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Where and how was Gaelic written in late medieval and early modern Scotland? : orthographic practices and cultural identities

Maccoinnich, Aonghas (2008) Where and how was Gaelic written in late medieval and early modern Scotland? : orthographic practices and cultural identities. Scottish Gaelic Studies, 24. pp. 309-356. ISSN 0080-8024

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Abstract

This article examines patterns of language use and literacy in Gaelic Scotland between c.1400 and c.1700. Classical Gaelic, the written form of Gaelic used between 1200 and 1700, with its distinctive linguistic and scribal forms, has traditionally been considered to have been the language of literacy in the wider Gaelic world, in both Ireland and throughout the whole of Gaelic Scotland. Although it has long been known that some of the more prominent Scottish manuscripts in Gaelic from this period have not utilised Classical Gaelic but Scots orthographic forms, such 'anomalous' Scots orthographic usages of Gaelic have sometimes been treated by some scholars as an unfortunate or inconvenient departure from the Classical Gaelic tradition. Although Meek (1989) and Black (2000) have questioned aspects of such models, this article seeks to further challenge such a paradigm by mapping the distribution pattern of Classical Gaelic manuscripts within Scotland. This phenomenon, it is suggested here, was related largely to the south west fringe of Gaelic Scotland. An attempt is made to map the distribution patterns of Gaelic written with Scots orthography. It is argued here, on the basis of these patterns of distribution, together with other documentary evidence, that Classical Gaelic literacy was more restricted and Scots literacy wider (and earlier) within Gaelic Scotland than has previously been considered to be the case.