Scottish Gaelic is a branch of the Celtic language family, which also includes Irish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Breton. As the central component of the Gaelic culture, the language’s influence is clear in traditional music and dance. The tunes played on the fiddle are a clear reflection of the sounds of the language, and the dance is performed in such a manner as to compliment the rhythms of the music and language.
The first written traces of the language that would develop into Irish, Scottish and Manx Gaelic are found carved on stones in the ogham script. They date from the 4th to 6th centuries CE. In the 6th century, Gaelic speakers in Ireland began using the Latin script. They also formed Dál Riata, a kingdom that included parts of Ulster and the western coast of Scotland. The Gaelic language spread across much of the territory that would become Scotland, and began to diverge from its Irish counterpart. The modern Gaelic alphabet contains 18 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, R, S and T.
In Nova Scotia’s history, there had been continued efforts and social pressures to assimilate the Gaels, the Acadians, the Mi’kmaq and other minority groups into English culture. This led to a steep decline in the number of Gaelic speakers found in the province, with currently less than 500 native speakers left today. However, many in the province have felt called to learn the language, with classes underway in many communities, Gaelic taught in schools and universities, and a provincial government Office of Gaelic Affairs. Gaelic culture is still alive and well in Nova Scotia.