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Review of  The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact

Reviewer: Natalie Operstein
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact
Book Author: Anthony P. Grant
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 32.1730

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''The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact'', edited by Anthony P. Grant, consists of a theoretical part (''Language Contact and Linguistic Theory'') and an illustrative one (''Language Contact in Several Languages''), the whole divided into thirty-three chapters.

In Chapter 1 (“Contact-Induced Linguistic Change: An Introduction”, 1-47), Anthony P. Grant introduces the volume and presents a wide-ranging conceptual history of the field by surveying its major problems and findings and highlighting recurrent themes and some of the key terms and explicatory frameworks. This introductory chapter covers various aspects of contact-induced linguistic change (''CILC''), placing particular emphasis on external contacts. The topics discussed include motivations, processes and outcomes of CILC, borrowability of different structural domains, and the effects upon CILC of typological similarity between the linguistic systems in contact. The discussion is enlivened by examples drawn from a variety of contact situations.

In Chapter 2 (''Theories of Language Contact'', 51-74) Donald Winford stresses the need for integrating linguistic, sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic aspects of contact-induced change in order to achieve a unified theory of language contact. The chapter surveys a number of theoretical proposals (e.g., Thomason & Kaufman 1988, Johanson 2002), giving particular prominence to the cognitive approach developed by Van Coetsem (1988, 2000) which conceives of two broad types of contact phenomena distinguished by whether the agents of transfer are linguistically dominant in the source language (''imposition'') or the recipient language (''borrowing''). Phenomena under the rubric of imposition affect the recipient language's grammatical structure and include second-language acquisition, creole formation and language attrition. Phenomena under the rubric of borrowing have less of an impact upon the grammatical structure of the recipient language and include lexical borrowing, code-switching, relexification and mixed-language formation.

In Chapter 3 (“Contact-Induced Change and Phonology”, 75-95), Anthony P. Grant, Thomas B. Klein and E-Ching Ng survey the impact of language contact on the affected languages’ phonological systems. The issues surveyed range from phonemicization of allophones to addition of new phonemes and to reorganization of phonotactic constraints and prosodic systems, with each process illustrated through carefully selected examples from a variety of languages. The chapter also includes two slightly more detailed case studies, one of which examines phonological adaptation of Spanish loanwords in Chamorro and the other provides a brief overview of multilayered contact-induced phonological changes in Tsat.

In Chapter 4 (“Morphology and Contact-Induced Language Change”, 96-122), Francesco Gardani highlights the gradient nature of morphological integration of loanwords to the inflectional systems of the recipient languages, from full to partial integration and to complete non-integration. The issues discussed include the distinction between the borrowing of morphemes and that of morphological patterns, comparative borrowability of different morphological domains -- derivation, inherent inflection, contextual inflection (Booij 1994, 1996) -- as well as the factors that favor morphological borrowing, such as the structural congruence between the source and recipient languages and extra-linguistic factors like the length of the contact and the relative socioeconomic status of the groups in contact.

In Chapter 5 (“Syntax and Contact-Induced Language Change”, 123-154), Malcolm Ross introduces a typology of contact-induced changes in the syntactic constructions of a copying (recipient) language: an increase in the frequency of use, a use for a new function, a formal modification (constructional calquing) and a structural alteration to match the corresponding construction in the model (source) language (metatypy) (125). These change types are illustrated with examples drawn from Colloquial Upper Sorbian (used as an illustration of bilingually-induced change) and rural Irish English (used as an illustration of shift-induced change). The chapter closes with a brief discussion of the similarities and differences between bilingually- and shift-induced changes in syntactic constructions.

In Chapter 6 (“Semantic Borrowing in Language Contact”, 155-172), Brian Mott and Natalia J. Laso focus on transfer of meaning in language-contact situations. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to a typology of lexical and semantic borrowings, with each type illustrated with a variety of examples. Other issues addressed include the causes and triggers of semantic borrowing, semantic transfer from L1 onto L2 in second-language acquisition, the influence of standard languages on the lexis and semantics of the dialects, and borrowing of discourse and pragmatic features.

In Chapter 7 (“Sociolinguistic, Sociological, and Sociocultural Approaches to Contact-Induced Language Change: Identifying Chamic Child Bilingualism in Contact-Based Language Change”, 173-192), Graham Thurgood explores the hypothesis that the extensive contact-induced restructuring in several Chamic languages (a subgroup of Austronesian) is due to early childhood bilingualism of the speakers. The hypothesis is based on the assumption that “child bilinguals often incorporate material from one of their languages into another”, doing so with greater faithfulness than adults (174), and derives support from historical and population genetics research. The chapter focuses on the linguistic evidence, namely complexification of phonology, extensive borrowing of basic vocabulary and grammatical restructuring together with borrowing of morphological markers.

