Scotland’s Languages

TRACS Language Policy

Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland is committed to recognising and supporting all of Scotland’s languages, and to welcoming Scotland’s multilingual identity, through English, Gaelic, Scots, British Sign Language and other minority languages such as Cant and Beurla Reagaird, the languages of Scottish Travellers, or Nawken.

While many other languages are spoken in Scotland today, Scots, Gaelic and Scotland’s Traveller languages are distinctive to this part of the world and we have a duty to safeguard them. If their use were to cease here, where they are rooted, they would effectively become extinct.

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Scottish Gaelic

The Gaelic language is a powerful symbol of Scotland’s unique heritage and provides enduring linguistic and cultural links to other nations in the British Isles and beyond.

The historical marginalisation of Gaelic, both politically and geographically, is understood (and lamented) by Gaelic speakers, but not always by those who don’t speak the language or the mistaken belief that Gaelic was always a marginal element in Scottish life.

While its speakers may number less than two percent of today’s national population, it was once the national tongue; the primary language of power and influence.

The first Gaelic book was printed in Edinburgh in 1567 and placenames across the country give evidence of Gaelic’s presence. In the Lothians, that includes Craigentinny (Creag an t-Sionnaich, ‘the rock of the fox’), Balerno (Baile Àirneach, ‘the sloe township’) and Cockenzie (Cùil Choinnich, ‘cove of Kenneth’).


Read Language Policy in Gaelic


Scots is used by hundreds of thousands of people in their daily lives, intangibly connected to Scotland’s culture. In the 2011 census, people were asked for the first time about their abilities in Scots; over 1.5 million people claimed some knowledge or ability in the language.

Modern Scots is a Germanic language, descended, like modern English, from Old English.

From the 11th century, as the feudal system established in England by the Normans was adopted by Scottish kings, immigrants from Northern England brought their Danish-influenced speech.

Over the next four centuries trading and political links with Scandinavia, the Low Countries, France and other parts of Europe shaped the language.

For more on the history of Scots, visit Education Scotland’s website and watch their informative video animation.

Listen to Scots podcasts on a wide range of subjects at Scots Radio

Read Language Policy in Scots