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5 The Problem of the Semi-Speaker in Language Death (1977)

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Chapter Summary

In a total pool of Gaelic speakers which numbered about 140 in 1972, there were at the upper end of the spectrum a few individuals who were more comfortable and proficient in Gaelic than in English, in the middle range many who were skilled bilinguals, fluent in both languages, and at the lower end some who could make themselves understood in imperfect Gaelic but were very much more at home in English. These last are called "semi-speakers". It is the identification of these semispeakers which constitutes a major problem for the fieldworker dealing with a dying language, since he needs to know how representative and how reliable his data are. The young Embo semi-speaker, has all but lost one entire initial mutation, that is, one of the omnipresent morphophonemic changes common to the languages of the Celtic language family.

Keywords: bilinguals; Celtic language family; English; Gaelic speakers; language death; morphophonemic changes; semi-speaker



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