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Language as a public good and national identity: Scotland's competing heritage languages


Nations and Nationalism

Published online on


The preservation of one or several historically and culturally important languages may be a salient political issue in some polities. Although they may not be used as an active means of communication, these languages can also serve a symbolic identitary function. These ‘heritage’ languages can be seen as ‘public goods’ and that even non‐speakers of these languages can have opinions regarding their importance to national identity. In the Scotland example, while Gaelic has been the focus of proactive government legislation and education initiatives, Scots is still struggling for status as a recognised language. Both languages are in some way constituent parts of Scottish identity that at times may seem in competition with one another. Using original survey data, we delve deeper into questions of language, identity and politics in Scotland. First, we describe how public opinion is divided over the importance of Gaelic and Scots to Scottish identity. Second, we use attitudes towards these languages as a dependent variable looking at Scottish identity and attachment. Finally, we use these attitudes towards Gaelic and Scots as an independent variable in models for party identification in Scotland.