Just What Languages Are Spoken In The UK? (It’s More Than English)
If one goes to the United Kingdom – what language can one expect people to speak? The easy answer is of course English – and naturally, everyone speaks English there. But there are actually many languages in the British Isles. For the purposes of this article, we will include the British Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands – even though technically they are not part of the UK.
Britain is Complicated – made more Complicated by the number of Territories that they still control around the world. The United Kingdom is made up of four countries in a union, while Great Britain is the name of the island – it’s all a little complicated with this old country.
Languages In Scotland
English has historically been the native language of well England – and much of Scotland. While all Scots today speak English some still Scots Gaelic. This is a Celtic language Mostly spoken in the far Northwest of Scotland and in the Outer Hebrides. It is native to what is called the Gaels of Scotland.
Where: In The Gaels Of Scotland
Scottish Gaelic belongs to the same family as Irish and Manx and developed out of Old Irish. Today it is spoken by around 57,000 people in Scotland – or by around 1.1% of the population over the age of three.
- Speakers: around 57,000
- Percent: Around 1.1% of Scotland’s Population
Scots is also called Lowland Scots or Broad Scots. It is variously thought of a distinct language or a dialect of English. Many would consider it to be a very broad Scots dialect of English with a number of Scots words – like bonny, Loch, Burn, etc.
- Continuum: It Sits At The End Of A Linguistic Continuum And Is Variously Thought Of A Language Or English Dialect
Wales – Welsh
Welsh is spoken by a significant proportion of the population of Wales and is a Brittonic language of the Celtic language family. Between 19% and 30% of the Welsh population can communicate in Wales and it is found on all government writing and even all road signs.
- Speakers: Between 19% and 30% of The Population
- Classification: Celtic
In Wales, the Welsh language is an official language along with English. It is considered the most vibrant of the Celtic languages in terms of active speakers and is not considered an endangered language.
The Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are made up of the two countries (or Crown Dependencies) of Jersey and Guernsey and they too have their own languages. The Channel Islands were historically part of the French province of Normandy but have had the possession of the English crown for the last 1,000 years. The islands have their unique varieties of French.
Jersiai – On Jersey:
The Jersey Language (also called Jèrriais or Jersey French) is the traditional language of the people of Jersey. It is a form of Norman French and its closest relatives are other Norman languages - like Guernsey, spoken in neighboring Guernsey.
Over the last century, the language has been declined as English has been taken over, today there are only a very few people who speak it as a mother language and the pool of speakers shrinks annually.
- Native Speakers: Around 2,000
Guernsey – On Guernsey:
Guernésiais shares a similar story with its neighbor and relative Jersiais. Being a Norman language descendant it is also influenced by Old Norse and English. With some difficulty, it is mutually intelligible with Jerrisis. There are even fewer people still speaking in Guenesis than in Jersiai.
- Native Speakers: Around 200
Irish – Northern Ireland
Of course, the Irish is spoken in the Republic of Ireland, but it is also spoken (but less so) in Northern Ireland which is a part of the United Kingdom. Irish is a Celtic language and native to the island of Ireland. It was the population’s first language until the late 18th century.
It is still spoken as a first language in some communities in places like Cork, Dongel, Galway, and Kerry (the Republic of Ireland). Almost 40% of the population of the Republic of Ireland claims to have some ability to speak Irish.
- Speakers: Around 1.8 Million With At Least Some Ability
In Northern Ireland (that’s actually the UK), around 11% claim to have some knowledge of Irish, and 3.7% could “speak, read, write, and understand” Irish. A 1999 survey showed that 1% spoke it as the main language at home.
Mostly Extinct Languages Of The British Isles
- Cornish: Once Spoken In Cornwall It Is Now Considered Extinct Except For A Few People Trying To Revive The Language
- Manx: The Old Language Of The Isle Of Man Has Been Extinct As A First Language Since 1974 – There Are Some Speakers Attempting To Revive The Language
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