In Chapter 8 (“Code-Switching as a Reflection of Contact-Induced Change”, 193-214), Ad Backus argues that in order to develop a general theory of contact-induced change it is necessary to integrate the predominantly synchronic and lexicon-based approach to the study of code-switching with the predominantly diachronic and grammar-based approach to the study of contact-induced change, with the whole grafted onto a usage-based model. The dichotomy between synchrony and diachrony is recast in terms of an interplay between synchronic variation and diachronic change (202), and the one between lexicon and syntax is resolved in favor of a continuum going from prototypical lexical items (words) to multiword lexical expressions to prototypical syntactic items such as “the word order pattern of a pragmatically neutral declarative transitive clause” (204). Within this framework, the much-theorized distinction between code-switching and lexical borrowing is conceptualized as different ways – synchronic or diachronic – of looking at what is “essentially the same thing” (206), while the one between matter borrowing and pattern borrowing is approached from the perspective of the lexicon/syntax continuum.

In Chapter 9 (“First- and Second-Language Acquisition and CILC”, 215-240), Gabriel Ozón and Eva Duran Eppler scrutinize what is known and what has been theorized about the possible contributions of different language-acquisition scenarios to contact-induced change. Monolingual first-language acquisition, bilingual first-language acquisition and second-language acquisition are each discussed in turn as potential loci of language change, with separate sections of the chapter devoted to the propagation of innovations and the relative roles of adults and children in contact-induced change. The discussion is presented against the backdrop of the conceptual divide between the generative and non-generative research programs in linguistics, with the differences in the associated theoretical positions highlighted at different points throughout the chapter.

Chapter 10 (“Language Contact and Endangered Languages”, 241-260), by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, is a treasure trove of carefully selected illustrations of the kinds of phenomena that accompany language obsolescence, contact situations in which a minority language is replaced by a dominant one. Among these we find extensions based on phonetic similarity (e.g., the possession marker -pal in Pipil acquiring the semantics and functionality of Spanish para “for, in order to”) and structural convergence with the dominant language through the complementary action of reinforcement of shared patterns and loss of non-shared ones (compare the maintenance of gender agreement in Paumarí in contact with Portuguese, which has a similar pattern, with simplification of the noun class system of Dyirbal to match the he/she/it distinction in English). At various junctures, the chapter stresses that linguistic changes in language obsolescence differ from changes taking place in other contact situations not so much in their quality as in their sheer bulk and fast pace (244, 251, 253).

The last three chapters in the theoretical part of the volume are devoted to “younger languages”, languages whose “creation has been claimed to have taken place fairly abruptly at some moment in the ‘historical’ past” (27, 303): pidgins, creoles and mixed languages. Chapter 11 (“Pidgins”, 261-281), by Mikael Parkvall, summarizes known cross-linguistic properties of pidgins, including their lexicons, phonologies, morphologies and syntactic characteristics; provides a brief outline of the processes underlying pidginization, including the sources of pidgin lexicons and the developmental stages of pidgins; and addresses the difficulty of defining the pidgin language type in a satisfactory way. The corresponding difficulty of defining creole language is addressed in Chapter 12 (“Creoles”, 282-302), by John McWhorter, whose principal focus is on the long-standing debate over the processes that underlie creole genesis, with a crisp and lucid summary of each theoretical position enhanced with references to the work of its proponents. The main focus of Chapter 13 (“Mixed Languages, Younger Languages, and Contact-Induced Linguistic Change”, 303-327), by Norval Smith and Anthony P. Grant, are bilingual mixed languages. The description is framed by a sociolinguistic typology in which mixed languages that have replaced their unmixed parents are distinguished from those that continue to coexist with one or both of the parent tongues.

The second, illustrative, part of the volume comprises twenty chapters:

