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Review of  The Handbook of Language Contact

Reviewer: Olivia Sammons
Book Title: The Handbook of Language Contact
Book Author: Raymond Hickey
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.1723

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The Handbook of Language Contact provides an overview of central topics in contact linguistics, and represents a substantial contribution to the growing body of research in language contact studies. The 863-page volume consists of 40 chapters from 42 contributors, and is divided into four major sections. The first three sections are more theoretical in orientation, while the fourth presents case studies of language contact worldwide. Part I, preceded by a table of contents, author biographies, preface, and introduction, includes chapters situating language contact within the larger field of linguistics. Part II includes chapters focusing on the relationship between contact and language change, while Part III discusses interactions between language contact and society. As mentioned, Part IV presents case studies of contact phenomena, followed by author and subject indices. It should be noted that this review is of the paperback edition of a volume previously published in hardcover in 2010.

In his introduction, ‘Language Contact: Reconsideration and Reassessment’, editor Raymond Hickey provides an overview of the development of language contact studies over time, highlighting important milestones and identifying major streams of research.

In Chapter 1, ‘Contact Explanations in Linguistics’, Sarah Thomason discusses the role of language contact in language change, arguing that both internal and external motivations are possible. After a brief introduction, she defines key terms and introduces common questions within contact studies. She also discusses criteria used to determine changes prompted by contact, surveys various explanations for both internally and externally motivated change, and discusses social and linguistic predictors of both.

Chapter 2 examines ‘Genetic Classification and Language Contact’. Michael Noonan begins by providing background on the genetic classification of languages, identifying three main approaches used in the past (generational transmission, essentialist, and hybrid approaches). He goes on to describe various models of language families and their degree of compatibility with a number of approaches to genetic classification. He also discusses ways in which outcomes of language contact may be taken into account within the three models of classification. Specifically, he examines the effects of borrowing, substratic influence, and koineization on genetic classification, and how creoles and mixed languages might fit into these approaches. He ends with a brief discussion on speciation and language contact.

In Chapter 3, ‘Contact, Convergence, and Typology’, Yaron Matras describes the effects of language contact in the areas of convergence (pattern replication), borrowing (matter replication), and typological change. Topics covered include contact-induced grammaticalization, factors in constructing a model of language convergence, ways in which convergence can effect change in the typological profile of languages in contact, and borrowing.

In Chapter 4, ‘Contact and Grammaticalization’, Bernd Heine and Tania Kuteva suggest that language contact and grammaticalization can work together to effect language change, despite previous claims to the contrary. They provide a number of examples in which grammaticalization has taken place as a result of contact, while also detailing the complexities of such processes. They also discuss grammaticalization areas, how contact-induced grammaticalization can bring about a change in the typological profile of a language, and potential constraints on contact-induced grammaticalization.

Chapter 5 is entitled ‘Language Contact and Grammatical Theory’. In the past, grammatical theory has often overlooked contact varieties. However, here Karen P. Corrigan uses a generative framework to argue that these languages are worthy of study and integration into current models of linguistic theory. She presents two case studies in which a generative model is applied to account for contact-induced morphosyntactic change. The first study discusses the pro-drop/null subject parameter in Early Modern Irish English, and the second involves wh-movement and preposition stranding in two types of Prince Edward Island French.

In Chapter 6, ‘Computational Models and Language Contact’, April McMahon discusses how quantitative and computational methods can be applied to develop language classification models reflecting the effects of language contact. This is a promising line of research, since previous models have often failed to account for contact effects in the reconstruction of protolanguages. McMahon summarizes a number of attempts at language classification and identifies directions for future research and areas for further refinement of these models.

In Chapter 7, Raymond Hickey addresses ‘Contact and Language Shift’, with a particular focus on the shift from Irish to English in Ireland from the seventeenth century onward. He discusses historical circumstances leading to the decline of the Irish language, highlighting the difficulty of identifying the source of contact phenomena when they are represented in more than one language in a given contact situation. He also describes cases of contact-induced shift in Irish English, and discusses ways in which English has influenced the Irish language as it is spoken today.

