The Irish language is an indigenous minority language undergoing accelerated convergence with English against a backdrop of declining intergenerational transmission, universal bilingualism, and exposure to large numbers of L2 speakers. Recent studies indicate that the interaction of complex morphosyntax and variable levels of consistent input result in some aspects of Irish grammar having a long trajectory of acquisition or not being fully acquired. Indeed, for the small group of children who are L1 speakers of Irish, identifying which “end point” of this trajectory is appropriate against which to assess these children’s acquisition of Irish is difficult. In this study, data were collected from 135 proficient adult speakers and 306 children (aged 6–13 years) living in Irish-speaking (Gaeltacht
) communities, using specially designed measures of grammatical gender. The results show that both quality and quantity of input appear to impact on acquisition of this aspect of Irish morphosyntax: even the children acquiring Irish in homes where Irish is the dominant language showed poor performance on tests of grammatical gender marking, and the adult performance on these tests indicate that children in Irish-speaking communities are likely to be exposed to input showing significant grammatical variability in Irish gender marking. The implications of these results will be discussed in terms of language convergence, and the need for intensive support for mother-tongue speakers of Irish.
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