The history of Scottish Gaelic dictionaries goes back to the early 17th century. The high-point of Gaelic dictionary production was in the first half of the 19th century, as yet unrivalled even by modern developments in the late 20th and early 21st century. The majority of dictionaries published to date have been Gaelic to English dictionaries.


The first precursors of true Gaelic dictionaries were the vocabularies, often little less than wordlists, which made their first appearance in 1702 with Rev. Robert Kirk's wordlist, an appendix to William Nicolson's Scottish Historical Library.[1] Edward Lhuyd's Scottish field work between 1699-1700 contained substantial wordlists for Argyll and Inverness-shire dialects which, however, were not published until much later.

Some 40 years later, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge published a title called Leabhar a Theagasc Ainminnin ("A book for the teaching of names") in 1741, compiled by Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair.[1]



18th and 19th centuries

The first dictionary in the modern sense was published in 1780 by the Rev. William Shaw, the Galic and English Dictionary, which contained a large percentage of Irish terms.[1] This was quickly followed by Robert MacFarlane's small-scale dictionary, Nuadh Fhoclair Gaidhlig agus Beurla ("New Gaelic and English dictionary") in 1795.[1] Exactly 10 years later Peter MacFarlane, a translator of religious publications published the first bidirectional dictionary in 1815, the New English and Gaelic Vocabulary - Focalair Gaelig agus Beurla.[1]

Although the Highland Society of Scotland had set up a committee in 1806 to produce a full-scale dictionary, but was beaten by Robert Armstrong who published his Gaelic Dictionary in 1825, followed three years later by the Highland Society's dictionary in 1828 entitled Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum - A Dictionary of the Gaelic Language I & II.[1][2]

Various other dictionaries followed, most notably Alexander Macbain's Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language in 1896,[1] to date the only such publication in Gaelic.

A number of dictionaries from this period exist which have not been published to date, such as the Highland Gentleman's Dictionary from c. 1776 which is currently in the Countess of Sutherland's library.[1]


20th century

The 20th century in Gaelic lexicography was ushered in by the publication of Edward Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary, which was partly based on a previous dictionary but supplemented by extensive material from other sources and Dwelly's own fieldwork.[1] It remains the dictionary seen as the most authoritative to this day. Various other small to medium dictionaries followed.


21st century

Following Dwelly's dictionary, essentially no new large-scale dictionaries were published until the 21st century with the appearance of Colin B.D. Mark 's substantial Gaelic English Dictionary in 2003.[3]

The first substantial English to Gaelic dictionary of the 21st century was the Faclair Beag ("Little Dictionary") by Michael Bauer and Will Robertson. The Faclair Beag is an online dictionary which appeared in two stages, first with a digital version of Edward Dwelly's dictionary early in 2009 and soon thereafter with a modern dictionary later that year, by now containing more than 85,000 entries.[4]


Faclair na Gàidhlig

A partnership of the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI is working to develop an authoritative, historical Gaelic dictionary comparable to the resources available for Scots and English through the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, the Scottish National Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.

The dictionary will document fully the history of the Scottish Gaelic language and culture from the earliest manuscript material onwards,[7] placing Scottish Gaelic in context with Irish and Lowland Scots, and it will show the relationship between Scottish Gaelic and Irish. [citation needed]

The project draws on the Corpas na Gàidhlig, part of the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic based at the University of Glasgow.

Specialist dictionaries

Except for place-name publications, specialist dictionaries remain rare and focus almost exclusively on the natural world or government terminology. The most notable exception is An Stòr-dàta Briathrachais, a dictionary of general technical terminology published by the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thomson, D. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (1994) Gairm ISBN 1-871901-31-6
  2. ^ Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum - A Dictionary of the Gaelic Language Highland Society of Scotland 1828
  3. ^ Mark, C. Gaelic English Dictionary (2003) Routledge ISBN 978-0-415-29760-8
  4. ^ "Mun Fhaclair Bheag / About the Faclair Beag". Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Dwelly air a thionndadh 's ga chur air loidhne". BBC Alba. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  6. ^ "Mu dhèidhinn Dwelly-d/About Dwelly-d". Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  7. ^ Denholm, Andrew (26 July 2013). "Gaelic dictionary initiative to bolster language". The Herald. Retrieved 12 December 2016.

Individual online dictionaries

WebArchive (page images of out of copyright dictionaries)