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Bilingual signs bring Gaelic to hundreds of thousands of people

26 October 2011

Bilingual (Gaelic and English) signs for businesses and organisations across the Highlands and Islands raise the profile of Gaelic with hundreds of thousands of people each year.

This is one of the conclusions to be drawn from a review into the bilingual signage scheme, operated by Comunn na Gàidhlig (CnaG) and supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). The study's findings will be presented to members of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Gaelic, at Holyrood later today (Tuesday 25th October)

The scheme has been in operation for over ten years, but has seen an increase in the number of projects and total investment within the last two to three years. The review was carried out to examine the impact and success of the scheme, and to guide its implementation in future. In the last 7 years, £94,000 has been invested in nearly 150 projects - worth more than £250,000 in total.

The aims of the scheme are to raise the profile of Gaelic; to let more people see the language in use; and to provide the opportunity for local businesses to take advantage of it.

Under the scheme businesses or community groups can get financial support to install bilingual signage or marketing materials. At this stage the scheme pays up to 60% of total costs, up to a maximum of £2,000 per project.

The independent review of the scheme was carried out by Inverness-based Reference Economic Consultants, and funded by HIE, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and CnaG itself.

Other findings include:

  • An increase in the quality of projects in recent years
  • Over half (60%) of the organisations/businesses supported have no Gaelic speaking staff
  • Although the level of support has declined from 70% to 60% (in an effort to fund more projects from the available budget) this hasn't lessened demand
  • In almost every case, the bilingual signs have replaced those in English-only (i.e. not replacing an already bilingual sign)
  • Private sector businesses/organisations are much more likely than those in the third sector to use the scheme to raise the profile of their business
  • The majority (54%) of scheme clients report favourable customer comments (28% 'very positive'; 26% 'positive). Of the remainder, 44% sated they "didn't know"
  • The vast majority (91%) felt that bilingual signage represented a good use of their organisation's own resources.

The research also highlights the effectiveness of the scheme in raising the profile of the language. CnaG chief executive Donald MacNeill said:

"If you look at the number of organisations supported, and then the number of customers they have on an annual basis, it's possible to say that over 1.3 million customers a year are exposed to Gaelic via this signage scheme.

"Perhaps that's an overly simplified conclusion, but however you look at these figures it's clear that this scheme does bring Gaelic to hundreds of thousands of folk, and does indeed raise the profile of the language."

HIE supports the scheme as part of their Gaelic development contract with CnaG. The annual scheme budget of £35,000 is used as matched funding for client businesses own investment. Director of Strengthening Communities at HIE, John Watt said:

"We are convinced that Gaelic is at the very heart of communities across this area, but also that we should take advantage of the economic opportunities it offers. We're delighted that this report highlights how many others share this view - businesses and organisations happy to invest their own resources in Gaelic because they see the benefits it can bring."

Donald MacNeill added: "It's only a little over two months since the Scottish Government published its own research showing that over 80% of Scottish people were supportive of Gaelic maintaining a profile within the country. With such a strong level of support it's little wonder that people are happy to see bilingual signs."

CnaG are currently re-opening the bilingual signage scheme for the next 12 months, and seeking applications for support from businesses or community organisations. At this stage the scheme is only implemented in the HIE area, but it's possible it may be extended at some point in the future.


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