LINGUIST List 23.3396

Tue Aug 14 2012

Review: General Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Weinreich (2011)

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Date: 14-Aug-2012
From: Ilaria Fiorentini <>
Subject: Languages in Contact
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AUTHOR: Weinreich, UrielTITLE: Languages in ContactSUBTITLE. French, German and Romansh in twentieth-century SwitzerlandPUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Ilaria Fiorentini, University of Pavia/Free University of Bozen, Italy

SUMMARY"Languages in Contact: French, German, and Romansh in Twentieth-CenturySwitzerland" is Uriel Weinreich's (1926-1967) doctoral dissertation, defended in1951 with the title "Research Problems in Bilingualism, with Special Referenceto Switzerland" and until now unpublished. 60 years later, William Labov andRonald I. Kim have edited this faithful reproduction of the original typescript(the text has been digitized and reproduced in full), with an introduction,notes and comments. The introductory chapter presents the life and legacy ofWeinreich, as well as the background of his fieldwork in Switzerland, and showshow "Languages in Contact" (1953, henceforth LiC), perhaps Weinreich's mostimportant work, grew out of this dissertation; finally, it summarizes thedevelopments of multilingual situation in Switzerland up to 2011.

The volume is divided into four parts. The first (Chapters 1-3) deals withgeneral research problems: large parts of it will be incorporated in LiC. InChapter 1, Weinreich discusses psychological and neurological theories ofbilingualism, enumerating methods for characterizing and measuring it, such asrelative proficiency, which, by means of a formula, calculate the bilingualquotient, "a highly useful basis for comparing and grouping bilinguals" (p. 5).This "new tool", however, was still at its starting point, and, as Weinreichnotes, it had never been tried out on Swiss bilinguals (even if a few pilottests had shown its applicability there). The author analyzes reasons forpositive attitudes toward languages and describes the circumstances surroundingthe learning of languages. Then he deals with the alleged effects ofbilingualism on language learning performance, intelligence, groupidentification, character formation and emotional adjustment (in the lattercase, he concludes that there is no evidence for detrimental effects ofbilingualism on emotional life). Weinreich also analyzes educational problemswith regards to bilingualism, especially the organization of schools inbilingual areas and the best pedagogical methods for teaching two languages,giving a partial bibliography on educational difficulties.

In Chapter 2 the author outlines patterns of bilingual communities, in which thefunctions of the two languages may be diagrammed for the various levels of use(such as literature, church, administration, etc.). Nevertheless, the divisionbetween two languages is not always clear: this is the problem of intermediatelanguages, "intermediate forms existing between the mother-tongue and theother-tongue" (p.23). Weinreich defines mother-tongue groups, i.e. thosesegments of the population including "all those who speak language A AS THEIRMOTHER-TONGUE, whether or not they also use language B in other functions"(p.21), and points out that most bilingual communities often have two mother-tonguegroups within them , with a socially higher-standing group that "claims foritself the levels of use which are endowed with social and cultural prestige"(p. 25). The author then introduces the notion of counter-prestige, "whichevolves as a reaction to prestige" (ibidem), foreshadowing the notion of covertprestige, expounded later most famously by Peter Trudgill (1972) and WilliamLabov (2006). Finally, he stresses the difficulty in obtaining satisfactorystatistics and maps on bilingual populations.

Chapter 3 deals with linguistic problems of bilingualism. After sketchingtheoretical questions on bilingualism, Weinreich discusses the distinctionbetween borrowing in speech and borrowed elements in language. He points outthat borrowing includes not only words or morphemes generally, but also"phonetic, morphological and syntactic patterns. Where there is no introductionof segmental material from one language into the other, it is sometimes moreconvenient to speak of interference" (p. 40). While discussing the challenge ofobserving the act of borrowing, he introduces what would now be called theobserver's paradox (Labov 1972). As for interference and borrowings, hedescribes phonetic aspects, morphological aspects (in his opinion, thepossibility that morphological patterns can be borrowed "cannot be excluded onprinciple, unless the possibility of language change is denied", p. 48),syntactic and lexical aspects. As for the last, he lists reasons for borrowing(the need for names for certain objects or concepts, social prestige, and soon), concluding that all these motivations still do not solve "all the problemsof lexical borrowings" (p. 54), like the fact that some words are never borrowedand "neither cultural, structural, nor social (prestige) considerations accountfor this difference" (ibidem). At the end of the chapter, the differences in thetotal amount of borrowing (individual differences, different types ofbilingualism, monolingual or bilingual interlocutors), the structural andcultural resistance to borrowing, substratum and convergent development arediscussed.