Chapter 8 discusses ‘Contact and Borrowing’. In this chapter, Donald Winford emphasizes the idea that borrowing should be viewed as a process rather than a product or result. He discusses the classification of lexical borrowing, ways in which borrowed items are integrated into the recipient language, and social and linguistic constraints on this process. He also reevaluates contact phenomena such as code-switching, relexification, and the creation of mixed languages, interpreting them as borrowing outcomes.

Chapter 9 discusses ‘Contact and Code-Switching’, a common phenomenon in language contact situations. Penelope Gardner-Chloros discusses connections between code-switching, language shift, and language change. In particular, she discusses criteria used to distinguish borrowing from code-switching, and examines a number of code-switching strategies and their functions.

In Chapter 10, David Britain examines ‘Contact and Dialectology’. Until recently, much research in this field has focused primarily on the speech of non-mobile individuals, leaving the effects of mobility and dialect contact largely unexplored. Britain promotes a view of linguistic accommodation through everyday, routine interactions as a type of dialect contact which can ultimately lead to changes in speech. He discusses diffusion, the role of mobility in dialect contact, and the formation of dialect boundaries. He also provides examples of situations where contact has not led to convergence between dialects, as expected, but in which speakers maintain their own dialect features as markers of local identity. Finally, he presents a case study of The Fens, an area of eastern England in which a number of contact outcomes (e.g., leveling, reallocation, hybridity) are exemplified.

In Chapter 11, ‘Contact and New Varieties’, Paul Kerswill discusses new-dialect formation as a result of contact. He describes a model of stages of new-dialect formation in light of two case studies (South African Bhojpuri and New Zealand English), arguing that social factors must be considered when constructing such models. He also describes new-dialect formation in so-called 'new towns’, proposes “principles of koineization”, and discusses the connection between new-dialect formation and migration.

In Chapter 12, ‘Contact and Change: Pidgins and Creoles’, John Holm describes the development of new pidgin and creole varieties as a result of language contact. He provides examples of both pidgins and creoles and describes their basic features, highlighting key differences between the two. He also discusses the development of semi-creoles through partial restructuring, and situates creole studies within the larger field of contact linguistics.

Chapter 13, ‘Scenarios for Language Contact’, presents a scenario approach to explanations of contact-induced language change. Pieter Muysken begins by describing the role of the historical-comparative method in the development of language contact studies. He then presents differences between historical-linguistic and contact-based explanations of contact-induced change, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between levels of aggregation and time depth in identifying possible constraints on language contact scenarios. He also surveys and classifies various language contact situations based on a set of core characteristics, underscoring the idea that “multilingual speakers do not operate in a sociolinguistic vacuum” (278).

In Chapter 14, ‘Ethnic Identity and Linguistic Contact’, Carmen Fought examines language contact across ethnic boundaries. Drawing on sociolinguistic literature, she discusses the linguistic effects of interethnic contact, showing that varying degrees of convergence are possible. She also discusses the role of identity in determining influence between majority and minority ethnic varieties in contact, the influence of minority ethnic varieties on each other, and the role of sociocultural factors in shaping linguistic outcomes.

In Chapter 15, ‘Contact and Sociolinguistic Typology’, Peter Trudgill provides examples of languages which have undergone additive changes as a result of contact, becoming more morphologically and phonologically complex. Conversely, he discusses instances in which contact has led to simplification, outlining three major types of contact-induced simplification. He maintains that both complexification and simplification are possible outcomes of contact, and recommends consideration of the societal factors linked to each.

Chapter 16 is entitled ‘Contact and Language Death’. Suzanne Romaine begins by discussing possible causes of language death, chief among which are intense contact situations involving asymmetrical bilingualism. She then describes conditions and consequences of both sudden and gradual language death, and difficulties in drawing a clear distinction between the two. She goes on to describe processes of attrition often found in languages in decline, highlighting features which are especially susceptible to change. Also discussed are cases in which linguistic features are retained rather than lost, or even transferred to the more dominant language, reinforcing the notion that outcomes of language contact are often unpredictable.

