How to pronounce sgian dubh

The Gaelic language & its history

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What is Gaelic and what are the origins of this language?

Gaelic has existed for centuries and is the founding language of Scotland, which is believed to originate in Ireland. As the main language in the medieval Kingdom of Alba, it spread throughout the country, from the Borders to Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and the Isles.

In the late 18th century, the turbulent Jacobite uprisings were followed by the infamous evacuation of the Highlands, the so-called Highland Clearances. Not only were numerous people displaced from their homeland in the Highlands, everything was done to suppress the Gaelic language. Although the speakers of the language have been persecuted for centuries, Scottish Gaelic is still spoken by around 60,000 Scots.

Closely associated with a rich culture full of music and folklore, Gaelic is currently experiencing a revival. You can hear it in pubs in the Lowlands and at Ceilidhs in the Hebrides. Gaelic also made it onto international screens recently as it's on the incredibly successful series Outlander to listen.

Why not?

Conquer the hearts of the locals by storm and learn some useful Gaelic phrases and expressions.

LearnGaelic has great language resources such as videos, courses, online dictionaries and much more.

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Courtesy of Caledonia TV on behalf of BBC ALBA

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Where is it spoken?

You are most likely to hear Gaelic in the Highlands and Islands, especially the Outer Hebrides, the Isle of Skye and possibly Argyll & The Isles. You can find Gaelic all over the country, for example on street signs, in the theater, in radio and television productions or in conversations with locals! The cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are also rich in Gaelic-speaking - the Lowlands are home to almost half of the Gaelic-speaking population.

In the Nova Scotia region of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and some other regions of North America there are also proud Scottish Gaelic communities that go back to the waves of emigration in the 18th and 19th centuries.

An old Scottish joke

Q: What do you call a pigeon that goes on vacation to Aviemore?

A: Sgian-dubh.


  • Aviemore - Scotland's most popular ski area
  • Sgian-dubh - a ceremonial knife (pronounced similarly to "skiing du")
  • Dubh (pronounced like "you") - a regional or slang expression for a pigeon)

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The legacy of the Gaelic language

The Gaelic community has provided Scotland with many of the country's national symbols, including the kilt, tartan, bagpipes, ceilidhs, Highland Games and whiskey!

You will be surprised how well Gaelic has been preserved over the centuries through literature, art and folklore from all eras, even though it has been subjected to oppression and condemnation for more than 200 years. Gaelic culture is very much alive in the modern world too, particularly in the Outer Hebrides.

Today you can still:

  • Hear great Gaelic songs and stirring music in pubs and on the street.
  • Shake the dance floor to traditional reels, jigs and waltzes and enjoy the unique atmosphere of a ceilidh.
  • Learn about the history and customs of Gaelic music and songs at a traditional music festival in Scotland such as the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival, the Harris Arts Festival, Barra Live, Celtic Connections and others Fèisean (Festivals).
  • Discover (arts) handicrafts from the Gaelic culture, such as Harris tweed, a high-quality, hard-wearing fabric that is only made in the Outer Hebrides.

Already knew?

You may not know, but you already speak a little Gaelic!

Short form of whiskybae, derived fromuisge-beatha (Gaelic for "water of life").

Do not miss

The Royal National Mod is an annual celebration of Gaelic. Take part: The event will take place from 9-17. October 2020 in Inverness.

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