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Review of  An Introduction to Contact Linguistics

Reviewer: Éva Forintos
Book Title: An Introduction to Contact Linguistics
Book Author: Donald Winford
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 14.2140

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Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2003 10:51:02 +0200
From: Szentgyorgyi Szilard
Subject: An Introduction to Contact Linguistics

Winford, Donald (2003) An Introduction to Contact
Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Language in

Reviewed by Éva Forintos, Department of English and American
Studies, University of Veszprém, Hungary


One of the most remarkable social changes in the last two
decades may be the increase in opportunities for individuals
to become bilingual, basically by learning foreign
languages in educational institutions. People who have
become bilingual by moving to a new linguistic and cultural
environment (e.g. immigrants, educational and professional
transients) are in a good position to reflect on their
linguistic and cultural heritage and to discover and develop
new identity-components.
However, there was a time when misconceptions about the
nature of bilingualism were widespread, including the idea
that linguistic heterogeneity was gradually being lost as
linguistic minority groups were assimilated into the
majority group. But now the opposite is the case, and the
value of bi- and multilingualism is recognised both for the
individual and the community. Moreover, the maintenance
of multilingualism and linguistic diversity, particularly but
not exclusively among immigrants is becoming more and
more widespread.


It is a well-known fact that the study of the effects of
language contact has been a focal point of the field of
linguistics ever since the earliest period of the scientific
study of language in the nineteenth century. The book
under review is a comprehensive introduction to contact
linguistics, the field which attempts to integrate linguistic
analysis with social, psychological explanations to describe
language contact and its consequences. Although the
emphasis is basically on grammatical structures, the social
and psycholinguistic factors that motivate or affect the
structural outcomes are also dealt with in detail. In contrast
to Appel and Muysken (cited by Winford p. 9), Winford is
of the opinion that "the study of language contact is in fact
a fairly well-defined field of study, with its own subject
matter and objectives. It employs an eclectic methodology
that draws on various approaches, including the
comparative-historical method, and various areas of
Some parts of the book should be accessible to readers with
no training in linguistics, but the primary intended readers
are advanced students, especially those from the field of
linguistics, and faculty from any of the disciplines
concerned with bilingualism and language contact, since
the main theoretical premise is that the same principles and
processes underlie all language contact phenomena.
At the end of the book a comprehensive bibliography
(roughly 560 entries) is followed by a subject index.
The author, David Winford, is a prominent scholar in the
field who has remained at the forefront of theoretical
language contact research for the last three decades.
In the course of nine chapters the following topics are
discussed: the field of contact linguistics (pp. 1-28);
language maintenance and lexical borrowing (pp. 29-60);
structural diffusion in situations of language maintenance
(pp. 61-100); code switching: social contexts (pp. 101-125);
code switching: linguistic aspects (pp. 126-167); bilingual
mixed languages (pp. 168-207); second language
acquisition and language shift (pp. 208-267); pidgins and
pidginization (pp. 268-303); creole formation (pp. 304-


In Chapter 1, the author delineates the field of contact
linguistics in a series of questions: What will speakers of
different languages adopt from one another and adapt,
given the right opportunity? How can we explain such
phenomena? What combinations of social and linguistic
influences conspire to produce them? What kinds of
situation promote one type of outcome rather than another?
Then follows a short history of the research that contributed
to the emergence of language contact. Within the same
chapter Winford distinguishes three broad kinds of contact
phenomena: (a) language maintenance; (b) language shift;
(c) language creation: new contact languages. He states that
most cases of language contact can be assigned to one or
another of these categories but that they all present their
own problems of definition and classification. Table 1.2 (p.
23) based partly on Thomason and Kaufman (1988: 50),
illustrates the major outcomes of language contact and
includes examples. At the end of the chapter the
relationship between speech communities and language
contact is discussed. Loveday's (1996: 16) typology is used
(p. 26) but his labels and descriptions are amended where
necessary. As the author emphasises, this overview is not
complete because it does not include the social contexts that
lead to the formation of pidgins, creoles, or bilingual mixed

Chapter 2 deals with lexical borrowing, which is the most
common form of cross-linguistic influence. By enumerating
and discussing in detail the different contact situations
("casual" contact, contact in settings involving "unequal"
bilingualism, equal bilingual situations), the author tries to
determine why borrowing is so extensive in cases of
"distant" contact or in diglossic situations, while it is so
limited in cases of "equal" bilingualism. He concludes that
an examination of the social motivations for lexical
borrowing is needed to understand the problem. The main
contribution of the section titled "The Processes and
Products of Lexical Borrowing" is that it provides Haugen's
(1953) classification of lexical contact phenomena, which
Winford has expanded to include a third subcategory
(creations using only foreign morphemes) under Haugen's
category of "native creations".

