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Review of  Grammars in Contact

Reviewer: Mayrene Bentley
Book Title: Grammars in Contact
Book Author: Chia-jung Pan R. M. W. Dixon
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 20.3955

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Date: Tue, 17-Nov-2009 16:54:47 +1000
From: Mayrene Bentley
Subject: Grammars in Contact: A Cross-Linguistic Typology

EDITORS: Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y.; Dixon, R.M.W
TITLE: Grammars in Contact
SUBTITLE: A Cross-Linguistic Typology
SERIES: Explorations in Linguistic Typology
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2008

Mayrene Bentley, Department of Languages & Literature, Northeastern State
University, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.


''Grammars in Contact: A Cross-Linguistic Typology'' offers a data-rich discussion
of possible sources for phonological, morphological, grammatical, and pragmatic
changes in a geographically diverse range of languages and linguistic areas:
Australia, Western Nilotic, Volta Basin, Basque, East Timor, Pennsylvania
German, The Balkans, Cantonese, Vaupes, Peruvian Amazon, Mawayana. This edited
collection of papers is an important reference for scholars working in language
contact and desirous of data detailing linguistic diffusion in some
geographically remote areas.

1. ''Grammars in Contact A Cross-Linguistic Perspective.'' Alexandra Aikhenvald
sets the stage for the subsequent articles in the volume by laying out what
principles underlie the borrowing of linguistic forms in languages. She states
that only through fieldwork can appropriate generalizations be drawn regarding
preferences for borrowing. These preferences include category functions, usage,
cultural stereotypes, and structural similarities between languages. Despite
layers of borrowing achieved by years of contact, a language's roots generally
remain indelible and family affiliations are recognizable. However, some
languages show significantly more borrowing and in some instances, multiple
layers of contact-induced change blur genetic affiliations. Hence, only by
''careful examination of all relevant facts'' (p. 10) can conclusions regarding
contact-induced change be achieved. These conclusions will presumably be free
from the four other influencing factors: independent innovations, parallel
development, accidental similarities, and typologically natural tendencies.

This introductory chapter, being the longest one in the book, is divided into
four parts. Part one discusses the question, ''Why can languages be similar?''
Parts two (''The effects of language contact'') and three (''Mechanisms of
contact-induced change'') are subdivided into related issues that highlight
Aikhenvald's in-depth knowledge of languages. In her discussion, she draws
specific examples from the data of subsequent chapters as well as from other
well-known and lesser known languages to substantiate her claims. In part four
(''Making diffusion possible''), she claims that diffusion is more likely in
contact situations when the borrowed item is cognitively motivated, e.g.,
pragmatically-based constructions such as focus and topic markers will diffuse
more readily than categories such as deictics, case markers, and tenses.
Factors that facilitate this diffusion are matching genres or pragmatic patterns
that allow for the calquing of greetings and discourse markers that are useful
in story telling and the marking of arguments for participant tracking. Another
facilitating factor is the similarity of phonological words between contact
languages such that morphemes can match up easily for borrowing purposes. Usage
frequencies in the borrowed form as well as its obligatoriness are other
facilitating factors. This is particularly so when the borrowed form
corresponds to a social stigma such as lying as in the case of a system of
evidentials. When contact languages have a mutual activity like commerce, this
facilitates the borrowing of language correlates such as counting systems.
Additional factors favoring borrowing or diffusion are described: perceived gaps
in a language; the conformity of cognitive perceptions to corresponding
grammatical categories such as future expressions (''plan'' and ''count'') in
Pennsylvania German; a minimally complex form; structural similarities between
languages; innovative tendencies in the language that match those required for
borrowed forms; existing analogous forms; the presence of perceived similar forms.

