Media Release: Researchers can help Gaelic campaigners, lecture-goers will hear

WAYS in which the work of specialists can be useful to Gaelic language campaigners are to be explored at a lecture by Professor Rob Dunbar, director of a major research project set up to support the Gaelic language and culture.

Professor Dunbar – who has entitled his lecture, ‘Theory, research and other dirty words in language policy and planning’ – leads the £5.29 million partnership Soillse project which will inform public policies on the support of Gaelic.

Soillse (Gaelic for enlightment) is headed by UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands, involving its partner colleges Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI on Skye and Lews Castle College UHI in Lewis, and the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The four institutions are working with key agencies, including the national development agency Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to boost national and local efforts to reverse the decline of the Gaelic language, and encourage the use of Gaelic in areas where it is not traditionally spoken.

Formerly a legal academic specialising in the protection of minorities, particularly linguistic minorities, who participated in the development and drafting of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Rob Dunbar will give his professorial inaugural lecture at UHI executive office in Ness Walk, Inverness, on Tuesday, 14th December, from 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

This free event is open to the public. Seats should be reserved through Paul Ellison at UHI on 01463 279344 or

Professor Dunbar, Soillse’s senior research professor, said: “A common feature of minority language maintenance and revitalisation movements is the fundamental role that passionate activists have in them.

“Frequently, though, they have only a limited background in language planning theory or practice, and a lack of information to inform and to guide their development initiatives.

“Although specialists can provide insights and knowledge to these movements, the relationship between specialists and activists can at times be difficult, due to a variety of factors which could be summed up by the phrase ‘culture clash’.

“In my lecture, the theoretical tools relevant to language policy and planning for minority languages such as Gaelic, the experience on which such tools are based, and the research needs and priorities which such tools help us to define, will be considered.

“Can theory and research inform and support policy making and practice in ways that allow us to avoid the ‘culture clash’?”

The Soillse project is being funded by the Scottish Funding Council for further and higher education (SFC), Bòrd na Gàidhlig, UHI, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Soillse has appointed three research fellows and the recruited four new PhD students at partner institutions. The project will also support the recruitment of one further research fellow, one lecturer and more PhD students. Research findings will be presented at annual conferences, in scholarly journals and on the Soillse website (

Prior to his appointment, Professor Dunbar, originally from Canada, was a reader in law and Celtic at King’s College, University of Aberdeen, where he developed a postgraduate programme in language policy and planning for minority languages.

He is a member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and MG ALBA (which, in collaboration with BBC Scotland, runs the Gaelic digital service BBC ALBA). He was formerly a director of Comunn na Gàidhlig, and chairperson of its working group on legal status for Gaelic, which drafted proposals for a Gaelic Language Act.

He is also an expert of the Council of Europe in relation to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The professor has internationally-recognised expertise on minority language law, policy and planning, and has advised governments, human rights bodies, and non-governmental organisations in a number of countries on language and human rights issues.


Media contact
Glenda Johnson
UHI media officer
01463 279222

Notes to editors

UHI Millennium Institute (UHI) is a higher education institution comprising thirteen partner colleges and research institutions, and a network of over 50 outreach learning centres, located throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (including Moray and Perthshire).

There are currently 8,156 students studying on undergraduate and postgraduate courses or undertaking postgraduate research with UHI.

The UHI partner institutions are working together to achieve university status, as the University of the Highlands and Islands. UHI was awarded taught degree awarding powers in 2008.

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Contact: Glenda Johnson
Phone: 01463 279222