In Chapter 17, Claire Bowern addresses the topic of ‘Fieldwork in Contact Situations’. She begins by defining language contact and outlining various types of contact scenarios in which fieldworkers may find themselves. This is followed by a description of phenomena that can be studied in such scenarios, as well as linguistic and paralinguistic effects of language contact on the field situation. She ends with a discussion of useful field techniques, including ethnographic methods, direct methods of questioning, and metadata and annotation.

In Chapter 18, ‘Macrofamilies, Macroareas, and Contact’, Johanna Nichols distinguishes between the roles of areality and descent in shaping proposed macrofamilies. She surveys and examines evidence for these groupings throughout the world, including Africa, Eurasia, New Guinea, Australia, North America, and South America.

In Chapter 19, ‘Contact and Prehistory: The Indo-European Northwest’ Theo Vennemann discusses contact influences on northwestern Indo-European during prehistoric times. In particular, he examines possible substrate influences from Basque and related languages in the areas of vigesimality, use of two copulas, and initial-syllable accent. He also stresses the importance of investigating possible substrate influences and incorporating these findings into historical explanations of Indo-European.

In Chapter 20, ‘Contact and the History of Germanic Languages’, Paul Roberge surveys various contact hypotheses for Germanic. He outlines potential sources of regional linguistic correspondences in prehistoric Indo-European and discusses possible contact influences on Germanic after the dissolution of Proto-Germanic into northern, eastern, and western groups. He also examines linguistic effects of the migration of Germanic-speaking peoples, including language shift, death, and spread. Finally, he discusses the development of hybridized forms of German used for communication between ethnic groups.

In Chapter 21, ‘Contact and the Early History of English’, Markku Filppula describes the effects of language contact on the development of English during the medieval period. He begins by outlining major contact influences on medieval English, including British Celtic, Scandinavian languages, French, and varieties of Latin. He then describes three syntactic features for which external linguistic contact likely influenced the development of early English: the progressive, the it-cleft construction, and certain relative clause structures. For each feature, he surveys major works and summarizes views in the literature regarding possible contact influences.

In Chapter 22, ‘Contact and the Development of American English’, Joseph C. Salmons and Thomas C. Purnell emphasize the importance of recognizing interaction between both internal and external factors in effecting language change. They identify three areas of language contact theory which can be used to explain selected developments in American English (i.e., imposition, koineization, and timing) and present three American English varieties whose development has been influenced by bilingualism. The chapter ends with a case study illustrating the influence that immigrant languages have had on the emergence of regional varieties of English spoken in the Upper Midwest.

Chapter 23 discusses ‘Contact Englishes and Creoles in the Caribbean’, an area with an exceptionally complex history. Edgar W. Schneider begins by providing a historical overview of settlement in the area and identifying social and historical factors contributing to the current linguistic situation. He then discusses conditions for creolization and provides a summary of major questions and theories addressed in creole studies. An overview of features characteristic of most creoles is also presented, followed by an argument for a “cline of creoleness”. Schneider concludes by stressing the need for additional research to be carried out on lesser-studied contact varieties of the Caribbean.

Chapter 24 is on ‘Contact and Asian Varieties of English’, with a particular focus on Singlish, a restructured variety of English spoken in Singapore. Umberto Ansaldo describes the dynamics of language contact between English and other linguistic varieties in Southeast Asia from an evolutionary perspective, followed by an overview of selected grammatical features of Singlish that have been influenced by language contact. In each of these cases, these features can be seen as the result of substrate influence rather than simplification. Ansaldo concludes by stressing the importance of studying Asian English varieties (AEVs) within their individual ecological context rather than making generalizations across multiple varieties.

In Chapter 25, ‘Contact and African Englishes’, Rajend Mesthrie discusses the effects of language contact on English spoken in Africa. He presents possible explanations for several phonological and syntactic features, including vowel systems, resumptive pronouns, left dislocation, lack of distinction between stative and habitual ‘be + -ing’, and conflation of pronoun gender. In addition to substrate influence, the source of these features may be found in L2 processing universals and superstrate influence. Finally, Mesthrie introduces anti-deletion as a means of understanding the effects of contact on sub-Saharan English, a notion which could possibly be extended to characterize other New Englishes as well.

