Public views of minority languages as communication or symbol: the case of Gaelic in Scotland

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Two social roles for language have been distinguished by Edwards (2009) – the communicative and the symbolic. Using data from a survey of public attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland, the article investigates the extent to which people’s view of language may be characterised as relating to these roles. Respondents were grouped, using statistical cluster analysis, according to their views of the communicative and symbolic roles of language. Indicators of membership of the resulting clusters were then used as explanatory variables in linear regression models to assess the relative importance of the communicative or symbolic view of Gaelic in explaining variation in attitudes to policy issues concerning Gaelic. Both sets of views of language were independently associated with attitudes to nearly all aspects of policy, but the view of Gaelic as symbol was mostly more strongly associated with attitudes to policy than the communicative view.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Early online date14 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Social roles of language
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • language as communication
  • language as symbol
  • cluster analysis


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