Raymond Hickey, ''Language Contact in Celtic and Early Irish'' (331-349)
Clive G. Grey, ''English and Welsh in Contact'' (350-373)
Joan C. Beal and Mark Faulkner, ''Language Contact in the History of English'' (374-387)
Miriam Bouzouita, ''Contact-Induced Language Change in Spanish'' (388-409)
Carlos M. Benítez-Torres, ''Language Contact in Tagdal, a Northern Songhay Language of Niger'' (410-430)
Birgit Hellwig, ''Language Contact in the West Chadic Language Goemai'' (431-448)
Lameen Souag, ''Language Contact in Berber'' (449-466)
Oleg Belyaev, ''Contact Influences on Ossetic'' (467-493)
Eleanor Goghill, ''Northeastern Neo-Aramaic and Language Contact'' (494-518)
P. Sreekumar, ''Contact and the Development of Malayalam'' (519-539)
Ho-min Song, ''Language Contact in Korean'' (540-555)
John Haiman, ''Language Contact in Khmer'' (556-585)
Carmel O'Shannessy, ''Language Contct in Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri'' (586-605)
Adam A.H. Blaxter Paliwala, ''Language Contact and Tok Pisin'' (606-626)
Åshild Næss, ''Bidirectional Borrowing of Structure and Lexicon: The Case of the Reef Islands'' (627-642)
Anna Berge, ''Language Contact in Unangam Tunuu (Aleut)'' (643-659)
David Kaufman, ''The Lower Mississippi Valley as a Linguistic Area'' (660-678)
David Quinto-Pozos and Robert Adam, ''Language Contact Considering Sign Language'' (679-693)
Jorge Gómez-Rendón, ''Language Contact in Paraguayan Guaraní'' (694-712)
Marlyse Baptista, Manuel Veiga, Sérgio Soares da Costa, and Lígia Maria Herbert Duarte Lopes Robalo, ''Language Contact in Cape Verdean Creole: A Study of Bidirectional Influences in Two Contact Settings'' (713-739)

The chapters differ in their focus, depth and type of coverage, reflecting the length of the recorded history of the language surveyed and the amount of research on its contact relationships. A number of the chapters take the historical approach, covering the whole known history of the language in question, in some cases reconstructed from prehistoric contacts. The chapter on Spanish ranges over two millennia of external contacts, beginning with spoken Latin in contact with pre-Roman languages of the Iberian Peninsula and ending with the most recent Anglicisms like página web “webpage”, the chapter on the contact history of Berber stretches from Egyptian loans in proto-Berber all the way to post-1830 contact with French, and the chapter on Korean emphasizes influences from Chinese, Japanese and English. Historically-oriented coverage also dominates the chapters on English, Malayalam, Aleut, Warlpiri, Celtic and early Irish. The chapter on Northeastern Neo-Aramaic identifies contact influences from several regional languages including Persian, Kurdish, Turkish, Azeri and Arabic. Within the individual chapters, the exposition is guided by the amount of contact influence from a particular language; thus, the Berber chapter devotes the greatest amount of space to contact with Arabic and the Malayalam chapter emphasizes contact with Sanskrit.

Contact situations involving two languages form the focus of the discussion in the chapters on Welsh (in contact with English), Cape Verdean Creole (in contact with Portuguese), Paraguayan Guaraní (in contact with Spanish), Tagdal (in contact with Berber), Tok Pisin (in contact with English) and Reef Islands languages. Some of these discuss the influence of one language on the other while others consider their mutual influence; for instance, the chapter on Reef Islands languages examines bidirectional influence between two Austronesian languages, Äiwoo and Vaeakau-Taumako.

Several of the chapters adopt an areal perspective. The chapter on Ossetic situates this Iranian language in relation to its neighbors in the Caucasian Sprachbund. The chapter on Khmer surveys features that Khmer shares with its neighbors in the Southeast Asian linguistic area, while also looking at borrowings from Sanskrit and Pali and reciprocal borrowings between Thai and Khmer. The chapter on Goemai examines the structural convergence of this Chadic language with other languages in the Jos Plateau Sprachbund, as well as its later contact with Hausa, the region's lingua franca. David Kaufman's chapter abstracts away from individual languages in the Lower Mississippi Valley area to consider the totality of their shared features.

The chapter on sign languages describes the types of phenomena observed in contact between sign languages (unimodal contact) and between sign languages on the one hand and the spoken and written languages of the ambient communities on the other (multimodal contact).


''The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact'' reflects the state of the art in several important areas of contact-induced language change and provides an excellent source of open problems, unsolved theoretical issues and interesting cross-linguistic data for researchers and graduate students of linguistics.

The theoretical part of the volume strikes a fine balance between chapters that address the impact of CILC on different structural domains (Chapters 3-6) and those that explore theoretical approaches to CILC (Chapters 2, 8), including the input of language acquisition (Chapters 7, 9) and processes underlying language obsolescence and the formation of ''younger languages'' (Chapters 11-13). Some of the issues, approaches and theoretical distinctions introduced in the earlier chapters underlie much of the discussion in the later ones. Thus, the distinction between the transfer of pattern and the transfer of matter (or fabric) (Grant 2002) is addressed in the chapters on phonology (77), morphology (104), code-switching (205) and Neo-Aramaic (501). Van Coetsem’s (1988, 2000) distinction between borrowing and imposition is addressed in the chapters on morphological (111) and semantic borrowing (166f) and is implicitly present in the distinction between bilingually-induced and shift-induced change in the chapter on syntax. Its explanatory potential is further explored in the chapter on the Reef Islands languages Äiwoo and Vaeakau-Taumako in which the borrowing of lexicon and that of structural features appears to have flowed in opposite directions (638). Structural similarity/ typological distance between the languages in contact as a factor in CILC is brought up in the chapters on morphology (113f), syntax (145) and language obsolescence (251ff). The chapter devoted to syntax also addresses the regularizing role of pre-adolescent children in CILC (147).