Aikhenvald then lists three other factors facilitating the borrowing of
particular forms: 1) morphosyntactic transparency and clarity of morpheme
boundaries; 2) prosodic saliency and syllabicity; 3) unifunctionality and
semantic transparency as opposed to portmanteau forms. The presence of several
facilitating factors leads to a greater likelihood of diffusion and therefore, a
principle of Mutual Reinforcement. Aikhenvald is quick to point out that these
factors do not function in any hierarchical fashion, but simply serve to
reinforce each other in a complex way. Finally, some linguistic tendencies also
come into play, e.g., analytic and agglutinating languages borrow more easily in
contrast to fusional ones while free versus bound morphemes are more easily

In conclusion, Aikhenvald summarizes the necessary sociolinguistic parameters
and attitudes that lead to language contact and diffusion. The sociolinguistic
parameters include multilingualism, prestige, diglossia, mutual intelligibility,
interaction or contact time, and openness of the community to outside
influences. Attitudes may inhibit borrowing through the purging of a language
of unwanted loans although borrowed patterns are prevalent, but less
discernable. Aversion toward stereotyped features that characterize a language
inhibits borrowing. Language planners also change borrowing patterns.

Some final points touched on are balanced versus displacive language contact and
language convergence.

In light of Aikhenvald's extensive discussion on borrowing in chapter one, I
summarize below the relevant points she includes from each article.

2. ''Grammatical Diffusion in Australia: Free and Bound Pronouns.'' R.M.W.
Dixon describes how the spread of bound pronouns and developing clitics across
Australian languages is a phenomenon resulting from years of contact that have
led to linguistic relations based on accommodation rather than prohibition.

3. ''How Long do Linguistic Areas Last?: Western Nilotic Grammars in Contact.''
Anne Storch points out that there is an Ubangi imprint on the Western Nilotic
language of Belanda Bor as well as an Eastern Nilotic imprint on the Western one
of Labwor. This imprint is organized chronologically such that Belanda Bor bears
prefixes and marks singular-plural pairs that indicate contact with an Ubangian
language, Bviri, whose similar prefixes suggest earlier contact. In some cases,
language contact is not sufficient for permanent changes as in the case of Luwo
and Dinka.

4. ''Grammars in Contact in the Volta Basin (West Africa): On Contact-Induced
Grammatical Change in Likpe.'' Felix Ameka continues the theme of this volume by
showing the influence of Ewe on Likpe for the past 300-400 years in such
examples as discourse particles, story telling, and the development of a plural
suffix on kinship nouns. He also describes an interesting example of
accommodation when Likpe shifted its verb ''lè'' (hold) into a present progressive
construction because the verb phonetically resembled one in a neighboring Ewe
dialect that was used in its present progressive.

5. ''Basque in Contact with Romance Languages.'' Gerd Jendraschek looks at both
internally and externally induced changes in Basque. These changes (e.g.,
argument structure and verb marking) are traceable only to the extent that
synchronic data permit reconstruction. Some borrowings in Basque from contact
with Romance include postposed relative clauses, pronominal plurals, and loss of
differentiation between direct and indirect objects.

6. ''Language Contact and Convergence in East Timor: The Case of Tetun Dili.''
John Hajek shows how Tetun Dili has evidence of multi-layering from contact with
Portuguese, Malay, and later from Indonesian. It has developed verb-initial
clauses and hypotaxis from Portuguese influence. It now has a new word class
that came about by borrowing numerous adjectives. Previously, adjectives and
verbs were relatively indistinguishable in Tetun Dili.

7. ''Language Contact and Convergence in Pennsylvania German.'' Kate Burridge, in
a similar vein as Jendraschek's findings in Basque, describes the considerable
external factors influencing change in Pennsylvania German in addition to
internal ones. The predominant role that English plays with respect to internal
similarities and external pressure cannot be underestimated. Numerous discourse
particles now appear in Pennsylvania German.

8. ''Balkanizing the Balkan Sprachbund: A Closer Look at Grammatical
Permeability and Feature Distribution.'' Victor Friedman describes how Romani
has numerous layers from contact with the Romance family and neighboring
languages such as Greek despite its Indic origins. He also lists the linguistic
traits of the Balkans that identify it as a sprachbund with South Slavic
manifesting those traits highly central to the sprachbund. These traits also
suggest micro-areas within the larger linguistic area; hence, compounding the
difficulty of sorting out the complexity of multi-layered effects.

9. ''Cantonese Grammar in Areal Perspective.'' Stephen Matthews describes how
different registers of Cantonese have been subject to greater degrees of
borrowing with less variation found in the higher registers. Lower registers
show evidence (changes in tone and pitch accent and a system of classifiers in
possessive constructions) of old diffusion from Tai and Miao-Yao. Diffusion in
South-East Asia makes tracing sources of diffusion complicated.

10. ''Semantics and Pragmatics of Grammatical Relations in the Vaupes Linguistic
Area.'' Alexandra Aikhenvald. Tariana is an Arawak language that bears a
discernable layer borrowed from Tucanoan. Through contact, it has developed an
invariable locative form and a system of evidentials. It has also shed head
marking for dependent marking as a result of East Tucanoan influence. It also
marks topical objects and focused subjects.

11. ''The Vaupes Melting Pot: Tucanoan Influence on Hup.'' Patience Epps
describes how Hup, though belonging to a family different from Tariana,
manifests a variety of Tucanoan influences. These influences are seen in the
phonology of word-initial positions, pitch accent and tone as well as
grammatical aspects such as a new system of classifiers, evidentials, verb
compounding to express aspectual features, and verb final word order. Number
systems have been restructured, too. It has also developed a special marker for
definite non-subjects. She also shows how Hup manifests the features that set
it at the center of a diffusion area.

12. ''The Quechua Impact in Amuesha, an Arawak Language of the Peruvian Amazon.''
Willem Adelaar continues the theme of this collection with a description of
distinct layers of Quechuan influence on Amuesha. Although a member of the
Arawak family, Amuesha has borrowed features (new phonemes and negation) clearly
traceable to Quechua. These borrowings are considered vestigial since contact
was in the past. At the same time, there are features that cannot be accounted
for by either Arawak or Quechua, and remain an enigma since the layering has
obscured traceable sources.

13. ''Feeling the Need: The Borrowing of Cariban Functional Categories into
Mawayana (Arawak).'' Eithne Carlin completes this volume describing the borrowing
of Carib nominal past into Mawayana while also noting the loss of gender in
Mawayana because of surrounding genderless languages. Notwithstanding this
loss, it has borrowed a first person exclusive pronoun from a contact language.


Aikhenvald's numerous publications, study, and research are evident in this
edited collection. Her claims pull from an extensive knowledge of
cross-linguistic language data. She is meticulous in defining all terms so that
the book is accessible to both new and well-seasoned scholars. The first
chapter highlights the complexity of language contact through the careful
listing of the possible factors (grammatical as well as the social and
linguistic contexts) that facilitate and, in some cases, deter diffusion in
contact situations. Each factor is supported with numerous examples. Because of
Aikhenvald's thorough discussion of language contact phenomena in the first
fifty-three pages of the volume and abundant citing of the findings in the
subsequent articles, the likelihood of any scholar reading all twelve articles
that follow may be diminished. As with any edited volume, researchers will
search out those articles relevant to their area of interest. The editors have
included a glossary, an author index, an index of languages, language families
and linguistic areas, and a subject index. These indices would make this book a
possible recommended reading for a graduate course in language contact or
typology. Its descriptive approach with an underlying functional explanation of
language contact principles makes it a readable collection of well-edited
articles on language contact. It is interesting, however, that Aikhenvald makes
no reference to Joan Bybee's work since Bybee's scholarship on usage-based
grammar (2005) has relevance to Aikhenvald's claims regarding the influential
factors of saliency, cognition, and usage on borrowing principles.


Bybee, Joan. ''The impact of use on representation: grammar is usage and usage
is grammar.'' Presidential Address, Linguistic Society of America, Oakland, CA,
8 January 2005.
Mayrene Bentley is an Associate Professor of Linguistics. Her interests include typological descriptions of eastern Bantu languages and Cherokee.

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