Goidelic is one of two major divisions of modern-day Celtic languages (the other being Brythonic). It is also known as Q-Celtic, because of the way that words in Brythonic that begin with "B" or "P" begin with "C" or "K" in Goidelic languages. This grouping is also sometimes called Gaelic, but this term can be ambiguous.
Only three Goidelic languages survived into modern times: Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), and Manx (Gaelg). Shelta is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a Goidelic language when it is, in fact, a cant based on Irish and English, with a primarily English-based syntax.
Although Irish and Manx are often referred to as Irish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic — and it is correct to describe them as Goidelic or Gaelic languages — this is unnecessary because the words Irish and Manx only ever refer to these languages whereas Scots by itself refers to the Germanic language. The word Gaelic by itself is somewhat ambiguous, but most often refers to Scottish Gaelic and it is the word that Scottish Gaelic speakers themselves use when speaking English. Furthermore, due to the peculiar politics of language and national identity, some Irish speakers are offended by the use of the word Gaelic by itself to refer to Irish. Similarly, some Scottish Gaelic speakers also find offensive the use of the obsolete word Erse (i.e. "Irish") to refer to their language.
History and range
Goidelic languages were once restricted to Ireland, but in the 6th century Irish colonists and invaders began migrating to northern England and Scotland and eventually assimilated the Brythonic language speakers who lived there. Manx, the former common language of the Isle of Man, is descended from the Gaelic spoken in north east Ireland and the now extinct Gaelic of Galloway (Scotland), with heavy influence from Old Norse because of the Viking invasions. Shelta, a cant spoken by the Irish Travellers, is considered its own language even though it is based largely on Irish. Goidelic languages may once have been common on the Atlantic coast of Europe and there is evidence that they were spoken in the region of Galicia in modern Spain. The Goidelic languages had their own unique script, known as ogham, in use from at least the 5th century until the 15th, especially for carving on wood or stone.
Irish is one of Ireland's two official languages (along with English) and is still fairly widely spoken in the west of Ireland. The legally defined Irish-speaking areas are called the Gaeltacht. At present, Irish is primarily spoken in Counties Cork, Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry and, to a lesser extent, in Waterford and Meath. Irish is also spoken by a few people in Northern Ireland and has been accorded some legal status there under the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Approximately 260,000 people in the Republic of Ireland can speak the Irish language fluently, while close to 80,000 (mainly in the Gaeltacht) speak Irish as a first, day to day language. Over a million citizens of the Republic of Ireland have some understanding in Irish (ranging from minimum to almost fluent), making it the strongest of all the Gaelic languages by far. Before the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, the language was spoken by the vast majority of the population, but the famine and emigration led to a decline which has only begun to reverse very recently.
Some people in the north and west of Scotland and the Hebrides still speak Scottish Gaelic, but because of its minimal official recognition and because of large-scale emigration from those parts of Scotland, the language appears to be in decline. There are now believed to be approximately 1,000 native speakers of Scottish Gaelic in Nova Scotia and 60,000 in Scotland.
Its original range was much bigger, for example, Galloway was also once a Goidelic-speaking region, but the language has been extinct there for approximately two centuries. It is believed to have been home of dialects that were transitional between the two other languages. Many other areas of the Lowlands also spoke forms of Gaelic, including Caithness, Aberdeenshire, and parts of Lowland Perthshire.
Before the 12th century Scottish Gaelic was Scotland's major language, but the introduction of the Germanic Scots and the English languages reversed that, restricting Gaelic speakers to the Highlands. (Until late in the 15th century it was the Gaelic used in Scotland which was called Scots - or Scottis. The Germanic language was called Inglis or Ynglis. This Germanic language acquired the name Scots in the early 16th century, after the Gaelic had acquired the name Erse, meaning Irish.) The culturally repressive measures taken against the rebellious highland communities by the British crown following the Culloden Rebellion of 1746 caused a further decline in the language's use. However today more and more people are learning the language, and the Scottish Parliament has afforded the language official status and equal respect with English, sparking hopes that Scottish Gaelic can be saved from extinction and revived.
Manx is virtually extinct, although attempts to revive it continue and it is still used in ceremonies such as Tynwald Day. A small minority of the Manx people, not estimated to be more than 2, 000 can still speak the language. Although a Gaelic language, descended from its Irish and Scottish cousin languages, the Manx language also borrows heavily from the Old Norse language introduced by Viking raiders centuries ago.
Other Celtic tongues
All the other living Celtic languages belong to the Brythonic branch of Celtic, which includes Welsh (Cymraeg), Breton (Brezhoneg), and Cornish (Kernowek).