Applying Gaelic to Social Media

Sally Pentecost is the Communications and Events Officer with Dig It! and one-third of the SHSMG team. Here she gives the low-down on how Dig It! and the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections apply Gaelic to social media.

It all started with a tweet.


In August 2018 I tweeted about a new free online resource launched by the Celtic & Gaelic department at the University of Glasgow – an audio archive of fantastic interviews with Gaelic speakers about Gaelic language, culture and everyday life.

You may not immediately spot what’s wrong with this tweet. However, my colleague Anna MacQuarrie, who is herself a Gael, got in touch to share her concerns:

‘Where stating “there may be few native Gaelic speakers left in Scotland” it implies an ‘othering’ and marginalisation of the language and culture which is at odds with everything the Gaelic community (and supporters, whether Gaelic speakers or not) is working towards. Normalisation of use, awareness and acceptance of its presence is key to securing the future of the language, culture and identity for those of us who are Gaels.’

Anna was generous enough to chat with me over a coffee about the history of Gaelic in Scotland and the current landscape of Gaelic advocacy. She explained the significant negative impact of the tweet in the context of historic and continued oppression. It made me stop and think. Dig It!’s vision is a Scotland where everyone enjoys archaeology, and one of our core values is inclusivity. To ‘other’ the language, or to not engage with Gaelic culture at all, would be to omit an important part of Scotland’s history, and potentially part of our Scotland-wide target audience too. From this mistake, the Dig It! Gaelic Language Policy was born.

Important disclaimer: I am not a Gaelic speaker. The creation of the policy was only made possible with the generous support of Gaelic speakers and advocates in the sector. Through this process, I’ve discovered that members of the community are very open to being approached for help and willing to give advice. Also, this is not a prescriptive method for including Gaelic in your social media. We’re sharing our experience to give you inspiration and resources so you can approach it yourself; and to demonstrate that if, like me, you aren’t a speaker, this should not put you off engaging with Gaelic language. You can do it!

The Gaelic Language Policy was presented at a Scottish Heritage Social Media Group meet-up in September 2019 alongside a presentation from Kiara King, an archivist at The Ballast Trust, and is based at the University of Glasgow. Kiara also has experience of using Gaelic in social media thanks to the university’s Latha na Gàidhlig (Gaelic Language Day), during which she shared many wonderful Gaelic texts from the university’s collections. Still have questions about approaching the language in your social media? Here are some practical solutions to help you overcome any trepidation so you can get to sharing Gaelic in your socials.


Why should I be using Gaelic on social media?

Scottish Gaelic has been an official language of Scotland since the Gaelic Language Act (2005), but it’s roots go back hundreds of years; it’s ingrained into our landscape, into place and personal names and plays a big part in how we interpret out history and landscape.

It’s also a living language, with thousands of children enrolled in Gaelic Medium Education, as well as more non-native speakers learning the language every year. The Gaelic Language Act established a language-development body, Bòrd na Gàidhlig to promote the use and understanding of the Gaelic language, education and culture.


Gaelic is also huge part of the Scottish tourism sector. You’ve probably heard of a little show called Outlander, which has helped to promote an explosion of interest in the language across the globe. VisitScotland and the Scottish Government launched their 5-year Gaelic Tourism Strategy for Scotland 2018-2023 in October 2018, in which it was emphasised that Gaelic is an authentic part of visiting Scotland. It’s also an asset for Scottish business and enterprises; the Strategy found that in 2014, the potential economic value of Gaelic as an asset to the Scottish economy was in the region of between £82 million and £149 million.

To put it simply, if your work is at all related to Scottish heritage, or promotes a Scottish brand or product, or provides a service to Scottish citizens (particularly to communities in traditionally Gaelic-speaking areas), you should be thinking about including it in your social media.


What does the Gaelic Language Policy do and why should I have one?

The Dig It! Gaelic Language Policy is just 14 pages long. That’s it. Not as scary as you thought, right? It’s concise and designed as a practical handbook for anyone using Dig It!’s social media; it’s packed with resources, FAQs and guidelines. It also has the very important function of helping us to avoid tokenism (an example of which Anna points out in the tweet below).


Having a Gaelic Language Policy also means that you can answer people’s questions when they ask “why have you done this, but not that”? Dig It!’s policy has criteria adapted from the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) Gaelic Language Plan 2018-2023, which helps us to know when to use Gaelic language.

Another way to avoid tokenism is to have measurable goals. Not only is this great for producing stats to include in future reports and funding applications, but it also directs your efforts towards manageable targets. So instead of putting out a tweet referencing Gaelic every now and again (tokenistic), you have a set number per week/month (consistent).

