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The role of language professionals in minority language revitalisation: Variation in rhotic production

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  • UserDr Claire Nance (Lancaster University)
  • ClockThursday 25 February 2021, 16:30-18:00
  • HouseOnline.

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This paper combines sociolinguistic questions with phonetic analysis to investigate the role of ‘language professionals’ in minority language revitalisation. My focus is on Scottish Gaelic, where the revitalisation programme has led to the creation of new registers for Gaelic and a group of ‘language professionals’ i.e. middle class employees who use Gaelic in roles such as broadcasting, education, publishing, and language development (McEwan-Fujita 2008).

I examine the speech production of language professionals and the role they play in revitalisation in two studies of rhotics. Gaelic has previously been described as having three rhotic phonemes contrasted in terms of palatalisation and velarisation (e.g. Borgstrøm 1940). Cross-linguistically, palatalisation contrasts in rhotics tend to be lost over time (Iskarous & Kavitskaya 2018), and processes of language obsolescence and revitalisation can lead to reduction in large, complex systems (Dorian 1981, Jones 1998). At the same time, L2 users may show cross-linguistic influence from their other language (e.g. Flege 2007), which, in the case of English, only contrasts one phonemic rhotic.

The first study is an auditory analysis of rhotic production in L2 Gaelic speakers in the Scottish lowlands (Nance et al. 2016). By comparing narratives of accent aim with quantitative analysis of rhotic production, I demonstrate that highly proficient and ideologically motivated language users can achieve specific accent aims. Secondly, I present an ongoing study of Gaelic L1 speakers on the Isle of Lewis (Nance & Kirkham). Considering auditory, acoustic and ultrasound analyses we find little differences between the different generations of speakers in the sample, suggesting overall maintenance of a complex and typologically unusual rhotic system.

Overall, I highlight the contribution of language professionals to models of language variation and change: such speakers are often extremely aware of their position as both users and developers of a minority, endangered language. This position may alter the predicted balance of factors in variant selection: more weight may be afforded to factors such as strategic accent aim and conservative retention of typologically unusual systems.

Borgstrøm, C. (1940). The dialects of the Outer Hebrides, volume 1. Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, Olso. Dorian, N. (1981). Language death: The life cycle of a Scottish Gaelic dialect. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Flege, J. (2007). Language contact in bilingualism: Phonetic systems interaction. In J. Cole and J. I. Hualde (Eds.) Laboratory Phonology IX. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 353–381. Iskarous, K. and Kavitskaya, D. (2018). Sound change and the structure of synchronic variability: Phonetic and phonological factors in Slavic palatalization. Language, 94(1):43–83. Jones, M. (1998). Language obsolescence and revitalization: Linguistic change in two sociolinguistically contrasting Welsh communities. Clarendon Press, Oxford. McEwan-Fujita, E. (2008). Working ‘9 to 5’ Gaelic: Speakers, context and ideology of an emerging minority language register. In K. King (Ed.) Sustaining linguistic diversity: Endangered and minority languages and language varieties. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 81–93. Nance, C., McLeod, W., O’Rourke, B., and Dunmore, S. (2016). Identity, accent aim, and motivation in second language users: New Scottish Gaelic speakers’ use of phonetic variation. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 20(2):164–191.

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