EDITOR: Muysken, Pieter
TITLE: From Linguistic Areas to Areal Linguistics
SERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series 90
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Ronald I. Kim, Institute of English Philology, Wroclaw University
As the study of language contact has made great strides over the past two
decades, areal phenomena have attracted increasing attention from scholars in a
wide range of fields, including historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, second
language acquisition, and typology. The appearance of volumes such as Gilbers,
Nerbonne, and Schaeken 2000, Aikhenvald and Dixon 2001 and Matras, McMahon, and
Vincent 2006 attests to the recent upsurge of research on diffusion and
convergence among geographically proximate languages, belonging to what are
traditionally called ''linguistic areas'' or Sprachbünde.
The present work contains an introductory chapter on areal linguistics by the
editor, and five papers on contact phenomena in linguistic areas around the
world: the Caucasus; East Nusantara, including Papua; the Guaporé-Mamoré
highlands of northeastern Bolivia and Rondônia, Brazil; the Balkan peninsula;
and southern China and Southeast Asia. All of these areas are renowned for
longstanding, intense cross-cultural contact among many different
ethnolinguistic groups, but whereas the concept of a Balkan Sprachbund goes back
to the 19th century, most of the languages of East Nusantara and the
Guaporé-Mamoré region have only begun to be investigated in the past few decades.
Pieter Muysken (1-23) reviews some of the conceptual and methodological problems
involved in defining linguistic areas, e.g. their size and scale, evaluation of
structural features, and different historical scenarios for their emergence.
Following an earlier paper (Muysken 2000), he proposes a shift away from the
delineation of linguistic areas to an areal approach to studying language
history and contact. Muysken then makes an ambitious case for the
circum-Atlantic region as a linguistic ''macro-area'', embracing western Europe
and Africa and all or most languages of the present-day Americas.
Viacheslav Chirikba (25-93) treats the many languages spoken in the Caucasus,
including Northwest, Northeast, and South Caucasian as well as non-Caucasian
languages (Indo-European Armenian and Ossetic; Turkic Circassian, Nogay, and
Azeri; etc.). He argues that the Caucasian languages, and to a lesser extent the
other languages of the region, share enough phonological and morphosyntactic
features to justify the notion of a Caucasian Sprachbund. Although some of these
are less than convincing (e.g. free word order or a stative/dynamic distinction
in verbs), all three Caucasian families agree in having glottalized consonants,
rich sibilant and postvelar systems, morphosyntactic categories such as the
evidential, potential, and causative, noun-adjective bahuvrihi compounds,
suppletive singular vs. plural verb forms, and a vigesimal numeral system.
Marian Klamer, Ger Reesink, and Miriam van Staden (95-149) examine five features
shared by many Papuan and Austronesian languages of East Nusantara, the region
encompassing the eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago, including Timor,
the Moluccas, Halmahera, and northwestern New Guinea. Of these, three are
originally Papuan and were transferred to Austronesian by language shift
(possessor-possessum order; overt marking of inalienable vs. alienable
possession; clause-final negation), whereas two are originally proper to
Austronesian languages and spread to local Papuan languages by diffusion (SVO
order; inclusive/exclusive distinction in pronouns).
Mily Crevels and Hein van der Voort (151-79) provide an overview of the
Guaporé-Mamoré region, an area of extraordinary linguistic diversity containing
over 50 languages, representing eight different families and numerous isolates.
Although the preliminary state of research makes any conclusions tentative, the
number of grammatical features shared by many of these languages strongly
suggests a long period of intense contact and widespread intermarriage and
multlilingualism, which would be consistent with anthropological findings.
Olga Miseska Tomic (181-219) examines several morphosyntactic features in the
most famous of linguistic areas, the Balkans. By focusing on data from dialects,
rather than the standard literary languages, she demonstrates that such typical
Balkan features as clitic doubling, hosts for possessive clitics, perfect
constructions, and evidentials show important variations across dialects of
South Slavic, Balkan Romance, Albanian, and Greek, and that the closest
cross-linguistic correspondences are unsurprisingly to be found in dialects
spoken in neighboring, (historically) multilingual communities.
