries the minority languages of the British Isles have been undermined by English political and economic power, the policies of English governments, and English attitudes, both official and unofficial. The opprobrium cast on the regional dialects of England has been visited, on a grander scale, and with far-reaching consequences, on the speech of regions diverse in language and culture, and situated far away from the metropolitan south-east. In this chapter we shall trace the long and complicated history of English as a dominant language throughout the British Isles. We shall see how a northern variety of English was developed as the language of an independent Scottish state, and how that variety was displaced in official domains by metropolitan English after the union of parliaments in 1707. Next, we shall consider how the Celtic languages have been maintained, and even promoted, despite generations of linguistic domination. In Ireland, we see a version of English colonialism, and the only territory where a Celtic tongue has become an official language. We shall then consider the maintenance, first of Gaelic in the Scottish Highlands, and then of Welsh, the object of a recent and vigorous campaign of promotion. Finally, we shall discuss two cases of what has been termed language death, the abandoning of Cornish and Manx as the first languages of the local Celtic communities.
With one important exception, the languages with which we are dealing are Celtic, and therefore structurally distant from English. They represent two branches of the Celtic language-family. The Gaelic of Ireland, and its implantations in the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Man, form one branch. Welsh and Cornish, together with the Breton of north-west France, are more closely related to the British Celtic that was displaced during the Anglo-Saxon settlement, as described in chapter one. While the two branches had diverged considerably, rather as, say, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish have done, there was contact