Chapter 3 reports extensively on a continuum of contact
situations, ranging from those in which relatively little
structural diffusion has occurred to cases involving the
widespread diffusion of both lexical and structural features.
The author asks: Under what conditions do languages
import structure from external sources ? What kinds of
agency are involved in the diffusion of structural features?
Is structural borrowing mediated by lexical borrowing? Can
structure be borrowed in its own right? Winford
opposesThomason and Kaufman (1988), arguing that
"lexical" and "structural" borrowing cannot proceed
independently of each other. He suggests that there is in
principle no limit to what can be transferred across
languages. He also emphasises that when structural features
are transferred, it is rarely the result of direct borrowing. It
is rather mediated by lexical borrowing or introduced under
the agency of speakers of the external source language, and
the speakers of the recipient language adopt these
innovations. When examining stable bilingual situations,
Winford makes it clear that with varying degrees of lexical
borrowing only a marginal diffusion of structural features
occurs; in other words the affected language remains highly
resistant to foreign structural interference. In cases of
unstable bilingualism ^Ö due to the threat of the dominant
external language ^Ö ongoing shift appears to lead to more
structural innovations in an ancestral language. He also
gives evidence that bilinguals play an active role in the
kinds of structural diffusion which lead to the convergence
of linguistic systems.

The main objective of Chapter 4 is to examine code
switching, the actual performance of bilinguals who exploit
the resources of the languages they command, first of all for
social and stylistic purposes. In accordance with the general
goal of the book, Winford considers other researchers'
definitions of code switching with a critical eye and words
his own definition. According to him the phenomenon
includes "the alternating use of relatively complete
utterances from two different languages, alternation
between sentential and/or clausal structures from the two
languages, and the insertion of (usually lexical) elements
from one language into the other." The other focus of this
chapter is the sociocultural factors which influence code
switching. It is stated that the choice of code can be an act
of identity by which speakers locate themselves in social
space and in relation to their interlocutors, and that it is
typically associated with different situations or
sociolinguistic domains. Consequently, code switching can
be considered a communication strategy similar to the
stylistic variation typical of monolingual communities.

Chapter 5 focuses on bilingual mixture in situations where
the two languages involved are maintained and the mixed
code has not achieved autonomy as a distinct language. The
author's aim is to describe the linguistic structure of code-
switched utterances and identify the linguistic principles
and constraints that govern their production. He concludes
that code-switching phenomena constitute a continuum of
outcomes ranging from simple types of insertion to more
complex types of alternation. Poplack's "interacting
grammars" model (1981) and Myers-Scotton's Matrix
Language Frame (MLF) model (1993b) theories on code
switching are discussed and compared in this chapter.
Winford finds the former model the best example of
alternational code switching analysis, whereas the latter is
the dominant model of insertional code switching. Since
bilinguals' competence includes both abilities, the author
suggests that the models should be seen as complementary
rather than opposed to each other.

Chapter 6 concentrates on bilingual mixed or "intertwined"
languages, the new and autonomous creations of bilingual
situations. Although some scholars (e.g. Thomason 1995,
Bakker 1994) have attempted to find the precise origins of
these languages and to classify them, there is still some
disagreement over the issue. Winford seems to argue in
favour of Bakker's classification. Nevertheless he doubts if
Bakker's classification adequately accounts for all known
cases of language intertwining. He examines four well-
known exemplars of this type of contact language, Media
Lengua, Michif, Ma'a, and Copper Island Aleut. These must
have been chosen by the author because they display
noticeable difference in their patterns of mixture and
therefore provide some sense of the diversity of the
outcomes of contact.

