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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Mixed report on Gaelic language
Gaelic road sign
The future of spoken Gaelic appears to be at a crossroads
The number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland has fallen while reading and writing levels have increased, according to statistics.

A report by the Registrar General for Scotland shows the number of speakers fell by 7,300 between 1991 and 2001.

About 92,400 people or 1.9% of the population can speak Gaelic while the number of people able to read and write rose by 7.5% and 10% respectively.

Registrar General Duncan Macniven said Gaelic was thriving and declining.

The report, based on Scotland's Census 2001, shows that almost half of those who could speak the language lived in Eilean Siar (Western Isles), the Highlands or Argyll and Bute.

The census suggests that Gaelic is declining in its traditional heartlands
Duncan Macniven
Registrar General

The statistics show the number of people able to write in Gaelic rose by 3,100 and the number of readers by 3,200 over the same period.

Mr Macniven said: "This report, based on detailed analysis of the 2001 Census, shows that Gaelic is thriving as well as declining.

"The census suggests that Gaelic is declining in its traditional heartlands, particularly in the Western Isles, but growing in many other parts of Scotland - and among young people.

"About 430 more young people, aged five to nine, could speak Gaelic in 2001 than in 1991. It is moving from being an oral language to being a language spoken, read and written."

Gaelic heartland

The Barvas parish, in the north-west of Eilean Siar, had the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers in Scotland (75%).

But the number and percentage of people speaking Gaelic in Eilean Siar fell between 1991 and 2001 for all age groups.

Education minister Peter Peacock said: "This survey is good news for Gaelic showing that the language is gaining support throughout Scotland, particularly in areas not traditionally seen as part of the language's heartland, and that we have an increase in the number of people who can read and write Gaelic.

"These are the people who will be able to safeguard the language's future and ensure it becomes more mainstream and part of more people's everyday lives."

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