Chapter 26 is dedicated to ‘Contact and the Celtic Languages’. Joseph F. Eska addresses early potential contact influences on Celtic languages, both in continental Europe and the British Isles, followed by an examination of the possible role of an Afro-Asiatic substratum as a source of many of their less common features. He presents several lines of evidence against this possibility before concluding that it is often difficult to tease apart internal and external factors in language contact situations, and that the source of these features in Insular Celtic is likely some combination of both.

In Chapter 27, John M. Lipski treats ‘Spanish and Portuguese in Contact’. The chapter is divided into two major sections, the first describing contact-induced effects on Spanish and the second focusing on Portuguese. Lipski begins by providing a brief introduction to current Spanish language contact scenarios. He then details four examples of contact-induced effects on several varieties of Spanish. In the Portuguese portion of the chapter, Lipski provides a brief description of contact scenarios, followed by a description of the interaction between Spanish and Portuguese in two contact situations on the Brazilian border, one involving Uruguayan Portuguese and another involving Spanish spoken in two Bolivian-Brazilian border towns.

Chapter 28 is on ‘Contact and the Development of the Slavic Languages’. After a brief introduction, Lenore A. Grenoble describes prehistoric contact influences on Slavic languages, with a particular focus on lexical borrowings from Iranian and Germanic. She then presents evidence for contact between Finno-Ugric and Russian, followed by a description of major influences on Slavic in early history. She goes on to describe the effects of contact between Slavic and languages of western Europe in more detail, the influence of Slavic languages on each other, and a number of possible mixed language varieties that have arisen as a result of the latter.

In Chapter 29, Johanna Laakso addresses ‘Contact and the Finno-Ugric Languages’. She begins by describing the six main branches of the Finno-Ugric family, followed by an overview of some of the more common types of contact scenarios for these languages. The following discussion centers around issues regarding the impact of language contact on Finno-Ugric that have been of some debate. Concerning internal versus external explanations for a number of Finnish etymologies, Laakso proposes multiple causation, while also noting the difficulty of conducting such research within a language contact framework.

Chapter 30 examines ‘Language Contact in the Balkans’. Brian D. Joseph lists common features of languages in this region, together with the languages in which each of these features is found. He discusses several difficulties associated with determining specific causes of contact-induced convergence, arguing that the examination of degree, duration, and direction of multilingualism is key to developing a more accurate understanding of contact effects. He illustrates this point by providing examples of common discourse-related borrowings shared by many Balkan languages. He also proposes an alternative means of characterizing a Sprachbund within the Balkan context, and stresses the importance of focusing on local dialects when studying the effects of language contact within larger geographic areas.

Chapter 31, by Kees Versteegh, addresses ‘Contact and the Development of Arabic’. Versteegh discusses substratal influence on the development of Arabic through contact with indigenous populations, cases in which Arabic has been influenced by superimposed languages, and influences on Arabic in areas where it is a minority language. He also briefly discusses the effect of Arabic on superimposed languages through contact, the influence that Arabic has had on minority languages in contact situations, and the influence that Arabic has exerted on other languages as a superimposed language.

Chapter 32 describes ‘Turkic Language Contacts’, a particularly rich area for contact studies due to the high mobility of Turkic-speaking groups in the past. Lars Johanson discusses the dynamics of Turkic language contact, as well as social and structural factors that have led to contact-induced changes. He then outlines major contact areas for Turkic languages, providing examples of contact-induced changes for each. Johanson concludes with a brief discussion of contact-induced changes in the areas of morphology and syntax, which sometimes result in significant restructuring.

Chapter 33 focuses on ‘Contact and North American Languages’, particularly in regard to the widespread transfer of morphological features among genetically unrelated languages. Marianne Mithun stresses the importance of structural comparison in related languages across geographical regions as a means of distinguishing contact-induced changes from other phenomena. She also illustrates how aspects of core argument structure can change and how abstract grammatical features can be transferred among unrelated languages through contact.

