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Review of  Contact Linguistics

Reviewer: 'Naima Boussofara-Omar' ['Naima Boussofara-Omar'] Naima Boussofara-Omar
Book Title: Contact Linguistics
Book Author: Carol Marie Myers-Scotton
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 14.1077

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Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2003 13:32:56 -0500
From: Naima Boussofara Omar <>
Subject: Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes

Myers-Scotton, Carol (2002) Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and
Grammatical Outcomes, Oxford University Press.

Naima Boussofara Omar, Department of African & African-American Studies,
University of Kansas


1. Introduction
In this chapter, Myers-Scotton clearly states that this book is concerned
with grammatical structure of language when speakers, through their speech,
bring together two or more languages. She then provides an overview of
language contact research. Her main premise is that the same principles
underlie all language contact phenomena. What makes the surface realization
different is the role of the sociopolitical and psycholinguistic conditions.
She also introduces the Matrix Language Frame model (MLF) and its recently
added sub-models: the 4-M model and the Abstract Level model, as well as
some new principles, and a new hypothesis e.g. the Uniform Structure
Principle, the Asymmetry Principle, the Morpheme Sorting principle, and the
Differential Access Hypothesis.

2. The Roots of Language Contact
This chapter is the only chapter that deals with the social motivations for
codeswitching. Myers-Scotton first makes a distinction between what she
calls individual bilingualism and societal bilingualism which, she states,
are of relevance to this volume. Then she discusses such issues as bilingual
competence, motivations for bilingualism, and language shift. She also
reviews briefly previous research on social motivations for codeswitching
in which she includes the re-articulation of her Markedness model as
Rational Choice Model.

3. Explaining the Models and Their Uses
In her efforts to elaborate on the principles of the refined version of the
MLF model and to clarify its hypotheses, Myers-Scotton rearticulates its
provisions and explains how applying the MLF model together with its two new
sub-models (i.e. the 4-M model and the Abstract Level model) results in
better explanations for not only classic codeswitching but also other
contact phenomena.

In this chapter, Myers-Scotton explains why she has changed the unit of
analysis from discourse to sentence to CP (i.e. projection of
complementizers). Because the model, in its original version (1993) as well
the fine-tuned version (1997), is based on the pivotal concept of
hierarchies between the ML and EL on the one hand, and the content morphemes
and system morphemes on the other, Myers-Scotton meticulously addresses the
problematic issue of the identification of the ML (matrix language) and
explains why she uses the content/system morpheme distinction rather than
the open/closed class that many other researchers use.

In her explanation of the 4-M model, she basically argues that it is a model
that explains how morphemes are activated and accessed during speech
production. The main argument is centered upon the notion that different
lemmas underlying different types of morphemes become salient at different
levels. One type of system morphemes is called 'early system' morphemes. The
other type comprises two kinds of later system morphemes ('bridge' and
'outsider system' morphemes). Myers-Scotton also revisits what she calls
'misunderstandings' of the system morpheme principle and enunciates the
Early System Morpheme Hypothesis to explain double morphology in classic
codeswitching better. In her explanation of the Abstract Level model, she
states two major points. The first is that all lemmas contain three levels
of abstract lexical structure: the levels of lexical-conceptual structure,
predicate-argument structure, and morphological realization patterns. The
second point is that those three levels can be split and recombined
resulting in what Myers-Scotton calls a 'composite' ML.

4. Considering Problematic Codeswitching Data and Other Approaches
In this chapter, Myers-Scotton reviews the main theoretical premises of the
MLF model, explains classic codeswitching, and reiterates the claim that the
stability of bilingual communities bear significant influence on the
stability of the ML. Then, she considers some classic codeswitching
problematic data at length and in detail with special focus on bare forms
and Embedded Language islands in light of the Uniform Structural Principle.
She also discusses the issue of distinguishing borrowing from codeswitching
in light of Government and Binding, and the Minimalist Program model.

5. Convergence and Attrition
Chapter 5 is devoted to convergence and attrition with a main focus on the
latter. First, Myers-Scotton surveys major claims of the contact literature
on L1 attrition then she suggests theoretical assumptions that predict the
grammatical features of a speaker's language when it displays attrition.
In her discussion of the theoretical framework that she proposes to study
convergence and attrition, she draws on the Abstract Level model and the 4-M
model. Her basic argument from the Abstract Level model is that convergence
and attrition result when the three levels of abstract grammatical structure
in any lemma in the mental lexicon from language A are split and recombined
with the levels in a lemma from language B. The argument that she develops
from the 4-M model is that the type of morpheme has an effect on the extent
to which attrition affects an L1. Hence her claim that splitting and
recombining is an earlier attrition feature for [+conceptually activated]
morphemes, i.e. early system morphemes and content morphemes.