If you don’t currently have anyone on your team with Gaelic language skills, we have some tips below. But it’s also important to have long-term goals which aim to address this issue. Dig It! haven’t yet posted whole sentences in Gaelic, but we’re working towards doing this with the help of a (paid) translator.


How do I get started?

Introduce Gaelic to your organisation by setting up a Gaelic Language Day on social media. Kiara believes that having a dedicated Latha na Gàidhlig does help to focus your efforts and spread the word.

Make it as simple as possible for your audience to get involved with Gaelic – in the weeks leading up to the event, give them phrases to use on their own socials e.g. Madainn mhath! Is e Latha na Gàidhlig aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu an-diugh! (Good morning! It’s Gaelic Language Day at the University of Glasgow!).


Why not make a habit to include Gaelic in other social media campaigns (for example, #ScottishMuseumsDay on 3 October)?


What do I do if someone responds in Gaelic?

Consider using a “holding message” in Gaelic – as long as you try to respond within approximately 24 hours during your working week. For example, this is Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s:

‘Tapadh leibh airson bhur teachdaireachd. Cuiridh sinn e air adhart gu an roinn iomchaidh agus cuiridh iad freagair thugaibh cho luath sa ghabhas.

Thank you for your message. We will pass it on to the appropriate department and they will respond to you as quickly as possible.’

This situation is an example of why it’s important to push your organisation to hire someone with Gaelic language skills. If this is a long-term goal, consider budgeting for consultations with a Gaelic translator. If neither of these are an option right now, see the next sections.


I don’t have the time, money or the staff knowledge!

Collaborate! As with a lot of content creation, getting help from your colleagues is a must. If you need translations and there are staff members in your organisation who can read and write in Gaelic, why not start with shorter documents or articles and ask for their help if they’re willing?

If you don’t have Gaelic language skills, and don’t have access to anyone who does, always plan ahead to produce high-quality, consistent content. Contact Dig It! for a list of Gaelic translators, approved by HES, to translate pieces of content. You could also get in touch with the Gaelic team at HES. If they are unable to help, they can likely pass on your request to someone who can.

In this situation, tweeting really comes into its own, as you only have 280 characters. Make your text bilingual with a couple of sentences in each language. Kiara suggests putting the Gaelic first, followed by the English translation.


Small changes can also be a good step. Dig It! use the prioritisation criteria mentioned above to help us determine when to use Gaelic place-names and personal names each time we post on our socials or the website. Using the Gaelic word for a place or person (with the English form following in brackets for the first use) instantly welcomes those who recognise it into the conversation, and respects the heritage being discussed.


Ok, so what resources can I use?

Google Translate shouldn’t be used for anything official or printed. If you do need to use it on social media, be transparent and explain how you got the translation. Wikipedia articles also have a decent level of accuracy with their Gaelic place names and personal names – but don’t use this as gospel.

If you’re ready to move away from these, HES has a free Gaelic thesaurus of Scotland’s historic environment on their website. There’s also Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba, another free resource that acts as a single source of authoritative information on Gaelic forms of place-names in Scotland.

You could also contact your local Gaelic Development Officers or councils. If they can’t help, they might be able to point you to someone who can.

Make sure you’re using Gaelic according to the Gaelic Orthographic Convention (GOC) which was set up to standardise Gaelic spelling and it is this form that is taught in Gaelic Medium Schools.


Any tips on what you’ve learnt so far?

Employ sensitivity around your use of language. Gaelic has a history of oppression which should be recognized and not diluted. For example, using the word “evicted” to describe the forced removal of thousands of Scottish families during the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries is more accurate than using the word “evacuated”. Also remember to not refer to Gaelic like it’s in the past – avoid describing it like a dead language, because it is very much alive.

Ask yourself, what is the message you’re trying to send? Does it promote Gaelic language and culture? Is it welcoming and inclusive to Gaelic audiences? Does it encourage others to learn more about the language?

For Kiara, it was important that the library understands the context of their collection and doesn’t just bring it out for one day. And, before diving into writing content, stop and think about the context (of a place or person) – is it relevant? What else should we know? Be respectful and remember that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Lastly, gur math a theid leat (good luck)! Remember, Gaelic can enhance your social media presence. And, if your engaging with Scotland, you should be engaging with Gaelic too.

The Dig It! Gaelic Language Policy is fluid and we adapt it in response to lessons learned. If you have any comments on our current policy, or would like a copy for yourself, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Featured Image: Glasgow University main building (Image Credit: Ianan via Flickr at, CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s