Language-use patterns and ideologies among graduates of Scottish Gaelic undergraduate degree programmes in Scotland
Scottish Gaelic has been consistently taught in the Scottish higher education system since 1882. By the mid twentieth century, the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow had all established Celtic departments (albeit of relatively modest size) offering undergraduate degrees relating to Gaelic. Despite the long history of Gaelic in Scottish higher education, however, the impact of such education on its graduates’ life trajectories has never been thoroughly researched – possibly because of the low numbers of involved staff and students. To address that knowledge deficit, this project investigated 1) the academic and social experience of students who earned undergraduate degrees involving Gaelic between 1990 and 2006, and 2) how that experience has influenced graduates’ Gaelic language-use patterns and ideologies. To answer these questions, I circulated a questionnaire and conducted interviews among the approximately 300 individuals who graduated from Gaelic undergraduate programmes at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lews Castle College (LCC), and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO) during this time period. 120 usable questionnaires were returned, and 46 interviews conducted. The questionnaires asked about the Gaelic linguistic abilities and language-use patterns of participants before undertaking their degrees, immediately after graduating, and at the time of filling the questionnaire; and participants’ hopes and expectations in relation to the future of the Gaelic language. The interview schedule asked similar questions, but gave greater scope for detailed, discursive answers. Having collected the data, I analysed them using a theoretical framework that combined the concepts of mudes (a Catalan term describing changes in sociolinguistic behaviour at specific junctures in life), social networks (the systems of social connections through which individuals exchange resources and ideas) and symbolic interaction (the formation and maintenance of bounded group identities through the use of shared symbols). The research concludes that, contrary to expectations, the university experience did not usually appear to play a strong formative role in graduates’ perceptions and use of Gaelic; and that the graduates of such programmes did not constitute an ideologically committed corps of activists for the Gaelic movement either during or after their tenure as students. However, this conclusion applies only to graduates of undergraduate programmes at the five above-mentioned Scottish institutions during the period under study. Future research may yet indicate that graduates of other programmes (such as those for MSc or PhD degrees), in other regions (such as Nova Scotia), and/or at earlier or later time periods (prior to 1990 or subsequent to 2006) underwent more pronounced changes in language use and ideology as a result of their involvement in higher education, and exhibited a more sustained and dramatic collective commitment to the cause of Gaelic language activism.