In Chapter 34, ‘Language Contact in Africa: A Selected Review’, G. Tucker Childs describes causes and effects of language contact in Africa. He discusses contact between Atlantic and Mande linguistic groups which has resulted both in structural changes and severe endangerment of the Atlantic languages. He also discusses the development of restructured varieties in Africa that have arisen through contact, with a particular focus on pidgins and creoles spoken in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. He then turns to the creation of new, urban varieties in Africa as a result of contact, and stresses the need for more sociohistorical documentation in understanding the dynamics of language contact on the continent.

In Chapter 35, ‘Contact and Siberian Languages’, Brigitte Pakendorf discusses a number of contact phenomena among languages in Siberia. These include lexical and structural effects of Russian on indigenous languages of Siberia, and the development of new varieties. She also uses several examples from Evenki, a Tungusic language, to illustrate how indigenous languages in the region can influence one another through contact.

Chapter 36 concerns ‘Language Contact in South Asia’. Harold F. Schiffman presents an overview of shared features among unrelated South Asian languages as evidence for contact influence, followed by a brief outline of key studies in the field. He also discusses major issues regarding pidgins and creoles in South Asian contact studies, such as the role of language universals, the possibility of relexification among contact varieties, and an overall lack of attention devoted to contact varieties with non-European superstrates. Schiffman also touches on other areas of pidgin/creole research, plus a number of issues related to grammaticalization in South Asian languages.

In Chapter 37, Stephen Matthews addresses ‘Language Contact and Chinese’. He describes historical influences on the development of Chinese, typological aspects of Chinese that have been influenced through contact, and influences that Mandarin has had on other Chinese dialects. Other topics covered include the role of Chinese as a substrate in the formation of new contact varieties, the influence of Chinese on other East Asian languages, code-mixing among Cantonese-English bilinguals, and English borrowings from Chinese.

Chapter 38 discusses ‘Contact and Indigenous Languages in Australia’. Patrick McConvell presents a number of studies discussing the viability of the comparative method as a means of accurately reconstructing these languages, given the extent of lexical diffusion that exists. He also discusses the origins and development of pidgins and creoles in Australia, including indigenous-based pidgins, early English-based pidgins, Roper River Creole (Kriol), Torres Strait Creole, and Aboriginal Englishes. He also describes other contact phenomena, such as lexical borrowing from English by indigenous languages, code-switching, language shift, the emergence of new varieties through language mixing, koineization, and language maintenance.

Chapter 39 describes ‘Language Contact in the New Guinea Region’. William A. Foley begins by identifying primary areas of language contact in the region due to multilingualism. He then discusses the borrowing of basic vocabulary and bound morphemes, both a testament to the intensity of contact and evidence that these items can be borrowed under certain circumstances. Foley also provides lexical, phonological, and grammatical examples of metatypy, illustrates contact influences between Papuan and Austronesian languages, and discusses pidginization as an additional outcome of language contact in the region.

In Chapter 40, Jeff Siegel discusses ‘Contact Languages of the Pacific’, with an emphasis on new languages and dialects. The first section covers pidginization, describing the progression from pre-pidgins to stable pidgins, as well as other pidgins of the region. Siegel then describes the development of Hawai’i Creole and other English-based creoles, in addition to creoles based on European lexifiers other than English, such as Rabaul Creole German and Patois de St-Louis. This is followed by a discussion of the creation of new dialects as a result of language contact, in which Siegel provides examples of both koines and indigenized varieties, and establishes the former as contact between dialects and the latter as contact between languages.


This volume represents a welcome addition to the literature on language contact, assembling contributions from international experts to offer an extensive resource which encompasses a broad range of language contact research. In contrast to other volumes often used as introductions to language contact studies, the present work is distinctive in being organized in handbook format, rather than as a monograph (e.g., Thomason 2001) or introductory textbook (e.g., Matras 2009, Winford 2003). More generally, the publication of such a substantial resource is indicative of a shift in linguistics towards recognition of language contact as an area of research in its own right, albeit one with strong connections to other topics of mainstream linguistic research, as this volume highlights.

