Selected Subjects: Gaelic Speaking

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4.9 Gaelic-speaking population in Scotland

4.9.1 1881 - 1931


The Commissioners of the census of Scotland in 1881 required the enumerators to estimate the number of people who were 'in the habit of making colloquial use of the Gaelic language'. Conclusions drawn from the figures thus obtained were discussed very briefly in Volume I of the Reports . Figures given in Appendix Table XII gave the distribution of the total population against the numbers and percentage who spoke Gaelic in the regions, divisions and counties of Scotland. In the numbered series of tables con¿tained in this volume a column showing the number of Gaelic-speaking people was included for: (i) Scotland, regions, civil counties and civil parishes; (ii) civil parishes by ecclesiastical sub-divisions; (iii) civil counties by town, village and rural groups; (iv) the islands; (v) parliamentary burghs and districts, royal and police burghs; (viii) registration counties and districts with sub-divisions of districts; and (ix) School Board counties and districts.

1891 - 1901

At the censuses of 1891 and 1901 a question included in the householder's schedule required a statement, in respect of all persons of 3 years and upward, whether only Gaelic or Gaelic and English were spoken. This distinction was reflected in the published tables in Volume I of the Reports, but otherwise their content remained the same with the addition of figures for wards of burghs in the tables corresponding to series (v). Some of the tables gave figures from previous censuses in parallel, and in the Report for 1901 particulars were also published for the following districts: municipal burghs; administrative counties, county districts and electoral divisions; and Public Health areas by county district and burgh.


In the Report on the census of 1911 birthplace, as well as place of enumeration, was related to the Gaelic-speaking population. The Appendix Tables in Volume II of the Report gave special analyses for the insular portions of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, including an age analysis of the Gaelic speakers in these parts. The column relating to Gaelic as a spoken language was omitted from the serial tables of local populations and restricted to Tables XLIX -LI . Each of these tables gave a sex and age distribution by age-groups under 20, and 20 years and over, and analysed Gaelic speakers by place of birth and of enumeration; the classification of birthplace only separated by country those born in Scotland and in Ireland.


The special age analysis given for the insular portions of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty in 1911 was repeated in the Appendix Tables to Volume II of the 1921 Report, and a further analysis by quinquennial age-groups was given for these districts in Table 65 of the Abstracts, showing (a) persons enumerated, (b) persons speaking Gaelic only, (c) the ratio of persons speaking Gaelic only to every 1,000 in each age-group, and (d) relative numbers of persons speaking Gaelic only (ratio in 1891 being taken as 100) at each census from 1891. Three further tables, numbered 62 -64 , were given in the Abstracts, and the first of these gave a sex and age distribution for all Gaelic speakers, speakers of Gaelic only and speakers of both Gaelic and English; the second provided the same particulars by county of birth and enumeration; while the third included percentages of Gaelic-speaking persons to the county populations and the percentage of Gaelic speakers in the whole country.

In each County Part , except those relating to counties with a high proportion of Gaelic-speakers, Table 26 showed for males and females of under 20 years, and 20 years and over, the total population and the numbers speaking (a) only Gaelic, (b) Gaelic and English, and (c) all Gaelic speakers, in each county and sometimes in burghs. Where there was a high proportion of Gaelic speakers, Table 26 analysed the county into smaller communities, such as parishes, and gave the language classification as above, together with percentages of the population in these areas speaking (a) Gaelic and English and (b) Gaelic only, and also the percentage of the population who were Gaelic speakers at each census from 1881.


The abstracts of the 1931 Census were arranged in the same pattern. Tables similar to those of 1921 were published in Volume II of the Report, and the abstract that followed contained tables on birthplace, the number being increased to five. Of those tables 50 , 51 , 52 and 53 correspond respectively with the 1921 tables numbered 63 , 64 , 62 and 65 . The remaining table in 1931 distributed Gaelic speakers in Scotland and each county, for each census since 1881, according to (a) number, and (b) percentage of population of 3 years and over.

The County Parts contained one table showing an analysis of the Gaelic-speaking population. The counties in which such a population was large showed as much detail as the corresponding tables for 1921: added to this was a sex analysis of Gaelic speakers in the whole country in 1921 and 1931. The remaining county tables showed the total population, the number of Gaelic-speaking persons, and males and females speaking (a) Gaelic only and (b) Gaelic and English, in 1921 and 1931, in the counties and in some of the burghs in 1931.

4.9.2 1951 - 61


Provisional figures for persons speaking Gaelic only or Gaelic and English are given in the Preliminary Report and sample figures in the One Per Cent Sample Tables (Great Britain) where, in Table XI.2 there is an age distribution by county which was not repeated in the main volumes.

The final results showed a decline of 30 per cent since 1931 in the numbers of persons reported as speaking Gaelic; full details are given in the General Volume (Vol III) . In addition to the commentary Table 40 of this volume shows figures for each county and city by sex and Table 41 for each county shows the percentage at successive censuses from 1881.

The main figures are also to be found in the series of County Reports where Table 17 gives a county total by sex followed, in counties where the number of Gaelic speakers is relatively high, by totals for each of the burghs and parishes and parish percentages at successive censuses.


Provisional figures were again given in the Preliminary Report but the final tabulations were all contained in one volume, Volume 7 - Gaelic. The tabulations show a further decline of 15 per cent since 1951. For full details see the commentary to the volume and text tables.

The nine main tables in the volume give numbers of persons speaking Gaelic by age and sex for Scotland, cities, counties and large burghs; and, for the counties where the number of Gaelic speakers is relatively high, numbers for burghs, districts of county and electoral divisions. For some of these counties there are also details of intercensal changes and percentages at successive censuses.

The Gaelic question was not included in the 1966 sample census.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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