Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-ktfbs Total loading time: 0.351 Render date: 2023-02-02T01:36:47.435Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Mutation in Breton verbs: Pertinacity across generations1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2015

University of Oxford
University of Oxford
Author’s address: Faculty of Linguistics, Philology & Phonetics, University of Oxford, Clarendon Press Centre, Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HG,


Although word-initial consonants are highly salient cross-linguistically, the process of initial-consonant mutation has nonetheless continued to affect them in the Celtic languages. This paper investigates the use of the mixed mutation (MM) in Breton, following the progressive particle. Like all mutation, it naturally affects the phonology, but also gives (redundant) information for morphosyntax. Mutation is generally presumed to be a regular process, but as there has been a gap in the transmission of Breton, the extent to which this phono-syntactic phenomenon is consistent across generations remains open to discussion. It has been claimed that younger speakers, being strongly French-dominant, do not use mutation correctly. We tested this examining both distribution of usage and acoustic measurements of the consonants in question. Data from original fieldwork indicate that young adults use MM in the same way as older speakers, but children attending Breton-medium schooling are less proficient. Mixed mutation is difficult to acquire, the crucial factor being sustained Breton input beyond the early teenage years. Acoustically, there is no difference in the production of MM cross-generationally. The difference between the two generations is in the use of the progressive particle itself, omitted by the older generation, but retained by younger speakers.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Andersen, Henning(ed.). 1986. Sandhi phenomena in the languages of Europe. Berlin, New York & Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Awbery, Gwenllian M. 1986. Moves towards a simpler, binary mutation system in Welsh. In Andersen (ed.), 161166.Google Scholar
Ball, Martin J. 1993. Initial-consonant mutation in modern spoken Welsh. Multilingua – Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication 12.2, 189206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baxter, Robert Neal. 2009. New technologies and terminological pressure in lesser-used languages: The Breton Wikipedia; from terminology consumer to potential terminology provider. Language Problems and Language Planning 33.1, 6080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boersma, Paul & Weenink, David. 2014. Praat: Doing phonetics by computer [computer program], version 5.3.75. Retrieved from Scholar
Bothorel, André. 1982. Etude phonétique et phonologique du breton parlé à Argol (Finistère-Sud). Lille: Atelier national réproduction des thèses, Université de Lille III.Google Scholar
Broudic, Fañch. 2009. Parler breton au XXIe siècle: Le nouveau sondage de TMO-Régions. Brest: Emgleo Breiz.Google Scholar
Broudic, Fañch. 2010. L’enseignement du et en breton: Rapport à Monsieur le Recteur de l’Académie de Rennes. Brest: Emgleo Breiz.Google Scholar
Cheveau, Loı̈c. 2006. Les mutations consonantiques en Breton Vannetais Littéraire et en Breton Lorientais. Journal of Celtic Linguistics 10, 115.Google Scholar
Costaouec, Denis. 1998. A propos des ‘mutations consonantiques’ du breton. La Linguistique 34.1, 87106.Google Scholar
Costaouec, Denis. 2010. Contraintes et libertés en phonologie: neutralisations et faits d’assimilation en breton. La Bretagne Linguistique 15, 123145.Google Scholar
Davalan, Nikolaz. 1999. Interférences linguistiques chez des enfants scolarisés en breton. Klask 5, 97118.Google Scholar
Denis, Pierre. 1977. Etude structurale d’un parler breton. Doctorat ès lettres, Université de Haute Bretagne.Google Scholar
Dorian, Nancy C. 1973. Grammatical change in a dying dialect. Language 49.2, 413438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dorian, Nancy C. 1977. The problem of the semi-speaker in language death. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 12, 2332.Google Scholar
Dorian, Nancy C. 1980. Language shift in community and individual: The phenomenon of the laggard semi-speaker. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 25, 8594.Google Scholar
Dresher, Elan & Lahiri, Aditi. 2005. Main stress left in Early Middle English. In Fortescue, Michael, Jensen, Eva Skafte, Mogensen, Jens Erik & Schøsler, Lene (eds.), Historical Linguistics 2003: Selected papers from the 16th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Copenhagen, 11–15 August 2003, 7585. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dressler, Wolfgang U. 1972. On the phonology of language death. Chicago Linguistics Society (CLS) 8, 448457.Google Scholar
Dressler, Wolfgang U. 1991. The sociolinguistic and patholinguistic attrition of Breton phonology, morphology and morphonology. In Seliger, Herbert W. & Vago, Robert Michael (eds.), First language attrition, 99112. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dressler, Wolfgang U. & Hufgard, Josef. 1980. Études phonologiques sur le breton sud-bigouden. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.Google Scholar
