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Title: Morphosyntactic variation in Uist Gaelic : a case of language shift?
Author: Cole, Beth
ISNI:       0000 0004 5366 7132
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis investigates variation and change in the initial and final mutation system of Scottish Gaelic in the wider context of language shift, language contact and sociolinguistic variation and change. Gaelic in Scotland has been subject to decreasing speaker numbers since the introduction of a language question on the Census in 1881. As of 2011, the proportion of Gaelic speakers in Scotland stood at 1.1%. In Uist where this study is based, however, Gaelic is not a minority language, with 60.5% of the population of the islands returning themselves as Gaelic speakers in 2011. The presentation of Uist Gaelic as a minority language globally but a majority language locally allowed for morphosyntactic variation in this rather unusual social and demographic situation to be explored in the context of our understanding of structural changes as a result of language shift, i.e. when a minority language is not a minority language, what happens? Sixteen speakers were sampled from across North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula and each took part in a two-part interview in Gaelic in which a) English sentences were presented for verbal translation into Gaelic and b) an informal conversation following the principles of the Sociolinguistic Interview (Labov 1984) technique was conducted. The speakers involved in this study comprise a group of older fluent speakers aged approximately 60-80, a group of younger fluent speakers aged approximately 30-50, and a further group of younger probable semi-speakers. Data from these interviews were analysed to measure levels of conformity to idealised Gaelic grammatical norms in terms of the application of initial and final mutation and the results were presented in distributional terms. The social factors of age and gender, and internal factors relating to syntactic environment were analysed and their relationship to mutational variation was presented. Evidence for structural variation and change as a result of language shift was sought, and was found not to be present in the data. While variation in the application of mutation was visible in the data, the typical patterns associated with language shift were not. Specifically, an age-graded proficiency spectrum among fluent Gaelic speakers was not found in the data presented here. Although a small group of probable semi-speakers was found, it was typically members of the younger fluent speaker group who produced a higher proportion of expected forms than members of the older fluent speaker group. In addition to the lack of support found for structural changes as a result of language shift, little evidence of restructuring of Gaelic based on English grammatical patterns was found. In certain environments, such as the application of genitive marking following genitive-triggering prepositions, evidence of an internally-motivated pressure was found in the form of the use of the more common dative marking which is used with the majority of prepositions in Gaelic. Furthermore, in line with our understanding of the effect of gender on sociolinguistic variation, female speakers were indeed shown to produce a higher proportion of expected forms, i.e. to “approximate the standard” more closely, than male speakers, suggesting that minority status does not preclude a language from displaying universal patterns of variation. By approaching variation in Uist Gaelic from a sociolinguistic variation perspective rather than solely from a language shift perspective, I have been able to demonstrate that morphosyntactic variation in a minority language need not always be the result of language shift. Furthermore, I have demonstrated that minority languages in general should not be excluded from variationist research and that variationist approaches should not be excluded from the study of variation and change in minority languages.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Soillse
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Scottish Gaelic language