Click here to fill out our survey for the 2024/25 essay competition!

2x2: Dialectology of Scottish Gaelic Laterals

It has been said that the laterals of Scottish Gaelic are ‘probably the most numerous to be found during the past two millennia in the whole of Eurasia, if not the whole known world’ (Hamp 2010). Much work has been done on documenting the sounds in individual dialects, but very little on bringing the accounts together and interpreting their often opaque articulatory descriptions to arrive at an overview and a typology of Gaelic lateral inventories. This is what I set out to do in my dissertation, as well as propose phonological representations within a substance-free framework. In this presentation, I will restrict myself to the former objective. Old Irish possessed an unusually rich inventory of 4 lateral phonemes cross-cut by palatalisation/velarisation and ‘fortis’/’lenis’ contrasts. In Modern Gaelic, inventories of anywhere between 2 and 5 phonemes have been reported (Ó Maolalaigh 1997). I analysed dialectological monographs and Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland data to determine the categories of articulations and chart the spread of phonological change. As previously posited, ternary inventories were most common, but binary ones were less rare than expected, and quaternary systems can be shown to survive in several locations (e.g. Islay and Scarp). The areas around Lochaber were most innovative. Notably, ternary inventories were produced exclusively by a merger of the two ‘fortis’ laterals, and binary ones exclusively by the collapse of the ‘fortis’/’lenis’ opposition (which I propose is expressed through dentality). Binary inventories were also significantly more likely to develop lateral labialisation and/or vocalisation.