6. Lexical Borrowing, Split (Mixed) Languages, and Creole Formation
In this chapter, Myers-Scotton discusses three types of language contact
phenomena. First, she discusses lexical borrowings with a brief review of
previous research on borrowing, and a special focus on motivations for
borrowing, and types of lexical borrowing. Second, she discusses split
languages by describing and analyzing three examples languages: Michif,
Mednyj Aleut, and Ma'a (Mbugu). She basically argues that split languages
arise when there is a Matrix Language turnover that fossilizes at a certain
point. Split languages, too, Myers-Scotton claims, have a composite Matrix
Language. But what makes the difference between a composite Matrix Language
(Recall that it is composite because the abstract structure comes from one
source) and a split language is not readily answered. However, in her
efforts to explain the conditions under which a split language arises,
Myers-Scotton invokes 'sociopolitical' and socio-psychological' factors, all
of which can also promote a shift in the dominant language.

The last contact phenomenon that Myers-Scotton discusses is Creole
formation. She first examines how Creole developed, then she presents a
brief overview of research on Creoles and Creole structuring, and finally
she proposes five hypotheses to account for Creole structuring. The major
claim that Myers-Scotton makes in this chapter is that the form of the three
contact phenomena, although these phenomena are different, is constrained.

7. Concluding Remarks: The Out of Sight in Contact Linguistics
In her concluding remarks, Myers-Scotton emphasizes two major topics.
The first concerns the theoretical notion that the same structures and
principles regulate all language phenomena (e.g. codeswitching, convergence
and attrition, lexical borrowing, split languages, and Creole development),
and language in general, for that matter. The second relates to the MLF
(Myers-Scotton 1993a, [1997]), the 4-M model and the Abstract Level model
(Myers-Scotton and Jake 2000a, b, 2001) as theoretical frameworks to explain
with precision classic codeswitching and language contact phenomena.
She concludes the book by proposing a set of hypotheses with two major ones.
The first relates to the asymmetry between participating languages in
contact phenomena. The second hypothesis concerns the unequal distribution
between content and system morphemes on the one hand, and between early and
late system morphemes on the other. The asymmetry in the distribution is due
to the differential access and election of morphemes. Recall that early
system morphemes and content morphemes share the feature [+conceptually
activated]. Early system morphemes, however, are indirectly elected. Late
system morphemes are [+structurally assigned]. They are accessed at a
different stage in the production process from early system morphemes and
content morphemes. More precisely, they are claimed to be accessed when the
lemmas underlying content morphemes send directions to the Formulator about
how larger constituents are to be put together.


This volume is definitely an engaging discussion of far more challenging
issues than just bilingualism, language contact phenomena, syntax, and
morphology, to which the book is principally devoted. It is a significant
contribution to the ongoing discussion of ways to link a theory of language
to a theory of language processing. The discussion demonstrates how
challenging the task is and will be in future research.
The MLF model, the 4-M model, and the Abstract Level model emphasize the
notion that codeswitching is based on abstract cognitive processes. In light
of these models, codeswitching is not investigated solely by explaining
surface configurations but by "go[ing] beyond the observed behavior of CS
itself [and] investigating the linguistic knowledge that underlies CS
(Myers-Scotton and Jake, 2001: 84). However, in this book, the link between
what is realized at the surface level and the theoretical constructs and
processes that Myers-Scotton claims she has established (in this book)
remains unconvincing. I will illustrate my comment by pointing to three
problems. The first concerns her initial definition of the ML and its
re-articulation. The second problems concerns her notion of congruency and
the last problem relates to her notion of categorical/partial application
of major principles.

One of the major early criticisms leveled against the MLF model, as
initially articulated (1993a), was the circularity of her definition of the
ML. Such a definition is significant because it allows us identify the ML
and hence test the System Morpheme Principle.

In this book Myers-Scotton (p. 61) first acknowledges that her initial
claim that the Matrix Language can be identified as the source of more
morphemes in a discourse was abandoned. I think the claim was re-articulated
but the unit of analysis (i.e. the discourse) was abandoned because she
still maintains that it is the language that "supplies more morphemes in a
bilingual CP" but she adds that "this is not always the case" (61-62). In
fact this was a response to what Myers-Scotton called 'atypical' examples.
These examples were reported in the literature by researchers who applied
the MLF model (1993a version) not to classic codeswitching only but to
language contact phenomena as well. Recall that the MLF model was claimed to
be universal. In the examples cited in the literature, both participating
languages supply system morphemes. Hence they are clear violations of the
System Morpheme Principle.

