Examining the role of summer short-courses as a tool for Scottish Gaelic language revitalization

Patton, Colleen
Patton, Colleen
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In the past decade, advances in legislation, funding, education, and research have bolstered Scottish Gaelic revitalization and contributed to slowing the decline of Gaelic (National Records of Scotland 2013). Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), a Gaelic immersion college, reaches more than 1000 people via its “short-courses” programming. While these weekend or week-long programs offer opportunities for interested participants to study Gaelic language and culture, their role in revitalization might be questioned given that, as a stand-alone tool, their brief duration is not sufficient for language acquisition. This paper first outlines findings from studies carried out via voluntary, anonymous surveys made available to all participants in summer 2014 which examined the participants’ motivations for attending SMO’s cùrsaichean goirid – five-day courses covering a number of Gaelic language levels and cultural topics. The second goal of this paper is to consider the benefits and the drawbacks of this program as one method towards language revitalization. Although the investigated summer short-courses cover a great range of language and cultural topics and include daily events outside of the classroom, due to their short duration, participants may only modestly develop their Gaelic language proficiency – a key goal of language revitalization. However, 89% of participants rate highly their enjoyment of their experiences, 78% strongly support the increased presence of Gaelic in public education, and 89% harbor interests in continuing their study of the language. Moreover, with only one participant living in the Gaelic heartland, the short-course experience can be a far-reaching, singular opportunity for course participants from throughout Scotland and beyond to interact with a Gaelic community. The true success of the short-courses as evident from this research is the opportunity for participants to build positive relationships with the Gaelic language and culture, as well as with individuals who value or live in that culture - results which in turn encourage participation in programs for long-term language acquisition. These outcomes help to restructure the language ecology of today’s Scotland by expanding domains of use, promoting awareness of the linguistic landscape of the country, and increasing language prestige. For language communities which seek to promote their language and culture through innovative programming, this model serves as an interesting case-study into brief immersion as a means to reach those outside of the traditional speaker community. References: National Records of Scotland. 2013. Census 2011: Release 2a. http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/news/census-2011-release-2a. Accessed 4/17/2014.
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