The second part (Chapters 4-5) deals with the bilingualism in Switzerland, thedissertation's main focus. In Chapter 4 the author describes the differentcontact situations which can (or could) be found in quadrilingual Switzerland:German-French (only between Biel and Fribourg), German-Italian (almost nocontact), Italian-Romansh (generally no communication), German-Romansh(discussed later). Weinreich sketches a revised map of language territories,from which it seems evident that "the contact between language territories andlanguage communities in Switzerland is considerably smaller than is usuallyassumed on the basis of misleading maps" (p. 70). Then the author outlines thefeatures of the federal government, cantonal governments and communaladministrations in Switzerland.

Chapter 5 deals with intralingual relations in Switzerland. First Weinreichoutlines the regional and social differentiation of Schwyzertütsch and thelanguage patterns of German Switzerland, where Schwyzertütsch was used as thespoken language while "the functions of a written language are generallyfulfilled by Standard German" (p. 84). The author describes the prestige factorsof Schwyzertütsch (such as its status as a mother tongue), the attempts tobroaden its functions, and the linguistic effects of German-Swiss bilingualism,such as the slow but steady impact of Standard German on the dialect. Then hedeals with the contact situation between Standard French and patois, a case ofirreversible language shift: patois had been driven out completely from theschools, and had thus become associated "with lack of education and peasantbackwardness" (p. 109), even if there were efforts to preserve it, at least as avehicle "for lyrical expression and of local patriotic sentiment" (p. 111). InItalian Switzerland, Standard Italian was in contact "not only with localdialects corresponding to the French patois or to the several varieties ofSchwyzertütsch, but also with a Common Lombardic dialect" (p. 114). Finally,Weinreich deals with Romansh and its dialects: Upper and Lower Engadinian,Sutsilvan, Protestant and Catholic Sursilvan, Surmiran, each one with a standardfor writing (the creation of a single supradialectal written standard -- the"Rumantsch Grischun" by Heinrich Schmid -- did not come about until 1982).

Part III (Chapters 6-8) deals with the stable, long term language contactbetween German and French. Chapter 6 describes general features of French-Germanbilingualism. Weinreich details these bilingual segments of the Swisspopulation, dividing them according to geographic zones and providing a historyof the bilingual populations inside French territory. He describes thelinguistic effects of bilingualism on vocabulary and grammar, and notes that theFrench-German grammatical cross-influence had not yet been investigated, as wellas the phonetic influences; in his opinion, it was "certainly to be expectedthat German settlers who learn French will have traces of their native sounds intheir French speech, and vice versa" (p. 141).

Chapter 7 presents a case study on the static bilingual situation in the cantonof Fribourg, "where no observable language shift is taking place" (p. 143). Thelanguage patterns of the area are described in detail, and, for each of the 22communes, the total population and numbers of mother-tongue speakers are given.Weinreich identifies seven predominantly German communes, six highly mixedcommunes and nine communes with predominantly French-speaking populations, andgives for each commune a rate of bilingualism (none, slight, widespread, verywidespread). The author then describes the religious dominations of the area,because "in the particularly mixed villages, the difference in denomination maybe even more prominent than that in language" (pp. 153-154) and the organizationof schools, which appears to have a "conservatory, stabilizing effect on thebilingual situation" (p. 160). He takes into account also the organization ofchurches and administrative activities and concludes that, even diachronically,this region can be termed "a stable bilingual area" (p. 175).

