Academic journal article Scottish Language

Gaelic-English Bilingual Children's Aspectual Awareness: Grammaticality Judgements of English Stative-Progressives

Academic journal article Scottish Language

Gaelic-English Bilingual Children's Aspectual Awareness: Grammaticality Judgements of English Stative-Progressives

Article excerpt


In present-day Scotland multilingualism is very much a social, political as well as an educational reality. There are notable linguistic minorities from Europe and elsewhere as well as a relatively small, but culturohistorically extremely significant, minority of Gaelic speakers.

Gaelic medium education (GME) is one channel through which Gaelic is passed on to the new generations. Schools offering Gaelic medium education in Scotland have been involved in many research projects over the last decades as interest in bilingual and immersion education has grown. Two large-scale projects have been conducted between late 1990's and 2010 by Scottish universities, on behalf of the Scottish Executive (after 2007, Scottish Government) Education Department and Bord na Gaidhlig --the body promoting Gaelic in partnership with the Scottish Government. Richard Johnstone's (2000) The Attainments of Pupils Receiving Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland compared the attainments of pupils studying in Gaelic medium streams to pupils enrolled in English medium education, and the more recent (2010) project by Fiona O'Hanlon et al. looked at both pupil's attainment, and choice as relating to reasons why parents had or had not enrolled their children in Gaelic medium education.

Amongst the many comments on the positive effects of bilingual education, some of the parents interviewed for O'Hanlon et al.'s (2010) report did also voice concerns, and were quoted for example being worried about the development of their child's first language during the initial immersion phase of GME:

I mean at times it's hard, and 1 do find the Primary 4 stage, when my eldest was that age I thought, oh my God, their English reading is horrendous ... that's because in the Gaelic medium you are immersed for the first three years completely, and then they only start learning English grammar in Primary 4. (O'Hanlon et al. 2010: 42-43)

This comment regarding children's learning of English grammar, and the possibility of Gaelic medium (GM) pupils' English being affected, is one factor motivating the choice of a topic for the present study, which looks at GM pupil's grammars using a comparative framework. Gaelic and English differ greatly in their morphology and syntax and thus provide an interesting starting point for an analysis of bilingual children's syntactic awareness.

The Scottish Gaelic verb paradigm has been termed 'particularly important to examine because of the striking and unusual properties of this part of Scottish Gaelic grammar that make the language especially interesting from the point of view of the syntax and semantics of aspect' (Ramchand 1997: 22). The English and Gaelic tense and aspect systems will be briefly outlined below insofar as is necessary to facilitate the discussion in this paper.

Vendler (1967) divided verbs into four categories based on their inherent aspect: activity, achievement, accomplishment, or state. 'States' persist over time, and allow for no change (having, liking, wanting, knowing).

The progressive aspect, then, namely relates to a situation which is in progress at a particular time and which may have limited duration or be incomplete, and is signalled by the--ing ending of a verb in English (Greenbaum and Quirk 1990: 53). Verbs with stative senses do not generally appear in the progressive, since states of affairs do not allow for progression (ibid.).

In Scottish Gaelic, in comparison to English, the options and restrictions of the tense and aspect system are highly distinctive. Tense marking in Scottish Gaelic can appear either directly on the verb without auxiliaries, or on the auxiliary tha 'to be' (Ramchand 1997: 22). Ramchand (1997) calls the former option the 'simple version of the tense' and the latter 'the periphrastic version'. The present tense is peculiar in that there is no simple present tense form for any verb apart for the verb to be: The only way of expressing a present tense meaning is by using the periphrastic form, as in Example 1 below:

1. …

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