Chapter 2: Census Analysis


2.1 Introduction

This chapter examines Gaelic language data in the Research Area (RA, i.e. Western Isles, Staffin in the Isle of Skye, and the Isle of Tiree) based on the Scottish Census, chiefly the most recent Census of 2011. We include analysis of intercensal trajectories of Gaelic abilities and use in the Research Area for the thirty-year period of 1981 to 2011. We also set out the various geographic units used in the IGRP study. Following a brief literature review of the study of Gaelic demolinguistics, including an appraisal of difficulties in the interpretation of minority language data, we present a descriptive analysis of the Scottish Census demolinguistic data, mainly for the period 1981–2011, on reported Gaelic ability and Family Household Gaelic use. The Gaelic ability data are assessed further in a statistical analysis of Standardised Incidence Ratios (SIRs), as an aid to analysis of geographical distributions and comparative vitality.

 This census chapter of the IGRP presents:

  • Historical overview of Gaelic demolinguistics
  • Evaluation of language data in the Study Districts (SDs)
  • Gaelic speaking ability among various age cohorts
  • Gaelic use in Family Households (data available for the 2011 Census only)
  • Geographic distribution of vitality indicators (SIRs) for the period 1981–2011
  • Examination of language trajectories from 1951 to 2011, as complementary analysis to the more detailed examination of the 1981 to 2011 demolinguistics
  • Analysis of the contraction and decline of the speaker group and language shift in diachronic and synchronic dimensions
  • Intersection of speaker ability data and household use data (including the implications of the nexus of 45% (ability) intersecting with 15% (Family Household), and projections of trends towards this nexus)
  • Prognosis for vernacular Gaelic
  • Maps of Gaelic ability data in the SDs and age cohorts.

 Additional demolinguistic data and descriptive statistics from the Census are provided in Appendix 2.

2.1.1 Geographic units in the IGRP

The main geographic unit of analysis in the IGRP is the Study District (SD). A Study District comprises a group of contiguous townships. These grouped townships or SDs make up the 25 Study Districts of the Research Area of the IGRP. These SDs are geographic units which are meaningful to local community identity. The geographic unit of SD allows for analysis at a spatial level below that of the civil parish. The civil parish has been the most common geographic unit of Gaelic demolinguistic analysis. Map 2.1 illustrates the 25 SDs which comprise the IGRP Research Area.

There are eight geographic levels or units of analysis in this study (from the largest to the smallest, which we discuss both at aggregated levels and as separate units):

All of Scotland > Scotland outside of the Research Area > Research Area (RA) > Western Isles > Pooled Study Districts > All Rural Areas > Study Districts (SDs) > three islands of the Community Survey Module (Scalpay, Grimsay and Eriskay).

The census analysis in this chapter contains the following geographic categories: (1) All of Scotland; (2) the rest of Scotland, i.e. outside the RA; (3) the RA; (4) the Western Isles; (5) the Pooled SDs; (6) the SDs. In section, the 25 SDs are aggregated into seven larger geographic entities which we term Pooled Study Districts. The census data for the thirty-year period 1981–2011 covers the 25 SDs of the whole IGRP Research Area, whereas the census data for the twenty-year period 1951–1971 covers the Western Isles (and thus excludes the two SDs of Staffin and Tiree). A list of the SDs together with the Pooled Study Districts, is provided in Table 2.1. For analysis of data at Pooled Study District level, see section and Appendix A2.3.

Pooled Study District

Study District

Lewis North & West

01. West Side of Lewis (central)


02. West Side of Lewis (south)


03. Uig District


04. West Side of Lewis (north)


05. Ness

Lewis East

06. Tolsta


07. Loch a Tuath


08. Tong


12. South Point


13. North Point


14. North Lochs


15. South Lochs

Stornoway & Suburbs

09. Stornoway, Barvas Road suburbs


10. Stornoway Town


11. Stornoway, Point Road suburbs


16. North Harris


17. South Harris

North Uist & Benbecula

18. North Uist (north & west)


19. North Uist (south & east)


20. Benbecula

South Uist, Barra & Vatersay

21. South Uist (north)


22. South Uist (south)


23. Barra & Vatersay

Staffin & Tiree

24. Staffin, Skye


25. Isle of Tiree

The IGRP Research Area comprises geographic regions where a substantial proportion of the population is reported to have an ability in Gaelic. These regions include the Western Isles, townships in Staffin in the northern part of the Isle of Skye, and the Isle of Tiree, and comprise the remaining geographic extent of the Gaelic vernacular group. The Research Area comprised 25 Study Districts made up of clusters of townships that correspond to the regional perceptions on the geographic extent of local communities, with, for clarity, districts 1 to 15 inclusive on the island of Lewis. Most of the 25 SDs are rural communities with relatively low population densities. Only the three Stornoway SDs contain urban settlements. We distinguish All Rural Areas (22 SDs) from the Pooled SD of Stornoway & Suburbs (three SDs) in Section 4.11, Table 4.27. The Benbecula Study District contains