Sound change or community change? The speech community in sound change studies:A case study of Scottish Gaelic

Nance, Claire (2021) Sound change or community change? The speech community in sound change studies:A case study of Scottish Gaelic. Linguistics Vanguard. ISSN 2199-174X (In Press)

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This paper considers the typical focus of analysis in a sound change study across generations: the speech community. I argue that changes in social practices across generations may mean that comparisons across generations can be problematic, and these issues are particularly pertinent in small and endangered language communities. Using data from Scottish Gaelic (Celtic, ISO = gla), a minority endangered language of Scotland, I exemplify the challenges posed by the speech community construct via an examination of lateral production in subsequent generations of speakers. Gaelic traditionally contrasts three phonemic laterals, but analysis shows that this might be changing. There are two possible directions for sound change in the Gaelic lateral system: results show that younger speakers produce some palatalised laterals as palatal glides without laterality. Meanwhile, the remaining laterals are less acoustically distinct among younger generations suggesting the possibility of future merger. While there are differences among the groups of speakers, I argue it is potentially problematic to consider this to be a form of sound change due to differences in social practices among generations surrounding Gaelic usage and socialisation. Ultimately, I advocate for a socially-informed approach to sound change study to sympathetically take into account local social structure.

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Journal Article
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Linguistics Vanguard
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Deposited On:
17 Feb 2021 12:03
In Press
Last Modified:
15 Oct 2021 04:19