Preaspiration in North Argyll Gaelic and its contribution to prosodic structure

August 13, 2015

Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster, University of the West of Scotland, Ayr

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Categories:  Scottish Gaelic Laryngeal phonology Language contact

(with Michael Ramsammy and Patrick Honeybone)

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This paper reports the preliminary results of an acoustic study of preaspiration in the Gaelic of North Argyll. Existing descriptions identify this area as reflecting Old Irish and Old Norse ‘voiceless’ geminates as [xp xt xk] clusters (‘pre-affricates’), but, to our knowledge, no targeted acoustic study of these varieties had been performed to date. Our results confirm that the preaspiration found in other varieties corresponds to dorsal (velar or uvular) frication in North Argyll, rather than other conceivable interpretations of the impressionistic descriptions.

We discuss the broader repercussions of these findings regarding the nature of preaspiration in these varieties. In particular, we find only very scant evidence of pre-frication after long vowels (in words like pàpa ‘Pope’, bàta ‘boat’), which contrasts with regular pre-frication after short vowels. This apparent neutralization of laryngeal contrast outside the initial foot suggests that (at least Argyll) Gaelic shows a weakly unconditioned reduction process (lenition; Honeybone 2012) similar to languages such as English or Icelandic. Further, if this analysis is correct, it suggests that preaspiration in North Argyll Gaelic contributes a mora to the stressed syllable (in parallel to South Argyll Gaelic, and in an echo of Ó Baoill 1980). We argue that the development from preaspiration to a moraic segment is parallel to that hypothesized by Pétur Helgason (2002) for Icelandic, and discuss the consequences of this analysis for the question of internal vs external origin of preaspiration.

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I’m Pavel Iosad, and I'm a Lecturer in Theoretical Phonology in the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. ¶ You can always go to the start page to learn more.

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