• Language: Gaelic
  • Region: Western Scotland
  • Contributor: Malcolm Maclean

Our understanding of the world is shaped by the language we use to describe it.

Aibidil is the Scottish Gaelic word for ‘Alphabet’. The Gaelic Aibidil has 18 letters and each letter is represented by a tree. The oldest living thing in Western Europe is a 2,000 years old Scottish Yew tree in Fortingall. 

Gaelic is one of the oldest languages spoken in Europe today. It is more than a thousand years older than English and still spoken in Scotland and Ireland.

This ancient affinity between the Gaelic word and the tree embeds a deep association between language and landscape in the original roots of Gaelic. It gives an ecological substance to the alphabet – the foundation of all literacy – a language we can learn by looking at the landscape.

The Aibidil appears in numerous historic contexts from illuminated Celtic manuscripts to Dwelly’s seminal illustrated Gaelic Dictionary. 

It continues to inspire 21st Century artists such as Alasdair Gray, Donald Urquhart and Jon Macleod.

Irish artist Katie Holten’s long-term research into Ogham runic script has led her to develop a coherent, beautiful and downloadable Tree Font.

Forester, Boyd Mackenzie, has spent 30 years planting and nurturing all of the trees of the Aibidil on his Hebridean croft. He has created a living conceptual artwork – an alphabet we can walk through.

A pine seedling growing in collaboration with a mycorrhizal fungus. Image from David Read, author of Mycorrhizal Symbiosis.


  • Malcolm Maclean – Director
  • Ged Yeates – Editor
  • Richard Davis – Aerial film
  • Sam Maynard – Camera
  • Flora MacNeil – Music – Craobh Nan Ubhal (The Apple Tree)
  • Anna Mackenzie – Voice
  • Ria Maclean – Voice
  • Eve Maclean – Voice

Featured artists:

Thanks to:

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