Natur prosesau caffael iaith gan blant: Marcio cenedl enwau yn y Gymraeg

Natur prosesau caffael iaith gan blant: Marcio cenedl enwau yn y Gymraeg
(The nature of language acquisition processes in children: Marking grammatical gender in Welsh)

Enlli Thomas

Research on the acquisition of grammatical gender has shown that in many languages children gain an early command of gender. Often in these languages gender marking is quite overt and provides a clear one-to-one correspondence between a marker and the gender encoded. In Welsh, however, gender marking is more complex. It is marked by mutations, a set of morpho-phonological changes that affect the initial consonants of words, and the mapping between mutation and gender is quite opaque. Two mutation types are used to mark feminine gender: both feminine nouns modified by the definite article and adjectives following feminine nouns undergo soft mutation, and the feminine gender of the possessive adjective ‘ei’ is marked by aspirate mutation of the modified noun. This paper presents two studies that examine children’s and adults’ productive command of gender as expressed in the mutation of nouns modified by the definite article, and adjectives modifying nouns.

Children, between the ages of 4½ and 9 years old, and adults were invited to take part in the studies. First, a semi-naturalistic study was conducted to obtain knowledge about speakers’ usage of gender marking. A Cloze procedure was then used to elicit speakers’ production of masculine and feminine forms, with both real words and nonsense forms, in a variety of linguistic contexts. Some of these contexts provided cues to gender status, some did not.

The data obtained indicated that the acquisition of the Welsh gender system is a long drawn-out process, and children have not mastered the system even by 9 years of age. Welsh speakers, even in adulthood, pay little or no attention to the possible cues present in the input. Results suggest that when a language has a complex gender system that is marked by opaque morpho-phonological processes the course of development is protracted and variable.


  	Enlli Thomas, 'Natur prosesau caffael iaith gan blant: Marcio cenedl enwau yn y Gymraeg', Gwerddon, 1, April 2007, 53-81.


    Psychology, language acquisition, grammatical gender, Welsh.


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