This is a question that I have had a good few times on the tour, and it’s one that I have heard many times in my life. Out in the world this question is not usually asking why Gaelic and not Scots, but why Gaelic at all. Having an employer mouthing off about the ‘waste of money’ that was Gaelic signage (‘nobody speaks it’, ‘it’s dead already’ etc etc), was once part of my reason for leaving a job. I wish I had the sort of job where you have interviews, so that when I had an interview for my next job and they said, ‘Why did you leave your last place?’ I could say, ‘Linguistic narrow-mindedness.’
But there is a strong discussion to be had about Gaelic vs. Scots signage. There has been a ‘traditional’ view of Gaelic being in the world north and west of the Highland line, and Scots everywhere else. So the argument runs that there should only be Gaelic on street signage or train stations in the highlands and islands. This word ‘traditional’ is tricky, though. Traditional since when? Scotland has been multi-lingual since writing began. Are we going from when the Romans arrived to write about it? There was the Brythonic language varieties which were very close to Welsh that dominated the southern part of Scotland at that time. There was Pictish (find any evidence of the nature of that language and you will be an Academic Monarch). There was Norse languages which held on in Orkney and Caithness, there was English, there was Scots, there was Gaelic. But English was Inglis and might have been Scots, Scots was Gaelic, or Irish was Gaelic and Scots was named as a political act. I talked about this conglomeration of confusion in my How old is Scots Language? post. The truth is, many of these areas which we think of as not at all Gaelic-speaking, but strong, Scots heartland, were areas which were forced to abandon their culture and language in favour of Scots a few hundred years ago. There is an excellent summary of Scots history on the Quora website (REMEMBER: never read the bottom half of the internet), and one of the things it emphasises is that the Kingdom of Scotland was expansionist. Many areas where we are angry about the use of Gaelic on signage are not Gaelic speaking because the ancestors of those areas were forced by sword, gun and grain to speak English. Also known as Scots. Here’s a classic from the Quora article:
In 1609, for example, the Scottish government passed a law (the Statutes of Iona) requiring Highland clan chiefs to send their sons to school in the Scottish Lowlands where they could learn English (‘Inglishe’), so that: “the Irish language [ie, Gaelic] which is one of the chief and principal causes of the continuance of barbarity and uncivilised behaviour [‘incivilitie’] among the inhabitants of the Isles and Highlands, may be abolished and removed”.
And even not going back that far, the last speaker of Perthshire Gaelic died in living memory. Does that mean in Perthshire Gaelic signage is okay? That woman was alive with people who were alive with people who were alive with Gaelic in many other areas of Scotland. My home town, Kinross, has a Gaelic name – Ceann Rois, head of the point. But my home, Burnbrae, is Scots – the house up from the wee river. Not only have places been a mish-mash historically, but now there are many Gaelic speakers in, say, Edinburgh. There is a Gaelic immersion school in Leith, and one in Glasgow. There are Scots speakers on the Isle of Coll, or Lewis, or in Ullapool. We move. To say that on our signage, a thing which we erect to help people navigate, we will have only the languages spoken in that area is like when you arrive in a strange town and the taxi company advertises its number in the train station without the area code. This is only for folk around here. Worse than that, it’s like implying that Gaelic speakers don’t travel out of the Gàidhealtachd, or that they only deserve to see their language in that bubble.
So. Gaelic was spoken more places than you think. Scots is spoken more places than you think. Nobody worries about English on signs. Have all three. Language visibility is important. And if you want to see Scots signage in reality, heid awa tae Keith. Ploo Lane! Sodger Lane! It’s braw! The future, ladies and gentlemen! The future!