It's a question that came up on Wednesday night, as I talked about trying to sponsor translation of the NT. I feel like what is holding back the Scottish Bible Society's efforts is a lack of heart for the project. Why is that?
2001 Census Data puts the number of speakers at 58,650. This is a drop from 1991 Census Data, listing 65,978 speakers. This post suggests the number may actually be higher, up to double the official figure! While double is, in my opinion, probably too high a suggestion, I do think there is real bite to the suspicion that some people don't list Gaelic because they don't think their Gaelic is 'up to scratch'. Further, 92,400 had 'some' ability in Gaelic. Outside the main Gaelic areas, Gaelic knowledge is about 1% of the population.
Gaelic remains in decline. Some fear that it is reaching the critical point where it will go into terminal decline. All, or nearly all, Gaelic speakers are bilingual with English. Nonetheless, Gaelic enjoys strong national sympathy in Scotland, even from many who do not speak a word of it. Furthermore, official attempts and funding are beginning to gain momentum, Bòrd na Gàidhlig as but one example. Gaelic-medium education is also beginning to take off. If Gaelic survives, it will be the result of intentional effort and resources poured into making it survive.
So, I come to the question of the SBS's new SG translation. Is it worth it?
The current translation of the Bible into Gaelic is around 300 years old. No one suggests that English speakers don't need contemporary translations (KJV issues aside. The KJV should be honoured for its historical and pivotal role, but a good working translation for contemporary English-speakers it ain't). Gaelic's survival depends mainly, at this stage, upon uptake of speakers. A new Gaelic translation forms a powerful way of affirming their cultural identity, an identity largely constructed and assumed. It is, I suggest, an evangelistic witness. Do other languages need translations? Desperately. But so does Gaelic. It may contribute not only to the conversion of Gaelic speakers, but to the preservation of that language into the future.
post-scriptum: Scottish Bible Society website is where you can sponsor a chapter of the NT for £35. I'm committed to getting all of John done first, in the hopes it might be published as a single gospel.