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  CEARTAS: A multivariate analysis to examine factors which support community empowerment and development processes in minority language policy and planning: The case of Gaelic in the Hebrides

   Language Sciences Institute

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  Prof Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, Mr Iain Caimbeul  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD research examines factors which impact on the societal and communal condition of Gaelic social and cultural capital in comparable communities in the Hebrides and will root the analysis in the context of threat to minority language diversity in late modernity globally. The research will examine the various spheres of public policy which impact dynamically in terms of community empowerment and governance in the context of development policy on the social continuity of the Gaelic speaking community of the Hebrides. 

While sociolinguistic diagnostics can indicate the societal condition and trajectory of a minority group of speakers, it is widely acknowledged that supportive policy interventions at the community level require a multivariate dimension to address the complexity of sustaining the communal salience of the minority language. This research aims to focus on the planning and policy intervention spheres which are most critical to effective minority language public supports. Given the interdependencies and multi-causal aspects of ubiquitous minority language endangerment it is difficult to both define the problem and to suggest solutions to alleviate it. Ineffective aspects of public policy in this sphere give an understandable impression of intractability. Equally, solutions can appear elusive in that they sit astride many organisational boundaries, civic responsibilities and various societal contexts. 

The research aims to inform an outcome-focused approach, as opposed to the common provision-led approach to minority language policy. The research will examine if a public policy focus on the Gaelic situation in the Hebrides can be directed on the following but not exclusive parameters:

·       Community development mechanisms

·       Targeted socio-cultural and socio-economic advantage

·       Mechanisms of community decision-making in terms of empowerment and governance

·       Community cohesion and social capital

·       Adaptation to economic and cultural innovations

·       Organising and leveraging energy collectives and the local socio-economic advantages accruing from the green and blue economies

·       Community-led training. 

An investigation into the role of such parameters could offer more sustainable policy outcomes than a reliance on the aspirations of minority-language civic promotion.

This research would provide the intellectual context to move beyond the constraints of the asocial minority language policies and the current aspirational dimensions of the formal promotion of Gaelic affairs (Ó Giollagáin and Caimbeul 2021).  

The proposed analytical framework for the research is rooted in an anthropological focus and centred on the societal reality of those who live with and practice the Gaelic socio-cultural resource. In depicting how Gaelic social and cultural capital is manifested in communities, the research will suggest a strategic approach to community development interventions which will enhance the social productivity of Gaelic cultural capital in relevant communities, in the Hebrides and elsewhere. 

Research contribution

This research will have beneficial impact on individuals, communities and broader society, as understanding individual preferences and motivations at the family and communal level will provide insights to help shape future policy interventions for Gaelic in the Hebrides but also elsewhere in Scotland. At present, much minority-language policy is constrained by both a misdiagnosis of the societal problems which policy aims to address, and an under-engineered or insufficient institutional provision to address extremely challenging societal and sustainable community development issues. 

Addressing such challenges requires a new look at how development agencies, academic institutions and the wider community can work in tandem and shift the balance towards a more favourable and sustainable future for the Gaelic speaking island communities. A re-focused and coherent Gaelic community development model should account for and recognise the potential of the indigenous, cultural, natural and human assets of communities as key drivers to a sustainable future.  

One such approach is based on local resources and community participation creating dynamic interactions within and between localities and their wider environment. Central to such an approach is a community-led local development approach which aims to give community agency and the requisite levels of community governance to localities in the design, development and delivery of appropriately grounded models of engagement to create sustainable futures.  

Understanding how minority socio-cultural capital is realised in the competitive social dynamic between a subordinated linguistic group and its dominant social competitor is of core importance to devising relevant societal and institutional support systems to reverse the social trajectory of Gaelic as a living community-based first language of the Hebrides. The envisaged research outcomes from this study will provide an analytical basis for robust social and community development policy which potentially could lead to a more productive approach of establishing a credible diagnosis, identifying a prognosis and suggesting relevant socio-cultural and socio-economic interventions.  

Languages, Literature & Culture (21) Linguistics & Classics (23) Politics & Government (30) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

See UHI entry requirements - Postgraduate Research - How to apply (
• Closing date for applications: 6 October 2023, 23.59BST
• Proposed start - 13 November 2023
• 3.5 year studentship, funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), covers tuition fees at Home (UK) rate
• Maintenance stipend at the UKRI rate of £18,700 (2023/24) for full-time study
Studentship will be based at a UHI North, West and Hebrides campus near the project’s research area. The successful applicant may expect hybrid working arrangements, based at their own location if appropriate. Competence in spoken and written Scottish Gaelic would be highly advantageous.


Ó Giollagáin, C., et al (2020) The Gaelic crisis in the vernacular community: a comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press)
Ó Giollagáin, C. & Caimbeul, I. (2021) ‘Moving beyond asocial minority-language policy’. In Scottish Affairs 30(2), 178–211.