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Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx Mutual Intelligibility

Dia dhaoibh!

I was just wondering, how mutually intelligible are Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx? I've heard that Manx is understandable to an Irish speaker,but the written form is different. Also, I know that Scots Gaelic is very closely related to Irish(descended from it), but is it understandable to an Irish speaker when spoken (and vice versa)?

Go raibh maith agat!

August 8, 2015



An Irish speaker, even one from Munster, can quite easily read Scots Gaelic in its usual "classical" form, assuming they are comfortable reading Irish in its pre-spelling reform format.

In terms of speaking, I know Muntser Irish and Scot Gaelic are not mutually comprehensible, as I know a Scots Gaelic speaker who is actively learning Munster Irish. Donegal Irish and Scots Gaelic are mutually comprehensible to some degree (again this is purely anecdotal, going from an old native speaker I know from Donegal) as were certain types of Mayo Irish.

It may interest people to know that all the Irish dialects have averaged out a bit in the last fifty years. People in their 70s-80s I've met in Munster say they have great difficulty understanding Ulster Irish.


Mutual intelligibility depends on a number of factors. Two main ones being which dialects of each grouping are "pitched" against each other, and whether the speakers in question are literate in their own language. Literacy does help to make the mental shift to understanding the constant differences that are in the other's speech. The same could be said for speakers of dialects within each grouping too. As for Manx, I have no idea who understands what nowadays with the revived language, but I do have a copy of the recordings made by the Irish mobile recording unit on Mann in the 1940s. One of my pastimes is playing these recordings to elderly native speakers of Donegal Gaelic without telling them where they come from and looking for a reaction. Intelligibility is very high. I also have some of the published recordings of now extinct dialects of East Ulster and do the same trick with them. Fascinating stuff! I might also add, that my late father, a native speaker of a north Donegal dialect once heard the Canadian Rankin family speaking Gaelic on TV and said he could understand them very well indeed, even better than he usually understood Scottish Gaelic speakers on TV (linguistic conservatism in the colony???). The rub is that he found Conamara difficult to catch fully and was nearly lost listening to speakers from the Kerry Gaeltacht.


I have a reasonable level of spoken and written Irish, not fluent but almost. I find I can read Scottish Gaelic but find it hard to understand speech. On the other hand I can understand spoken Manx but find it more difficult to read. So Manx is closer to Irish but the unusual spelling system has made it more difficult to read for Irish speakers


I cant speak with any authority, but My old head chef was Irish and I brought this connection to scottish gaelic up one day, his answer was emphatically 'it is a completely different language'. I would have assumed they were closer but his point of view was understandable. When you compare very close languages together they are very obviously and noticeably connected, but they can still be different enough to be incomprehensible from each other without sincere effort to understand both.

For example Spanish and Portuguese are often held up as an example of very similar languages, but even though knowing one will tell you half of what you need to learn the other, you won't simply be able to survive without treating them like separate languages. It is a very murky subject, especially from an outside perspective, because you can learn enough about both to be able to consider them as dialects of a single language, simply by giving them equal focus, whereas if you are a native speaker, your language is close enough to you that anything slightly different is considered completely alien, because one is ingrained In you from birth and the other is like looking in a fairground mirror....

You can even see this sort of splinter happening subtly in English, where we call it one language but will happily fight to the death over the difference between 'ise' vs 'ize' ... Remember 1776? What was it really about, eh? Pretty messy, this grammar business ;)

It is very cathartic though, when you start to experience how close languages are to each other, that I will say.


I remember once that an Irish speaker on Wikipedia said that he could understand most of a Scottish Gaelic page, if that helps any.

  • 2094

I recall seeing a video in which Julie Fowlis (Scottish Gaelic singer) seemed to have no trouble engaging with someone speaking Irish, but on the other hand since she did an entire bilingual album with an Irish singer, so she's probably quite familiar with Irish at this point. It may be that it took a little work for her to be able to understand it so readily.


I totally agree . On the tv show "Port" she and her long time good friend Muireann nic Amhlaoibh (irish singer) travel around Ireland and Scotland . It doesn't seem really hard to them to speak with someone from the other country ...of course it's a tv production , I don't know if they spend some time talking to each others to try to be understandable before shooting the video .... I hope their meetings with other musicians /singers are really authentic (not like in reality tv ! ) .

It doesn't seem like lots of native speakers are actually giving their opinion on that matter....

Perhaps it is like the scandinavian languages, people need to speak slower and not use too many expressions/slang words and be patient and open minded in order to understand each others ..


It's probably worth pointing out that there's a spectrum of overlapping dialects in Irish, and I would imagine that a speaker of Ulster Irish might find Scottish Gaelic a bit easier to understand than a speaker of Munster Irish would.


Agreed. And this was even more prevalent 150 years ago, before the death of most of the dialects in Ireland and Scotland.


It's such a shame that so many dialects of so many languages had to die out because of English becoming a near-universal language... If DuoLingo users can all agree on one thing it's that different languages are wonderful and diverse things that should be treasured and studied instead of discarded as trash and replaced with a single standard language.


Yes, give an Irish-speaker a piece of text written in Scottish Gaelic, and he/she will be able to read the vast majority of it, deciphering the remainder from the context, but the spoken language is another matter. As a Munster Irish speaker, I find the Ulster dialect the hardest to interpret, and Gaelic is probably the same degree removed again, as the Munster and Ulster dialects are from each other. As for Manx, it would be closest to Gaelic, as both diverged from Irish centuries ago, and the English-influenced orthography makes the written language challenging, even when the words are similar.


Disclaimer: I am still very much a learner of Irish, and I know for a fact there are people on Duo who can answer this question in far more detail than I.

I have friends who are native Gaeilgeoirs and other friends who are native Scottish Gaelic speakers, so I've heard a lot of the former and a fair amount of the latter, and I'd compare it to two Romance languages... if you know Spanish, for example, you can understand a fair amount of individual Italian words, because even when they're not cognates, they're similar enough for you to have those logical deduction moments... but as a person who speaks rusty-but-passable Spanish, there's no way on earth I could hold a conversation with an Italian speaker - we could stick to cognates, gesticulate a lot and perhaps eventually make ourselves understood for a very simple exchange, but one would be very generous to call that a conversation. For me, Irish and Scottish Gaelic are a lot like that... many of the words are similar enough for me to go "aha, they're talking about cars/football/work," but I can't understand enough to participate in the exchange. I can read Scottish Gaelic almost as well as I can read Irish (certainly enough to understand what I'm reading, if not understand each word individually), but speaking it or understanding it in spoken form is a different matter altogether.

Having said that, it's entirely possible that a native/advanced Gaeilgeoir would have an easier time; I can say that the rare times I've seen native Irish speakers and native Scottish Gaelic speakers speaking to each other, the Gaeilgeoir is speaking Irish and the Gàidhlig speaker is speaking Gàidhlig - they don't meld the two or swap back and forth - and there does seem to be a lot of gesturing, re-wording, English loan words and such being used to fill the gaps. But that's happening between ex-pats in the US, so I don't know if the same happens elsewhere. I suspect in Scotland and the Gaeltacht, a Gaeilge speaker and a Gàidhlig speaker would probably just speak English to each other and avoid all the palaver, lol... but in my part of the US, if you're lucky enough to speak either one well, you tend to seize any opportunity to speak it at all, which may be the reason I've seen such cross-lingual attempts made.

But yeah, in general, it's like Spanish and Italian, or as chilvence said, Spanish and Portuguese (which is probably a better example all around).

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