The influence of Norse on Scottish Gaelic, 85 years on

August 23, 2018

12th Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster conference, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

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Categories:  Scottish Gaelic Language contact Laryngeal phonology Historical phonology

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In this paper I propose (yet another) reappraisal of the arguments regarding the relationship between Norse and Gaelic in the North Atlantic world, focusing on the development of preaspiration. There is significant controversy in the literature as to whether this feature, along with others such as tonal accent, represents Norse influence on Gaelic (e.g. Marstrander 1932; Borgstrøm 1974; Gunnar Ólafur Hansson 2001), an independent development in Gaelic (e.g. Ó Baoill 1980; Ó Murchú 1985; Ó Maolalaigh 2010), or even Gaelic influence on Norse (McKenna 2013). With recent advances in our understanding of how the social context of contact influences its linguistic outcomes (e.g. Thomason & Kaufman 1988; Trudgill 2011; Millar 2016), the debate around the role of language contact in the development of Gaelic varieties has begun to acquire a more solid theoretical underpinning; see in particular Stewart (2004); Lindqvist (2015) and most recently Lewin (2017).

I offer an account of the development of preaspiration combining these sociolinguistic insights with the theory of the life cycle of phonological processes (e.g. Bermúdez-Otero 2007; 2015; Bermúdez-Otero & Trousdale 2012). I argue that this theory offers a useful diagnostic for historical language contact, since discontinuities in the life cycle can only be contact-induced. I propose a model of the development of Gaelic preaspiration consistent with the life cycle model, starting with variable preaspiration, arguing that variable preaspiration is a pan-Gaelic phenomenon under-reported in traditional sources. Under this analysis, the rise of categorical preaspiration is a Northern Gaelic innovation (cf. Clayton 2010), centred on Argyll. With this linguistic argument in hand, I argue that a Norse origin for this feature is unlikely to be compatible with what we know about the sociolinguistic context of the (re-)Gaelicization of Argyll (Jennings & Kruse (2009a); (2009b); Clancy (2011); Whyte (2017), pace Macniven (2015)).

About me

I’m Pavel Iosad, and I’m a Senior Lecturer 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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