The ink isn't yet dry on the Scottish languages bill which represents a commitment to protect and promote Gaelic and Scots, and we're already seeing a direct threat to learning and teaching as it relates to Gaelic.

In news described by the General Secretary of the University and College Union as an act of “academic vandalism”, Aberdeen University is considering scrapping or dramatically reducing language courses, including French, Spanish, German, and Gaelic. This move is particularly harmful considering the social and cultural context of Gaelic as a minoritised language, subject to an attempted eradication, a lack of infrastructure, and a cultural hangover of prejudice even to this day.

Aberdeen University Senate, which brings together voices from students, staff and senior management, voted overwhelmingly to pause a consultation which threatened access to language learning at degree level. The University Court will meet on Tuesday of next week to decide how things will progress, and there is a rally planned by the students' union on Monday to emphasise how closely language learning is held to the heart of the University of Aberdeen.

Students, staff, alumni, and supporters of language learning have been incredibly vocal in their opposition to these potential cuts: there is currently a petition circulating which has already achieved over 10,000 signatures, and there have been impassioned statements made by current and former staff and students vehemently opposing this threat to the linguistic landscape of Aberdeen, a university which has been providing robust and high quality language tuition for over a hundred years.

One Aberdeen alumnus, Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, said, “The impact that this will have on Gaelic language in the north-east and beyond cannot be underestimated. It will decrease language use and transmission in the city and shire, remove further education opportunities and weaken partnership with local Gaelic medium education centres. It will make at least five key Gaelic academics unemployed and weaken the diversity of contemporary Gaelic scholarship, which is already a minoritised field.

"I am devastated to receive the news. I owe any success of my own to the department and what I learned there from its academics and tutors. It has given me lifelong friendships and a lifelong love of language and literature. What I received there has set me up for life. There is no fiscal amount that can be attached to something as priceless as that.”

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The potential loss or decrease in language opportunities at Aberdeen would be a huge detriment to learners of multiple languages, but particularly the Gaelic community which is currently undergoing a great resurgence thanks, in part, to courses like those offered at Aberdeen.

We cannot take this progress lightly as within minority language communities, even seemingly unrelated cultural events and societal shifts can have a dramatic impact on the health of the language; for example the death of Gaelic speakers during the first and second world wars took an incredible toll on the linguistic community.

In an interview, one olde Gaelic speaker recounted, “From after the first war, Gaelic was receding. There were many of the lads who never came back – they had been killed”. When older speakers die, and the language is not passed onto the next generation at an equal or greater rate, the number of speakers unfortunately declines.

This generational gap can be addressed by encouraging people of all ages to pick up Gaelic, and to participate in a community which uses and engages with the language. I spoke to an employee at Aberdeen University about the importance it plays in the local community, who said, “The university is a hub for Gaelic in Aberdeen: local Gaelic playgroups and youth clubs often rely on Gaelic students to run. Staff and students take part in local Gaelic choirs and fèisean. The university's literary festival WayWord always runs Gaelic events open to the community. The university’s Gaelic Plan has provision for increased collaboration between the university and city: if Gaelic is withdrawn as a full degree, there will be a knock-on effect on all aspects of Gaelic in the city as well as nationally.”

University offers a unique opportunity for people to begin or continue learning languages, and to combine them with other subjects as part of a joint honours degree. For someone with little or no prior experience with Gaelic, something like Gaelic for beginners, an 11-week class offered at Aberdeen University presents many students with an opportunity unfortunately not accessible to everyone in Scotland: access to high quality, consistent Gaelic teaching and a thriving Gaelic community.

I'm biased towards wanting to protect access to language learning; my degree was language based, and I spend an inordinate amount of time every day discussing and advocating for minoritised languages. Even if you don't have any interest in language, even if you have absolutely zero intention of ever studying a language at uni, this issue is something we should all take very seriously.

Language degrees are a canary in the coal mine for the way we as a society invest in and value learning in the humanities, and by extension the industries upon which they are based. When we reduce education to its perceived profitability, we do our students a disservice. Instead of cutting access to languages simply because they might not currently make the university as much profit, we must do more to ensure there is a financially sustainable future both for students who pursue this kind of path, and for those who provide the education paving the way.

Learning a language teaches students so much more than grammar and vocabulary; through the experience of engaging with and understanding other languages and cultures they are able to develop skills which are infinitely transferable, and ultimately profitable. Investment in language learning creates jobs, in education, entertainment, government – within every industry there is an application for those who have studied languages.

People have been saying Gaelic is dying for hundreds of years, and yet it persists. Gaelic is tenacious, it has existed in our communities for hundreds of years, and new speakers will start learning every day. Duolingo says that 1.8 million people have engaged with its free Gaelic course; new learning establishments teaching through Gaelic Medium Education are opening every year.

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Hopefully, higher education facilities like Aberdeen University will continue to invest in and support modern languages, especially one like Gaelic, with such cultural, legal, historical and societal importance to this country. Language is integral to culture, and Gaelic is integral to Scotland.