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Gaelic in modern Scotland
Gaelic in modern Scotland

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2 Celtic roots and international reach

2.1 Introduction

Scotland is often defined as a ‘Celtic’13 nation, a characteristic it shares with other ‘fringe’ nations of the British Isles, most notably Ireland and Wales. It is often assumed, therefore, that ‘Celtic’ refers to geography and/or politics, or even ‘ethnic’ characteristics. In fact, ‘Celtic’ is a linguistic definition, referring to a group of related languages.

Scotland can be defined as a ‘Celtic’ nation because of its linguistic background. Pictish and Cumbric were Celtic languages, as is Gaelic, arguably the language which had the greatest influence in establishing a Scottish identity.

But not all languages spoken in Scotland are, or were, Celtic. Scots and English are Germanic, as was Old Norse. In this section, we shall explore the Celtic languages and the sense of Celtic identity that still exists in Scotland and beyond.