Do you use Scots or Gaelic in interpretation?

If you do, I would be keen to hear from you, as we are about to provide some support to Interpret Scotland’s forthcoming research on the use of Gaelic by heritage organisations.  Please tell us about your use of Gaelic and Scots to help us to think about the relevant issues with regard to its use in interpretation:

– Are there regional considerations with regard to the use of Scots and Gaelic, in terms of a prevalence of Scots or Gaelic speakers, which create a greater local need in particular geographical areas?

– Are there particular collections which have a stronger association with Gaelic or Scots, which might make their use in interpretation particularly relevant (for example, is there a greater need for a collection associated with Burns to have interpretation in Scots, in comparison with other collections)?

– What are the advantages/ disadvantages in the two following alternative approaches to the use of Gaelic or Scots: 1/ provision of interpretive information in English, with different and supplementary information provided in Gaelic or Scots, or 2/ provision of identical information in English, Gaelic and / or Scots?

– What other issues should museums be aware of when thinking of developing a strategy around the use of Gaelic or Scots?

In a parallel project, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (RBBM) has conducted a series of evaluation exercises with potential visitors to gauge their opinions on the use of the Scots language in a museum setting. Results have shown a strong support for the use of Scots in the museum’s interpretation but also a concern for the need to provide maximum access to a broad range of visitors. With this in mind, in their final stage of testing, the RBBM are exploring the use of the Scots language with glossing, as used by Burns himself. For further information on this project, and to feedback on the use of Scots at RBBM, please contact Mary Hudson on

Please let me know your views by commenting below.


  1. Hawick Museum used to give the Scots names of animals in its old taxidermy dioramas (now not there). Two exhibitions at Hawick Museum in the 1990s (portrait photos of well-known local people) had interpretation in Scots only, running to quite a large number of words. Hawick Archaeological Society, which founded Hawick Museum, still uses a little Scots in its publicity.

    The town of Hawick is still very Scots-speaking with a distinct dialect of Scots and there has always been a Scots column in the Hawick News newspaper.

    Scots vocabulary is very relevant in heritage interpretation here since the local textile industry tended to use Scots vocabulary for various jobs and processes. This also applies to interpreting the local Common Riding tradition, where Scots vocabulary would need to be explained to non-speakers. Hawick has also had a very lively local publishing scene since the early 1800s and, although mostly in English (except poetry), a knowledge of the local language is essential in getting the most out of this.

    Scots speakers find Scots hard to read and also a bit amusing as they are not habituated to the orthography. Scots interpretation needs a bit of explanation and glossing but, in a sense, identical interpretation kind of does this. If primary school pupils are to be habituated to seeing Scots orthography then identical interpretation might be a way via museum education projects with schools.

    As Gaelic is such a strong minority cultural pursuit all over Scotland now, basic interpretation in Gaelic in museums, suitable for learners, would I think prove quite popular, even in the Borders, and possibly bring in new visitors if linked somehow to evening classes etc.

  2. Thank you very much for your detailed and interesting response about the history, context and value to learning, of the use of Scots and Gaelic in museums throughout Scotland, particularly pulling on your knowledge of museums and the wider cultural scene in the Borders. The currency of Scots in the Borders is clearly something which makes the issue of its use in museums a live issue for people who use the collections.

    There is clearly a role for MGS to present a number of casestudies of the use of Gaelic and Scots in interpretation in museums, and to allow the casestudies to discuss how and why different approaches have been taken. This would help inform other members, when developing their own interpretation, and in thinking about the relevant issues to their collections and to potential audiences.

    You have raised interesting issues about the orthography of Scots, and I wondered whether you have used recordings of Scots to support the written word?

    There are also interesting issues that you raise regarding the potential use of direct translation of Scots; and the use of simple stand-alone interpretive passages in Gaelic to support the use of museums for learning languages by schools and evening classes. Do let me know if you have examples of how this has been done.

    Thank you very much for your help in thinking about the use of Scots and Gaelic in interpretation in museums.


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