Finally, Rint Sybesma (221-74) investigates the verb and modal element ''ACQ'' in
Zhuang, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Lao, which has a range of functions from
lexical 'acquire, get' to a marker of aspectual relations. The author
demonstrates that Zhuang resembles Vietnamese and Lao in the preverbal usage of
ACQ (vs. Cantonese, which requires a preceding verbal element), but aligns with
Cantonese in restricting postverbal ACQ to the position immediately following
the verb and to telic predicates. The differences in the syntactic behavior of
ACQ among these four languages presumably result from contact, although it is
not clear which have innovated in this regard.
Useful indices, arranged by language, author, subject, and place, round out this
beautifully produced book. Typographical errors and infelicities of phrasing are
numerous, but mostly self-correcting. Among the few exceptions, the list of
languages of the Caucasus (29-30) should include Cherkess as the Russian
designation of Circassian. The map of East Nusantara (99) does not label the
Molucca Islands (Buru, Ambon, Seram). On p. 120, example (15) appears to have
switched _ale_ and _ale-m_; the preceding line should read ''while the alienables
have just the free pronouns preceding the possessum...''
In the final chapter, Sybesma introduces the main problem on p. 222, i.e. that
postverbal ACQ in Zhuang cannot express ability in sentences like (1a), but on
p. 224 confusingly gives (2a) as an example of postverbal ACQ meaning 'can'
(with a telic verb). Sybesma's description of the preverbal functions of ACQ
could be compared with the parallel evolution of English 'get', e.g. (10a) 'The
people got this bridge built for them...' or (12b) 'Please allow this small
child of mine to get to grow up....'' Similarly, the confusion between postverbal
'can' and 'be OK' immediately recalls the replacement of 'may' with 'can' in
contemporary spoken English. Thus (35) can mean only 'He can speak Vietnamese'
in the sense of 'He may speak Vietnamese' (also (42a) 'May I take a bite?'),
whereas the Lao sentence in (48) is ambiguous between 'S/he can speak Lao' and
'S/he may speak Lao'.
The volume contains a wealth of data on contact-induced change on numerous
levels of linguistic structure, from phonetics and phonology through morphology,
syntax, semantics, and pragmatics to the lexicon, across an impressive range of
languages, many of them virtually unknown to a wider audience. For that reason
alone, it is to be highly recommended, and I eagerly await the appearance of
more such studies in the near future.
_From Linguistic Areas to Areal Linguistics_ could however have benefited from
further consideration of the theoretical issues surrounding areal linguistics
today. These have been discussed extensively, e.g. in the volumes mentioned
above (see in particular Thomason 2000, Campbell 2006, and Stolz 2006, as well
as Stolz 2002 and already Campbell 1985), but it may not be out of place to
review some of them here. Are there any defining differences between local
contact phenomena and those characterizing a linguistic area, or are linguistic
areas merely the sum of individual local contact situations? And in the latter
case, how can we distinguish linguistic areas from other geographical regions
whose languages also exhibit numerous -- if perhaps less profound or
idiosyncratic -- contact-induced changes and convergence? Or is such a
distinction possible, or even desirable?
Muysken's intriguing proposal of the Atlantic as a linguistic ''macro-area''
highlights the urgency of this last question. A quick glance at the linguistic
areas proposed to date (6) will show that they cover most of the inhabited
world, i.e. most if not all living human languages (and doubtless those of the
past) belong to at least one linguistic area. Western scholars have long
remarked on the similarities among genetically unaffiliated languages of e.g.
South Asia or the Pacific Northwest, and more recently have postulated that the
languages of (western) Europe share a number of important innovations which have
spread by diffusion. Are the Balkans or East Nusantara then ''more of a
linguistic area'' than western Europe or South Asia? How extensive does
contact-induced change have to be for a region to be considered a linguistic area?
As the papers in this and other recent volumes suggest, the time has come to
treat linguistic areas not as absolute entities, but rather as existing along a
continuum of intensity of contact, extent of multilingualism, and length of
coexistence of the languages in question. Furthermore, linguistic areas are not
discrete, neatly delineable geographical zones, but consist of core and
peripheral regions, as well as core and peripheral participating languages.