Fagyal, Zsuzsanna, Kibbee, Douglas & Jenkins, Fred. 2006. French: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Falc’hun, Franc¸ois. 1951. Le système consonantique du breton; avec une étude comparative de phonétique expérimentale. Rennes: Plihon.Google Scholar
Falc’hun, Franc¸ois. 2005. Études sur la langue bretonne: système consonantique, mutations et accentuation. Ploudalmézeau: Éditions Label LN.Google Scholar
Favereau, Francis. 1984. Langue quotidienne, langue technique et langue littéraire dans le parler et la tradition orale de Poullaouen. Doctorat d’état, Université de Rennes II.Google Scholar
Favereau, Francis. 1997. Grammaire du breton contemporain. Morlaix: Skol Vreizh.Google Scholar
Gathercole, Virginia C. Mueller & Thomas, Enlli M. N.. 2005. Minority language survival: Input factors influencing the acquisition of Welsh. In Cohen, James, McAlister, Kara T., Rolstad, Kellie & MacSwan, Jeff (eds.), ISB4 Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, 852874. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Gathercole, Virginia C. Mueller & Thomas, Enlli M. N.. 2009. Bilingual first-language development: Dominant language takeover, threatened minority language take-up. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 12.2, 213237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
German, Gary. 2007. Language shift, diglossia and dialectal variation in Western Brittany: The case of Southern Cornouaille. In Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (ed.), The Celtic languages in contact: Papers from the workshop within the Framework of the XIII International Congress of Celtic Studies, Bonn, 26–27 July 2007, 146192. Potsdam: Potsdam University Press.Google Scholar
Hannahs, S. J. 2011. Celtic mutations. In van Oostendorp, Marc, Ewen, Colin J., Hume, Elizabeth & Rice, Keren (eds.), The Blackwell companion to phonology, vol. V, 28072830. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Hennessey, John S. Jr. 1990. Spirantization to lenition in Breton: Interpretation of morphophonological variability. In Ball, Martin J., Fife, James, Poppe, Erich & Rowland, Jenny (eds.), Ieithyddiaeth Geltaidd/Celtic linguistics: Readings in the Brythonic languages. Festschrift for T. Arywn Watkins, 209224. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hornsby, Michael. 2005. Néo breton and questions of authenticity. Estudios de Sociolingüística 6.2, 191218.Google Scholar
Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone. 1967. A historical phonology of Breton. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.Google Scholar
Jones, Mari C. 1998. Language obsolescence and revitalization: Linguistic change in two sociolinguistically contrasting Welsh communities. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Kennard, Holly J. 2014. The persistence of verb second in negative utterances in Breton. Journal of Historical Linguistics 4.1, 139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ladefoged, Peter. 2005. Vowels and consonants. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Le Dû, Jean. 1986. A sandhi survey of the Breton language. In Andersen(ed.), 435450.Google Scholar
Le Roux, Pierre. 1924–1963. Atlas linguistique de la Basse Bretagne. Paris: Champion.Google Scholar
Lisker, Leigh & Abramson, Arthur S.. 1964. A cross-language study of voicing in initial stops: Acoustical measurements. Word 20.3, 384422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mikuteit, Simone & Reetz, Henning. 2007. Caught in the ACT: The timing of aspiration and voicing in East Bengali. Language and Speech 50.2, 247277.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg. 2014. L’enseignement bilingue en 2013. Retrieved from (19 March 2015).Google Scholar
Press, J. Ian. 1986. A grammar of Modern Breton. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Press, J. Ian. 2009. Breton. In Ball, Martin J. & Müller, Nicole (eds.), The Celtic languages, 2nd edn., 427487. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Reetz, Henning & Jongman, Allard. 2009. Phonetics: Transcription, production, acoustics, and perception. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
Stephens, Janig. 1993. Breton. In Ball, Martin J. & Fife, James (eds.), The Celtic languages, 349409. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Ternes, Elmar. 1992. The Breton language. In MacAulay, Donald (ed.), The Celtic languages, 371452. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Thomas, Enlli M. N. & Gathercole, Virginia C. Mueller. 2007. Children’s productive command of grammatical gender and mutation in Welsh: An alternative to rule-based learning. First Language 27.3, 251278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thomas, Enlli M. N. & Mayr, Robert. 2010. Children’s acquisition of Welsh in a bilingual setting: A psycholinguistic perspective. In Morris, Delyth (ed.), Welsh in the twenty-first century, 99117. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar
Timm, Lenora A. 1985. Breton mutations: Literary vs. vernacular usages. Word 35, 95107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wmffre, Iwan. 1998. Central Breton. Unterschliessheim: Lincom Europa.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Mutation in Breton verbs: Pertinacity across generations1
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Mutation in Breton verbs: Pertinacity across generations1
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Mutation in Breton verbs: Pertinacity across generations1
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *