The authority of the great Dr Johnson, who was no admirer of the Gaelic language, may be cited in proof of the absurdity of the system which he found prevailing in the Hebrides in 1773—the native language proscribed in the schools, and the children taught to read ' a language which they may never use nor understand.'
The illiberal prejudice which caused this neglect of the native language was shared, curiously enough, by the illiterate parents and the educated men who had the instruction of their children in charge. The opinion of the ignorant on a question of practical education was accepted and cited, in this country, as it has been in Ireland, as if it were of any value. The result has been that the intelligent education of the Highland people, and even the progress of the English language in the country, have been retarded in a degree of which the statistics already given in reference to the adults are an illustration. Many of them, we believe, were taught to read English, whose understanding of what they read was never tested by the simple process of translation to and from their native tongue. The result was, that though they could read English, they could not speak it, far less write it. Their inability to do so necessarily unfitted them for competition in the labour market, and made them less willing to seek their fortune in other parts of the world. This is, in fact, the chief reason why so many of the inhabitants of the remote Highlands and Islands are more home-keeping and averse to migration than their fellow-countrymen in districts where the same difficulty does not prevail.
The directors of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge took this matter into special consideration in 1824, and after careful inquiry, came to the conclusion that great injury had been done by the neglect of the vernacular language in the work of education in the Highlands. 'There seems to be,' they say, 'in the heads of the people, a very general prejudice against the use of the Gaelic as a school language, a prejudice which has been found in its full strength even when the older people could themselves use no other language But these poor people have not reflection enough to perceive what is the truth on the subject, that so long as their children talk no other language but Gaelic, it is a mere waste of time and entirely vain to burden their memories for a few years with a vocabulary of dead and unmeaning English of Christian sounds’.
Report by the Napier Commission, 1883