Chapter 7 is concerned with individual and group second
language acquisition (SLA) in which the target language
(TL) is changed under the agency of learners. Winford
describes the strategies learners employ in their attempts to
acquire a TL. These strategies are: "appealing to L1
knowledge, simplifying and avoiding TL structures that are
difficult to learn, and creatively adapting those L2 elements
that have been acquired". He claims that L1 influence can
manifest itself in the individual learner's interlanguage at
every level of structure. The second section of the chapter
deals with group SLA or language shift that produces new
contact varieties of a TL. He claims that such languages as
Irish English, Singapore English, and Taiwanese Mandarin
show evidence of significant substratum influence from the
first languages of their creators. Section III provides the
possible routes to first language attrition and death,
emphasising that the same external pressures and social
forces that initiate language shift can make individuals or
groups abandon their first language. The different phases of
the course from language attrition to language decay are
also enumerated.

Chapter 8 is devoted to the classification, origins, and
development of the various contact languages to which the
term "pidgin" has been applied. The author carefully argues
against the term "pidginization" because 'in contrast to its
meaning' not all cases of pidgin formation involve a
single source. He is of the opinion that: "Rather than
attempting to fit pidgins into a single mold, our concern
should be to explain how particular configurations of social
and linguistic factors promote differences in lexical and
grammatical input, and the eventual outcomes of pidgin
formation". In order to better understand how pidgins arise,
Winford treats pidgin formation as a form of early SLA
(second language acquisition) and concludes that unlike
individual SLA, it is subject to social forces that promote
levelling and compromise across individual grammars, just
as in the case of group SLA or language shift.

Chapter 9 covers one of the most controversial groups of
contact languages traditionally referred to as creoles.
Winford draws attention to the fact that even the early
scientific study of these languages in the nineteenth century
explored many of the issues that are still being debated
today: the role of substrate influence versus universals in
creole formation, the relationship between creoles and first
or second language acquisition, and the implications of
these languages for theories of language contact. After
considering recent attempts to identify creoles, he arrives at
the conclusion that there are no absolute criteria, either
sociolinguistic or structural, that distinguish creoles as a
type. Much of the confusion over how best to define them,
he states, is due to indeterminacy in the definition of the
pidgins from which they are claimed to have arisen. Owing
to the differences in the social contexts in which creoles
were created, they range from second language varieties
that are close approximations to the superstrates to "radical"
outcomes that depart significantly from the latter. Between
these two extremes there is a continuum of outcomes, with
"intermediate" creoles closer to the superstrate and
"basilectal" creoles to the radical end. Despite disagreement
among creolists, it is generally accepted that creole
formation was a process of second language acquisition in
rather unusual circumstances and that children may have
played a role in regularising the developing grammar.

In conclusion the following can be stated: with the coverage
Winford provides, he achieves his main goal. By examining
a wide range of language contact phenomena from both the
general linguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives, he
provides an insightful overview of the general processes
and principles that are at work in cases of contact.


Appel, René and Pieter Muysken. 1987. Landuage Contact
and Bilingualism. London: Edward Arnold.

Bakker, Peter. 1994. Michif, the Cree-French mixed
language of the Métis buffalo hunters in Canada. In Bakker
and Mous 1994: 13-33.

Haugen, Einar. 1953. The Norwegian Language in
America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior. Vol. I: The
Bilingual Community; Vol. II: The American Dialects of
Norwegian. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Loveday, Leo J. 1996. Language Contact in Japan: A
Socio-linguistic History. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993b. Dueling Languages:
Grammatical Structure in Code-Switching. Oxford:
Clarendon Press.

Poplack, Shana. 1981. Syntactic structure and social
function of codeswitching. In R. Duran (ed.) Latino
Language and Communicative Behavior, 169-84. Norwood,
N.J.: Ablex.

Thomason, Sarah G. and Terrence Kaufman. 1988.
Language Contact, Creolization and Genetic Linguistics.
Berkeley: University of California Press.

Thomason, Sarah G. 1995. Language mixture: ordinary
processes, extraordinary results. In Carmen Silva-Corvalán
(ed.) Spanish in Four Continents: Studies in Language
Contact and Bilingualism, 15-33. Washington D. C.:
Georgetown University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Éva FORINTOS is an assistant lecturer at the Department of English and American Studies, University of Veszprém, Hungary. Her professional interests include contact linguistics, Australian history, culture and civilisation. At the moment she is working on her PhD dissertation: the contactlinguistic examination of Hungarian language (one of its written form) in Australia.

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