Some people in the north and west of mainland Scotland and most people in the Hebrides still speak Scottish Gaelic, but the language has been in decline. There are now believed to be approximately 60,000 native speakers of Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, plus around 1,000 speakers of the Canadian Gaelic dialect in Nova Scotia.
Its historical range was much larger. For example, it was the everyday language of most of the rest of the Scottish Highlands until little more than a century ago. Galloway was once also a Gaelic-speaking region, but the Galwegian dialect has been extinct there for approximately three centuries. It is believed to have been home to dialects that were transitional between Scottish Gaelic and the two other Goidelic languages. While Gaelic was spoken across the Scottish Borders and Lothian during the early High Middle Ages it does not seem to have been spoken by the majority and was likely the language of the ruling elite, land-owners and religious clerics. Some other parts of the Scottish Lowlands spoke Cumbric, and others Scots Inglis, the only exceptions being the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland where Norse was spoken. Scottish Gaelic was introduced across North America with Gaelic settlers. Their numbers necessitated North American Gaelic publications and print media from Cape Breton Island to California.
Scotland takes its name from the Latin word for 'Gael', Scotus, plural Scoti (of uncertain etymology). Scotland originally meant Land of the Gaels in a cultural and social sense. (In early Old English texts, Scotland referred to Ireland.) Until late in the 15th century, Scottis in Scottish English (or Scots Inglis) was used to refer only to Gaelic, and the speakers of this language who were identified as Scots. As the ruling elite became Scots Inglis/English-speaking, Scottis was gradually associated with the land rather than the people, and the word Erse ('Irish') was gradually used more and more as an act of culturo-political disassociation, with an overt implication that the language was not really Scottish, and therefore foreign. This was something of a propaganda label, as Gaelic has been in Scotland for at least as long as English, if not longer.
In the early 16th century the dialects of northern Middle English, also known as Early Scots, which had developed in Lothian and had come to be spoken elsewhere in the Kingdom of Scotland, themselves later appropriated the name Scots. By the 17th century Gaelic speakers were restricted largely to the Highlands and the Hebrides. Furthermore, the culturally repressive measures taken against the rebellious Highland communities by The Crown following the second Jacobite Rebellion of 1746 caused still further decline in the language's use — to a large extent by enforced emigration (e.g. the Highland Clearances). Even more decline followed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Scottish Parliament has afforded the language a secure statutory status and "equal respect" (but not full equality in legal status under Scots law) with English, sparking hopes that Scottish Gaelic can be saved from extinction and perhaps even revitalised.
Long the everyday language of most of the Isle of Man, Manx began to decline sharply in the 19th century. The last monolingual Manx speakers are believed to have died around the middle of the 19th century; in 1874 around 30% of the population were estimated to speak Manx, decreasing to 9.1% in 1901 and 1.1% in 1921. The last native speaker of Manx, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974.
At the end of the 19th century a revival of Manx began, headed by the Manx Language Society (Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh). Both linguists and language enthusiasts searched out the last native speakers during the 20th century, recording their speech and learning from them. In the United Kingdom Census 2011, there were 1,823 Manx speakers on the island, representing 2.27% of the population of 80,398, and a steady increase in the number of speakers.
Today Manx is used as the sole medium for teaching at five of the island's pre-schools by a company named Mooinjer veggey ("little people"), which also operates the sole Manx-medium primary school, the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. Manx is taught as a second language at all of the island's primary and secondary schools and also at the University College Isle of Man and Centre for Manx Studies.
Comparison of Goidelic numbers, including Old Irish. Welsh numbers have been included for a comparison between Goidelic and Brythonic branches.
* un and daa are no longer used in counting. Instead the suppletive forms nane and jees are normally used for counting but for comparative purposes, the historic forms are listed in the table above
There are several languages that show Goidelic influence, although they are not Goidelic languages themselves: