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Review of  Languages in Contact


Reviewer: Lotfi Sayahi
Book Title: Languages in Contact
Book Author: Dicky Gilbers Jos Schaeken John Nerbonne
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 12.2549

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Review:

[This review replaces the review in issue 12-2413, adding the
author's biographical statement, and correcting some errors. --Eds.]

Gilbers, Dicky, John Nerbonne, and Jos Schaeken, ed. (2000)
Languages in Contact. Rodopi, hardback ISBN 90-420-1322-2,
viii+339pp, $64.00, Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics 28.


Lotfi Sayahi, University at Albany, State University of New York

Languages in Contact is a collection of thirty articles presented
at a conference bearing the same title which was held in 1999 at
the University of Groningen. It celebrated the awarding of a
honorary doctorate by the University of St. Petersburg to Tjeerd
De Graaf (Professor of phonetics at the University of Groningen
and author of a large body of publications on phonetic aspects of
bilingualism and language contact). In addition to these
numerous contributions, the editors include an introduction that
outlines the major topics exposed.

The volume under review is not divided into sections or
chapters. However, in the introduction, the editors attempted to
group the articles according to the linguistic area they study. A
wide range of coverage is dedicated to Eurasia, with a special
attention to Russian in contact with several languages of the ex
URSS, the Balkan Sprachbund (one of the best known and
studied linguistic areas), the Scandinavian languages and dialects,
and the Dutch/ German dialectal contact. Another group of
articles deals with the Pacific area studying the language contact
in New Guinea. The third group studies two linguistic areas
referred to by the editors as "The New World": the Pacific
Northwest, and the Andean Amazonian area.

It would be too space consuming to review every single
contribution made to this encompassing volume. Therefore, I will
limit my review to a few articles that I find theoretically
stimulating in order to discuss the main foci and the future
directions of Sprachbund studies without going into too much
specific structural detail which would be inevitable when
reviewing case studies.

The first article, entitled "Linguistic areas and language
history", is written by Sarah G. Thomason, who previously co-
authored with T. Kaufman (1988) a classic reference book on
language contact. Her article exposes the state of the art in
language contact studies by defining the object of this sub-
discipline and surveying the main Sprachb�nde studied. By
definition and according to Thomason, "a linguistic area is a
geographical region containing a group of three or more
languages that share some structural features as a result of
contact rather than as a result of accident or inheritance from
common ancestor." (p. 311). The fact that more than two
languages are needed in order to speak of a Sprachbund as such
is a way to distinguish areal linguistics from the studies that cover
the very frequent bilingual contact situations. In addition, the
focus on "structural features" is to avoid the inclusion, in a
certain Sprachbund, of all the languages that may have borrowed
lexical items from languages belonging to the area in question
without undertaking a close direct contact. The stress on contact
as the catalyst for structural convergence in areal linguistics
is the very raison d'�tre of this field since many cross-
linguistic features may be shared among languages, which may
not be in direct contact nor linked genetically, either by
conforming to some Universal Grammar principles or simply by
accident.

Thomason proceeds to survey the most controversial issues
involving areal linguistics studies and she formulates some
conclusions that could be summarized as follows:

1. Not all the members of a determined Sprachbund are
necessarily structurally related between themselves.

2. More than one structural feature should be shared as evidence
for a Sprachbund.

3. The shared structural features are not required to be present
in all the member languages.

4. The distinguishing shared features may not be exclusive to the
determined Sprachbund and may exist in other linguistic areas as
well.

5. Several social and cultural factors condition the emergence of
a Sprachbund out of close contact between more than two
languages for a long time.

Thomason then attempts to answer two important questions
central to the study of language contact: "How do linguistic areas
arise? And how are their linguistic features to be interpreted
historically?" (p. 315). She underscores the social and cultural
specificity of each case both for the arising of a Sprachbund and
for the adequate historical interpretation of its shared
features. In order to illustrate these assumptions, she surveys
five well-known Sprachb�nde: The Balkan Sprachbund, the
Sepik River Basin, the Pacific Northwest, the Ethiopian
Highlands, and South Asia.

The fact that a lot has still to be done in areal linguistics
makes the answer to where the areal features come from not an
easy one, since it is not obvious in all the cases what the
original source language was and how the processes of contact
and change took place.

The second article that I find of special interest and
complimentary to the article by Thomason is the one by Pieter
Muysken: "From linguistic areas to areal linguistics". While
Thomason's article reviews and consolidates the foundations and
the theoretical framework in the present areal linguistics
research showing where we presently stand, Muysken aims at
the future and the upcoming areal linguistic research by suggesting
possible directions of study. He maintains the need to combine
the efforts of genetic, areal, and typological linguistics for a
better understanding of linguistic areas.

In addition to the possible scenarios for the formation of
linguistic areas presented by Thomason and Kaufman
(maintenance and borrowing/ shift and transfer) which lead to
"outer form shared features" (p. 267). Muysken proposes two
additional scenarios: surface convergence (for example
convergence at the word order level) and relexification "the
word for word and even morpheme for morpheme modeling of
one language upon another, so that roughly the structure comes
from the one and at least the content lexicon from the other
language" (p. 266). These types of scenarios lead to "inner form
syntactic and discourse features" (267). Both inner form and
outer form shared features may be present when we have
convergence and coexistence. In the light of these
interpretations, Muysken discusses the areal features in the
Andean/Amazon transition area. He argues that unlike the
Balkan linguistic area, there exist two main language groups with
the Quechua-Aymara group on the one side and the Western
Amazonian languages at the other. Ongoing detailed research in
the area is expected to shed more light on the relationship
between both groups and the type of shared features. The
general claim of the article is the "[^�] shift from linguistic areas
as fixed entities to areal linguistics, the study of the distribution of
linguistic features in space and time" (p. 274).

R. Alexander investigates the word order within the Balkan
linguistic area in order to prove whether it is of a convergent
aspect or not. Complex as the Balkan linguistic area is, it is
hard to distinguish between the features that have been contact-
induced and those that have occurred out of internal structural
change, even though the combination of both phenomena is quite
frequent. Alexander stresses the important role that South Slavic
languages (Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian,
and Bulgarian) play as a good source for possible investigation of
several features due to the fact that they contain both Balkan
and non-Balkan features. While in non-Balkan Slavic the clitic
is placed after the negated verb, Balkan south Slavic requires
the clitic to be inserted between the negative particle and the
negated verb which is similar to the order implanted in Balkan
languages. The claim she makes is that the Balkan Slavic word
order is innovative. Another innovation concerns the fact that in
Balkan Slavic clitics are required to precede the verb even if
this means that they have to occupy the first place in the word
order which is not allowed in many other linguistic systems.
Based on a comparison of Balkan south Slavic and non-Balkan
South Slavic features and examination of early South Slavic
manuscripts, Alexander reaches the conclusion that the clitic
ordering in Balkan languages originated in Slavic and was
borrowed by the rest of the Balkan languages suggesting that it is
more probable to be a contact-induced feature rather than a
convergent one. But she still draws our attention to the fact that
the interpretation of the appearance of a certain shared structural
feature may vary according to the point of view of each linguist.
She makes a strong call to find a "correct balance" (p. 25)
between both approximations: convergence and internal factors.
A different point of view is expressed by Lindstedt who seems
to be inclined towards the idea that the different areal Balkan
features could not be a result of "internal drift" (p. 242), or at
least not exclusively. They could be the result of "mutual
reinforcement" (p. 242) meaning that the sin quo no of the
linguistic balkanization is the contact situation which is after
all the subject matter of Sprachbund studies in general.

Another interesting theoretical approach is developed by Comrie
in his article "Language contact, lexical, borrowing, and
semantic fields". He investigates whether the convergence in
"semantic fields", not in syntactic structures as we have seen
above, are the outcome of genetic relations or a close linguistic
contact. Several structural similarities between Haruai and Aramo
(a variety of Hagahai which is a Kalamic language), such as verb
morphology, allow for genetic connections between Haruai and
Hagahai that do not exist between Haruai and Kobon (a Kalamic
language too). Comrie suggests that shared similarities between
the last two are a result of borrowing "[...] from Kobon into
Haruai, since the borrowed words are shared by Kobon and
Haruai but not in general by Hagahai" (p. 79). This is caused
partly by the need of Haruai to make up for the extensive gap
left by the systematic word tabooing in this speech community
(especially kinship words since every speaker may have some
words that are taboo for him only such as the names of his in-
laws (p. 80)); and also by the incorporation of words "relating to
the outside world" (p. 83). The loans, therefore, are not really
limited to determined semantic domains but functionally they go
beyond that to cause permanent lexical changes in the language
as stated by Comrie: "In general, in Haruai it is not possible to
identify particular semantic domains that have been affected by
borrowing from Kobon; such borrowing pervades the whole
lexicon" (p. 84)

In general, the inclusion of so many articles with different
scopes is very useful as it allows the reader to get a good grasp
of the most up-to-date research in the field but still there is a
risk of getting overwhelmed by so much information and so
many case studies. Sometimes it may seem hard to come to grip
with all the viewpoints especially since some articles are not
elaborated enough (some are as brief as four pages) and the
reader may lack the necessary information required to follow the
arguments made. Another critical points, which does not relate
to this volume only but to contact linguistics in general, is the
need to decentralize the classical Eurasian Sprachb�nde and
direct more extensive research into the other areas as well (only
one article referred to Africa in the present volume).

A more active editorial effort was needed to make the general
layout of the book clearly structured with, perhaps, the more
general theoretical articles in the beginning (especially the
article by Thomason which could have served as an introduction
to the whole volume) and the articles classified in chapters
according to their scope, the features studied (syntactic,
morphological, lexical or phonetic), or the methodology
implanted, etc. In this way, it would have been much more
accessible as a reference book.

To sum up, Languages in Contact is a large encompassing
collection of good scholarly contributions on Sprachbund studies
with both theoretical articles offering the needed framework and
well-documented case studies offering insight into original data.
The contributors made it clear that there is still a lot to be
done and almost every article promised or opened the door for
more systematic future research.

Reference
Thomason, Sarah Grey, and Terence Kaufman (1988). Language
contact, creolization and genetic linguistics. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.


Lotfi Sayahi is currently an Assistant Professor at the
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (the
University at Albany, SUNY). His main research areas are:
sociolinguistics, bilingualism, code-switching, and Spanish
linguistics.


 
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