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Title: Speech and writing in Scottish Gaelic : a study of register variation in an endangered language
Author: Lamb, William E.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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This is the first in-depth, quantitative study of register variation in Scottish Gaelic (ScG), an endangered Celtic language. Previous work on the subject has been mainly anecdotal in nature or a by-product of other lines of investigation. A recent diachronic study on Gaelic ‘news-speak’ (Lamb 1999) found it impossible to fully uncover the characteristics of the register without benchmark data on the language’s overall register range and morphosyntactic variation. This provided the impetus for the current study, which compares eight varieties of spoken and written ScG. An 81,000 word computerised corpus of Gaelic texts was compiled and tagged for a wide range of linguistic features sensitive to register differences. The tagging process was informed by a new descriptive grammar of ScG, which is included as an appendix. The registers were compared on the basis of the distributions of these features utilising several inferential statistical tests (e.g. Analysis of Variance). The study focuses on three broad areas of linguistic variation: syntax and information structure; morphology; and NP grammar and complexity. Robust differences were found between most of the register types in the corpus. In particular, conversational ScG stood out as markedly different; e.g. it had simpler NPs, fewer modifiers, less ‘subordinate’ structures and a greater use of fragmented structures such as left-detachment and asyndetic clausal juxtaposition. These features are similar to the attributes of spontaneous spoken language described by Chafe (1982) and Miller and Weinert (1998). Other major contrasts obtained for narrative vs. non-narrative, reportage vs. non-reportage, and formal writing vs. other register types. Five underlying contextual parameters were found to be responsible for the variation present; 1) production constraints; 2) discourse freedom; 3) information orientation; 4) interaction; and 5) producer characteristics. Overall, the results correlate well with those of Biber (1988 inter alia) and others adopting multi-dimensional models. They also demonstrate that ScG, despite being an endangered language, has a level of register variation comparable to that found in larger languages such as English.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available