Chapter 8 describes the linguistic effects of bilingualism in Fribourg.Weinreich first analyzes the nature of bilingualism of the area and itssociocultural context and then speech mixture and mutual influence between thetwo languages involved (French and Schwyzertütsch), outlining and comparingtheir sound systems and investigating morphological, syntactic and lexicalinfluences.

Part IV (Chapters 9-14) deals with the contact between German and Romansh in asituation of ongoing shift. Chapter 9 describes the general features ofGerman-Romansh bilingualism. First of all, Weinreich sketches a brief history ofthe receding Romansh language territory. He states that since the 1870s nativespeakers of Romansh had ceased to be linguistically self-sufficient due to theeconomic development of the canton, so that knowledge of German had becomevital. Nonetheless, it appeared that Romansh enjoyed a "very strong prerational('mother-tongue') prestige" (p. 209). Weinreich's conclusion was that the areawas rapidly approaching complete bilingualism. Finally, he describes thelinguistic effects of German-Romansh bilingualism on vocabulary, grammar andphonetics.

Chapter 10 is a case study on the dynamic bilingual situation in CentralGrisons, where "an observable language shift is taking place" (p. 215).Weinreich describes the area and the population, as well as the languagepatterns, identifying eight communes with Romansh majorities and eleven withGerman majorities. As already pointed out, knowledge of German was essential tothe population, while the local Romansh variety was considered an inferior,"substandard" language: it was not taught in school and it was almost entirelyexcluded from local administration. Language shift was visible bothdiachronically, by looking at the changing proportions of mother-tonguesegments; and synchronically, as the percentage of Romansh mother-tonguespeakers was declining and they were, on the whole, "OLDER than those of Germanmother-tongue" (p. 251-252); the Germanization in the area was therefore "aself-accelerating process" (p. 265). There were, however, rationalized motivesfor retaining Romansh, as the alleged advantages in learning other languages andaccessibility to the Romansh cultural heritage.

Chapter 11 deals with Raetoroman actions aimed at containing language shift andhalting Germanization, e.g. the attempt to standardize Sutsilvan dialects, thefoundation of Romansh kindergartens (the so-called "scolettas" which, inWeinreich's opinion, had demonstrated that local Romansh could "be taught tochildren and be made a source of pleasure for them", p. 289), and the proposalfor a language conservation law. A broad plan for revitalizing Romansh Sutselvawas made by Dr. Gangale, a Romance philologist and scholar of Romansh, andincluded even "psychological treatments": "At first it is hard to decide whetherthis scheme is ridiculously foolish or frighteningly ingenious" (p. 295). Thanksto the campaign "to contain and reverse the language shift", according toWeinreich many Raetoromans were convinced "that they had responsibilities towardtheir language" (p. 298).

Chapter 12 deals with the linguistic effects of bilingualism in Central Grisons,where there was a real bilingual speech community, since "the two languagesoverlap in certain functions" (p. 302). Weinreich describes this bilingualismand the types of mixture (incidental speech mixture -- "while German elementsare tolerated practically without any limit, the reverse possibility … is keptstrictly within bounds", p. 302 and habitualized mixture -- for German, "thereIS a tendency for borrowing to become habitual, and thus a part of thelanguage", p. 303). The phonetic influences between the two languages, with acomparison of the two sound systems, and the morphological, syntactic andlexical influences are described at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 13 is a short description of German-Italian bilingualism: there was "noGerman-Italian border bilingualism to speak of" (p. 325), only scatteredbilingual minorities in both German and Italian Switzerland.

Chapter 14 summarizes what has been laid out in the four parts of the book withgeneral conclusions on intralingual and interlingual relations, concluding that"it seems that bilingualism can be studied properly only on an interdisciplinarybasis" (p. 336).

The appendices report excerpts from interviews with bilingual children (appendixA), the questionnaire for students of the Cantonal school in Chur (appendix B),information about the Romansh League's language poll (appendix C) and a guide tobilingual placenames (appendix D).