In her explanation of why she abandoned her initial definition of the Matrix
Language she states that what she had in mind was the notion of "dominant
language" as understood in psycholinguistic and bilingual child language
literature, and "unmarked choice" in her Markedness Model (Myers-Scotton
1993c). It seems to me that Myers-Scotton conjures up notions of abstract
constructs that are not directly testable when she deals with violations of
any principle or hypothesis she puts forward in her model.
Her re-articulation of the notion of the ML is a good illustration of this
point. In her re-articulation, she argues: "The Matrix Language is not to be
equated with an existing language; rather one should view the Matrix
language as an abstract frame for the morphosyntax of the bilingual CP"
(66). What makes her explanation ambiguous if not confusing is that in her
own analysis of some examples, she identifies the Matrix Language as the
language that supplies system morphemes. One may wonder why the ML is
identified as a language (i.e. a linguistic source of the morphosyntactic
frame of ML + EL constituents) but conceptualized as a theoretical construct
in language contact phenomena? The second question to pose: How can the ML
be identified in a CP where both languages participate in the frame, as I
have demonstrated in my discussion of some problematic cases in Arabic
diglossic switching (Boussofara-Omar 1999, 2003). Does this claim not weaken
or violate the ML/EL hierarchy and their differential activation? Do not the
access and election of an EL early system morpheme along with content
morphemes at the conceptual level constrain the access and election of late
system morphemes at the Formulator level?

Myers-Scotton states: "If the bilingual CP contains a mixed constituent,
with one or more singly occurring Embedded Language content morphemes that
are fully morphosyntactically integrated into the Matrix Language, then,
yes, the Matrix Language is entirely identical with the morphosyntax of
one of the source language" (Myers-Scotton 2000:67).

I have a problem understanding the meaning and application of such vague
concepts as "fully morphosyntactically integrated" (which she invokes to
explain when the Matrix Language may be the same as the language that
supplies more system morphemes), or "sufficient congruence" (to explain how
certain constructions are possible), or "sufficient access" to the
morphosyntax of a desired target for the ML (to explain the conditions under
which a composite ML arises). One may wonder first how sufficient/
insufficient congruence/access, total/partial proficiency can be determined,
and second what hinders speakers' access to the grammar of a language
(or abstract frame for that matter) that they have chosen as an ML to frame
their bilingual utterance?

A further problem I have is Myers-Scotton's argument or hypothesis that the
Morpheme Order and System Morpheme Principles may not be applied
*categorically* (my emphasis) in order to explain the composite ML. Why does
she apply these two principles categorically and in unison in some cases
(i.e. in classic CS) but partially in language contact phenomena?
The last issue that I wish to raise is Myers-Scotton's recourse to
extra-linguistic factors to explain some bilingual patterns and
configurations that obtain. I am aware (as Myers-Scotton clearly argues in
the Preface and chapter two) that this volume is totally devoted to
structural analysis but it is puzzling that she invokes the extra-linguistic
factors when there are no linguistic 'constraints' available to explain some
of the puzzling patterns, namely those patterns that violate the System
Morpheme Principle, for example. In order to explain the simultaneous
participation of the ML and EL in providing system morphemes (a clear
violation of the System Morpheme Principle), she first posits the composite
ML and then she invokes the notion of sufficient/insufficient proficiency in
a language and its varying degrees of stability. It seems to me that the
calls for research that focuses on the intersection between the grammatical
and the social to explain switching patterns have yet to be heard. Serious
attention to the interplay between the linguistic and the extra-linguistic
factors in shaping the switching patterns would encourage much needed
rethinking of our models in order to re-conceptualize the dialectical
relationship between the two types of factors in a more consistent manner.


Boussofara-Omar, Naima (1999) Arabic Diglossic Switching in Tunisia: An
Application of Myers-Scotton's Matrix Language Frame Model. Unpublished PhD.
Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.

Boussofara-Omar, Naima (to appear in 2003) Revisiting Arabic Diglossic
Switching in Light of the MLF and its Sub-models: The 4-M and the Abstract
Level models. Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 6(1) pp. 1-13.

Myers-Scotton, Carole (1993a [1997]). Dueling Languages: Grammatical
Structure in Codeswitching (1997 editions with a new Afterword).
Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers-Scotton, Carole (2001) 'Explaining Aspects of Codeswitching and
their Implications, in Janet Nicol (ed.), One Mind, Two Languages:
Bilingual Language Procession, 84-116. Oxford: Blackwell.


Naima Boussofara Omar is an Assistant professor at the Department of African & African-American Studies at the University of Kansas, USA. She is trained in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include language change, and variation in the Arab World, language ideologies and identity in Arab political discourse, and teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language.

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