Chirikba's paper thus distinguishes between the North and South Caucasian
languages, which make up the core of the Caucasian linguistic area; Armenian,
Ossetic, and the Turkic languages, which entered the region within the past 2000
years; and the most recent arrivals, such as Russian, Modern Aramaic, or Pontic
Greek, together with languages spoken in adjacent regions. Similarly, Klamer et
al. identify Halmahera and the Bird's Head as the core of their East Nusantara
areal traits; and Tomic, following other researchers, focuses in on southern
Serbia, Macedonia, and western Bulgaria as the center of most Balkan
At the same time, it may still be useful to distinguish between zones marked by
intense, long-term multilingual contact and larger geographical units,
corresponding to the ''macro-areas'' of Muysken (4-5), in which languages
belonging to many different families share certain structural peculiarities. For
instance, Tomic's study of the precise restrictions on and semantics of Balkan
morphosyntactic constructions, such as clitic doubling or evidentials, offers a
welcome example of the need for optimally precise descriptions of dialect data,
but most of her examples focus on local contact between speakers of neighboring
Macedonian Slavic, Aromanian, and Albanian dialects. I suspect that most other
linguists who have any familiarity with the Balkan languages will want to know
the latest hypotheses on the origin of the postposed definite article,
periphrastic future with 'will', or loss of the infinitive - the features which
first led to the identification of a Balkan Sprachbund. Sybesma's examination of
ACQ in Zhuang and neighboring languages of southern China and Southeast Asia
likewise raises the question of the many other features common to languages of
this region, e.g. tone, numeral classifiers, or the structure of yes-no questions.
In this connection, another aspect of areal linguistics which could have been
discussed in more detail is the role of shift in the geographical distribution
of particular features. In their study of East Nusantara, Klamer et al. conclude
that the typically Papuan features shared by many languages of the region are in
large part the result of shift from Papuan to Austronesian over millennia, which
has left pockets of Papuan languages scattered among majority
Austronesian-speaking populations. Similarly, at least some typical Balkanisms
may reflect shift of Romance-, Illyrian-, or Thracian-speaking populations to
Greek or Slavic, and of Slavic speakers to Greek or Romance, during the Middle
Ages. Long-term shift may also help to explain structural peculiarities
distributed over larger expanses, e.g. the absence of initial r- in many
premodern languages of the Near East and Central Asia.
The study of areal linguistics raises many more interesting questions than can
be addressed here. The value of the studies in volumes like _From Linguistic
Areas to Areal Linguistics_ for students of historical linguistics,
sociolinguistics, and language contact, and indeed for all linguists, is that
they gather data from numerous families and regions which would otherwise remain
confined to small groups of specialists, and place that data within its proper
historical and social context. It is on the basis of such empirical advances
that our understanding of diffusion, transfer, convergence, shift, and other
aspects of areal linguistics will continue to advance in the years to come.
Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. and R. M. W. Dixon. 2001. _Areal Diffusion and Genetic
Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics_. Oxford/New York: Oxford
Campbell, Lyle. 1985. Areal linguistics and its implications for historical
linguistic theory. _Papers from the 6th International Conference on Historical
Linguistics_, ed. by Jacek Fisiak, 25-56. Amsterdam: John Benjamins; Poznan:
Adam Mickiewicz University Press.
Campbell, Lyle. 2006. Areal linguistics: a closer scrutiny. Matras et al. (eds.)
Gilbers, Dicky, John Nerbonne, and Jos Schaeken, eds. 2000. _Languages in
Contact_. (Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics, Vol. 28.) Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Matras, Yaron, April McMahon, and Nigel Vincent, eds. 2006. _Linguistic Areas:
Convergence in Historical and Typological Perspective_. Basingstoke, UK/New
York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Muysken, Pieter. 2000. From linguistic areas to areal linguistics: a research
proposal. Gilbers et al. (eds.) 2000, 263-75.
Stolz, Thomas. 2002. No _Sprachbund_ beyond this line. On the age-old discussion
of how to define a linguistic area. _Mediterranean Languages: Papers from the
MEDTYP Workshop, Tirrenia, June 2000_, ed. by Paolo Ramat and Thomas Stolz,
259-81. Bochum: Universitätsverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer.
Stolz, Thomas. 2006. All or nothing. Matras et al. (eds.) 2006, 32-50.
Thomason, Sarah G. 2000. Linguistic areas and language history. Gilbers et al.
(eds.) 2000, 311-27.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ronald I. Kim is Visiting Professor in the Institute of English Philology,
Wroclaw University, where he teaches English and general linguistics. His
research interests include historical linguistics, primarily of the
Indo-European languages, as well as sociolinguistics and language contact.