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United Kingdom/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

English is the official language of the UK and is in common usage, though Wales is officially bi-lingual. The UK ratified the Council of Europe's Charter for Regional or Minority languages in 2001, and has accepted certain obligations in respect of designated languages in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.


Bòrd na Gàidhlig (Alba), a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB), was established in late 2002 as the main advisory and executive body on the Gaelic language, which is predominantly spoken in parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The Bòrd has responsibility for the overall direction and management of a National Plan for Gaelic. The Scottish Government introduced legislation to the Scottish Parliament to help secure the status of Gaelic as one of Scotland's official languages, but more importantly reverse the decline in the numbers of people speaking Gaelic. For more information, visit the Bòrd na Gàidhlig website:

The Scottish Government supports Bòrd na Gàidhlig with an annual grant, part of which is to assist public bodies to help implement Gaelic language plans, support activities and community organisations, such as Pròiseact nan Ealan (the Gaelic Arts Project), and the Fèisean movement, which involves young people in learning about their language and their culture. Historic Scotland has been working on a Gaelic Language Plan, which aims to foster awareness and use of languages spoken in Scotland. The plan will cover the potential provision of interpretation resources and activities at properties in its care, as well as the translation of some key documents and other projects encompassing the full remit of the Agency.


The Welsh Language Board was established as a statutory body under the Welsh Language Act 1993. Its primary aim was to promote and facilitate use of the Welsh language and it does this by awarding grants and regulating the preparation and implementation of Welsh Language Schemes by public bodies. The Welsh Language Board ceased to exist at the end of March 2012 and the Welsh Language Commissioner was established.

The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 of the National Assembly of Wales has supplanted the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Welsh Government produced a new strategy in 2012, named "Iaith Fyw: Iaith Byw" (A Living Language: A Language for Living), supplanting Iaith Pawb.

The first strategic plan for Wales, A Better Country (2003), set out its long-term vision of "a truly bilingual Wales", a country where the presence of both Welsh and English languages is a source of pride and strength. With this ideal, in March 2003 the Welsh Assembly Government launched the first National Action Plan for a bilingual Wales, Iaith Pawb (Everybody's language), which intends to revitalise the Welsh language. To achieve this aim, the plan presents 60 actions set out in three strands: a National Policy Framework - to sustain and encourage Welsh Language growth; Language and the Community - to promote economically and socially sustainable communities; and the individual and language rights - to motivate individuals to learn Welsh and use it in all aspects of life.

S4C (the Welsh fourth channel) provides Welsh language television broadcasting.

Northern Ireland

The UK has recognised obligations to protect Ulster-Scots and Irish. The Ulster-Scots language has Part 2 status and Irish Part 3. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is in the process of developing a Strategy for Regional or Minority Languages to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language and Ulster-Scots culture, heritage and language and meet government commitments in relation to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the St Andrew's Agreement.

The North-South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 set up a North-South Language Body, consisting of Foras na Gaeilge and The Ulster-Scots Agency, which are responsible for the promotion of greater awareness and use of the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture respectively. DCAL, with the Scottish Government and the Irish Government, also provides support for the Colmcille Initiative, a tri-partite arrangement to foster relations between the Gaelic speakers of Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. This initiative is managed by Foras na Gaeilge in Ireland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig in Scotland.

DCAL is refreshing the Ulster-Scots Academy concept in consultation with key stakeholders, with the aim of developing an approach to the Ulster-Scots Academy project that develops clear objectives within a specified timeframe and which reflects the views of stakeholders and meets the Department's requirements.

In 2002 the Arts Council of Northern Ireland conducted a needs analysis into Irish and Ulster-Scots language arts. The results from this led to the development of two further consultation documents: The Arts of Irish and The Arts of Ulster-Scots (2005). On the basis of these, ACNI produced its first Language Arts Policy (2007-12), which continues to govern the promotion of arts activity and the forging of strategic partnerships in these sectors.

Other Issues

British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK Government in 2003. In 2004 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave similar recognition to both British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Northern Ireland, where approximately 5 000 people in the deaf community use sign language as their first or preferred language with BSL, being used by around 3 500 and ISL by a further 1 500.

Cornish is an officially recognised minority language and, although numbers speaking it in England's South West are not large, they appear to be growing.

Chapter published: 08-02-2013

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