As a full-length handbook, the volume is well suited to use by scholars aiming to find relatively concise introductions to current research in language contact as a point of departure into the larger literature. As such, it may be particularly useful in upper-level sociolinguistics courses and language contact seminars. The inclusion of references at the end of each chapter, rather than in collected form at the end of the volume, is a welcome feature, allowing individual chapters to be drawn on selectively in a course setting as free-standing papers. On the other hand, this format necessarily imposes limits on the length of each chapter (averaging roughly 15-20 pages), which may not have allowed contributors to provide extensive background to their topics or highlight connections with related research areas. In some cases, this contributed to specialist terminology and representational conventions not being introduced before their first occurrence, and linguistic data being presented without detailed explanation of their relation to the point at hand. Additionally, several chapters assume at least a basic familiarity with concepts from historical linguistics. As a consequence, some chapters may be less accessible for beginning undergraduates or readers without previous background in these areas.

This volume sets out to provide systematic and focused representation of all areas of language contact, providing seventeen chapters on general contact phenomena and twenty-three chapters on specific case studies intended to demonstrate the range and significance of contact situations across the world’s languages. The case studies do indeed illustrate contact phenomena attested in many geographical regions (e.g., Siberia, the Balkans) and language groups (e.g., Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Celtic). However, a number of these chapters focus exclusively on English, representing five of the twenty-three case studies, with a further five chapters on other Indo-European languages. The prominent representation of these languages among the case studies no doubt reflects the significant body of research that exists on these topics. One consequence of this selection of case studies, however, is the relative underrepresentation of contact phenomena in other language groups. For example, despite having long been recognized as prominent examples of linguistic areas, contact among the indigenous languages of Central and South America receives only indirect treatment. Similarly, several continents are addressed only in a single chapter, leaving comparatively little space for discussion of the considerable range of contact phenomena in these regions. Aiming for typological balance in the representation of language contact phenomena among case studies is admittedly a tall order, but one which furthers the goal of this volume to provide comprehensive coverage of language contact situations in all their diversity.

Another consequence of this selection of case studies is that contact phenomena in languages unrepresented in the sample do not receive systematic attention. In this respect, although several chapters make passing reference to the issue, it is worth noting that no chapter is devoted to mixed languages and the larger mixed language debate (see, e.g., Matras & Bakker 2003). The handbook thus differs from other volumes on language contact, in which the topic of mixed languages is typically given dedicated treatment (e.g., Matras 2009, Thomason 1997, Thomason 2001, Thomason & Kaufman 1988).

These points aside, the present volume has many notable merits, among them the impressive range of perspectives and topics included. The handbook balances its coverage of theoretical issues with chapters devoted to emergent areas of research, such as the development of alternative models of language classification using quantitative and computational methods (Ch. 6), and discussion of the realities of fieldwork in contact situations (Ch. 17). Despite the diversity of contributions, the grouping of chapters into larger sections with a shared theme provides a sense of commonality, and references from one chapter to another add additional coherence. All of these features contribute to the overall accessibility of the volume, both as an introduction to language contact and as a reference work. In sum, this volume makes a strong contribution to the language contact literature, and should serve as an excellent resource for years to come.


Matras, Yaron. 2009. Language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matras, Yaron & Peter Bakker. 2003. The mixed language debate: Theoretical and empirical advances. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thomason, Sarah G. (ed.). 1997. Contact languages: A wider perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Thomason, Sarah G. 2001. Language contact: An Introduction. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Thomason, Sarah G. & Terrence Kaufman. 1988. Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Winford, Donald. 2003. An introduction to contact linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Olivia N. Sammons is a doctoral student in linguistics at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include language documentation and revitalization, language contact, Algonquian languages (Cree, Michif, Sauk), Canadian French, and sociolinguistics. Her current project, ‘Documenting Michif Variation’ (ELDP, 2011-2014), seeks to develop permanent records of Michif as it is currently spoken in western Canada. For more information, see

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