EVALUATIONThe importance of this volume lays first in the fact that, until now, fewlinguists have been aware that the main themes of LiC were first proposed inembryonic form here and even fewer had access to it. Besides its undeniableutility, the book is pleasant reading also thank to the inclusion of photos,hand-drawn diagrams and other material personally prepared by the author. Theeditors specify that, although this is a faithful reproduction of Weinreich'sdoctoral dissertation, they have made some adjustments to the original,replacing old-fashioned linguistic usages and obsolete or idiosyncratic termssuch as "morphologic", "unilingual", or "bilinguality" with "morphological","monolingual", or "bilingualism" respectively (although in the whole Chapter 10"bilinguality" is used instead) and dividing the original "unwieldy" thirdchapter of Part II "into several more easily digestible pieces (chapter 6-13)"(p. XXV).

Weinreich's preliminary research on Romansh Switzerland was coordinated by AndréMartinet, who later wrote the preface to LiC (1968). The author spent two years(1949-50) in Switzerland for his fieldwork, travelling throughout the country,"compiling statistics on linguistic knowledge and use" (Kim 2011: 103), takingphotos (some of which are reproduced here), becoming familiar "with the fullspectrum of everyday life in the villages and towns" (ibidem), describinghistorical, political and socio-economic aspects of the population which spokethe languages he was studying. This exhaustive research led to a deep knowledgeof the full context of the speakers' lives, social behavior and interaction andto a valuable, detailed and most of all, for that time, innovative analysis ofthe various aspects of the contact between two languages, whose linguisticoutcomes, in his opinion, "could not be deduced from a comparison of theirstructures alone" (Kim 2011: 108).

Among the many concepts here introduced or foreshadowed by Weinreich are hisinnovative position on the borrowability of morphemes, the notion of"counter-prestige", the concept of "domain of language use" (developed byFishman 1965), the problem of the observer's paradox (developed by Labov 1972),the distinction between "stable" and "dynamic" bilingualism, the phonemic over-and under-differentiation, and so on. Many of these inspired intuitions will bedeveloped in LiC, as well as, for instance, what can be considered the"incunabulum" of contrastive linguistics (Cardona 1974), i.e. his comparison ofthe phonological systems of Schwyzertütsch and French to establish the effectson speech of this bilingualism.

The importance of the entire Weinreich's work has been remarked on by WilliamLabov, regarded as the father of variationist sociolinguistics and whoacknowledges that many of his own intuitions come ultimately from Weinreich,admitting that "to this day, I do not know how many of my ideas I brought tolinguistics, and how many I got from Weinreich. I would like to think that mystudents are as lucky as I was, but I know better than that" (Labov 2001: 459).

REFERENCESCardona, Giorgio Raimondo. 1974. Preface to the Italian edition of Weinreich,Uriel. Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems. Torino: Boringhieri. VII -XXXVI.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1965. Who speaks what language to whom and when. LaLinguistique, vol. I, n. 2. 67-88.

Kim, Ronald I. 2011. Uriel Weinreich and the birth of modern contactlinguistics. In Piotr P. Chruszczewski and Zdzisław Wąsik (eds.). Languages inContact 2010. 99-111.

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Oxford: Blackwell.

Labov, William. 2001. How I got into linguistics, and what I got out of it.Historiographia Linguistica 28:3. 455-66.

Labov, William. 2006 [1966]. The Social Stratification of English in New YorkCity. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martinet, André. 1968. Preface to Weinreich, Uriel. Languages in Contact:Findings and Problems. The Hague-Paris-New York: Mouton. VII-IX.

Trudgill, Peter. 1972. Sex, Covert Prestige and Linguistic Change in the UrbanBritish English of Norwich. Language in Society 1. 175-195.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems. New York:Linguistic Circle of New York.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERAfter earning an M.A. in Linguistics at the University of Turin with athesis on the Italian suffix -ATA, Ilaria Fiorentini is now a PhD studentat the University of Pavia and the Free University of Bozen (Italy). Herdoctoral research deals with the contact situations in the Ladin valleys ofTrentino Alto Adige/Südtirol, with particular attention to code-mixingphenomena among Ladin, Italian and German. Her primary research interestsinclude sociolinguistics, contact linguistics and pragmatics.

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