Through the illustrative chapters in the second part of the volume the reader is exposed to a variety of less common or otherwise noteworthy contact phenomena and corresponding theoretical issues. For example, in the area of borrowability of grammatical categories we come across the borrowing of definiteness markers (definite articles in Paraguayan Guaraní, 703ff; definiteness-marking suffix in Neo-Aramaic, 510), of reciprocal pronouns and body-part terms (in Malayalam, 523, 535), of body-part and kinship terms (in Neo-Aramaic, 502f), of verbal inflections (in Berber, 458), of both derivational and inflectional morphology (in Neo-Aramaic, 508ff). In the area of phonological CILC we find such phenomena as a sharp contact-induced increase in the number of consonants (in Malayalam, 532ff) and penetration of borrowed phonemes into inherited vocabulary (in Berber, 455; Ossetic, 472; Neo-Aramaic, 508). In the domain of areal phenomena, we read about areally-shared grammaticalization of positional verbs into continuative aspect markers (669ff). In the area of loanword marking (Operstein 2019), especially interesting is the overt marker of Polynesian borrowings in Äiwoo (632).

Also worthy of note are various aspects of interaction between native and borrowed vocabulary. These are addressed in the chapters on Korean (the division of labor between native and borrowed synonyms, 544), Khmer (''decorative'' symmetrical compounds as a channel for introduction of loanwords, 558f, 580ff), Tagdal (discourse-influenced choice between native and borrowed nouns, 419f; verb suppletion with borrowed verb forms, 423), sign languages (''reiterative code-switching'', 687), Welsh (register differences between native and borrowed doublets, 355; ''innovatory'' versus ''lexicalized'' loans, 354) and English (stylistic stratification of the vocabulary, 378; borrowing of idioms, 381f).

Other theoretical and practical issues in the study of CILC addressed in this part of the volume include grammatical (''pattern'') borrowing without lexical (''matter'') borrowing (Ossetic, 487; Goemai 439, 442, 445), situations in which the direction of the borrowing is impossible to establish on structural grounds (Khmer/Thai, 568ff; in an areal context, 432, 445), separating language-contact effects from genetic inheritance (Warlpiri, 587ff), conscious manipulation of contact phenomena to express identity (Welsh, 355), generational differences in the use of borrowed forms (Goemai, 443), the role of shared discourse patterns for identifying linguistic areas (Lower Mississipi Valley, 663), assignment of grammatical gender to loan nouns and adaptation strategies for loan verbs (Welsh 360, 363ff), different integration mechanisms for borrowed material (Neo-Aramaic, 503ff), suppletion for verbal number as evidence of language contact (Goemai, 437f; Lower Mississipi Valley, 672f), CILC through the medium of literary translation (English, 382), retention in the recipient language of features long lost in the donor language (Welsh, 364f), conditions under which L2 features may take hold in the speech of monolingual L1 speakers (Reef Islands languages, 639). In passing, the reader is also reminded of a more light-hearted aspect of CILC: humor arising from code-switching (Welsh, 354).

Methodological issues in the study of CILC are addressed in the volume at various points and include dating a loanword's first appearance (Welsh, 353), the difficulty of dating linguistic changes due to a conservative orthography (English, 374), the need to consider the social context of language contact for understanding its outcomes (Neo-Aramaic, 499; Reef Islands languages) and the methods of studying changes in language obsolescence (242). The sad fact of a lack of cooperation between the academic fields of diachronic linguistics and creole studies also receives a passing mention (298). Many of the chapters provide a thoughtful bibliographical orientation; e.g., the chapters on language acquisition, Malayalam and Tok Pisin offer rich arrays of references, and the introductory chapter presents a particularly useful historical overview of milestone publications on CILC.

In short, this excellent and well-organized volume is expected to serve as an orientation and source-book for research on contact-induced language change for years to come.


Booij, Geert. 1994. Against split morphology. In Yearbook of Morphology 1993, Geert Booij & Jaap van Marle (eds), 27-49. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Booij, Geert. 1996. Inherent versus contextual inflection and the split morphology hypothesis. In Yearbook of Morphology 1995, Geert Booij & Jaap van Marle (eds), 1-16. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Grant, Anthony. 2002. Fabric, pattern, shift and diffusion: what change in Oregon Penutian languages can tell historical linguists. In Proceedings of the Meeting of the Hokan-Penutian Workshop, June 17-18, 2000, University of California at Berkeley. Report 11, Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, Laura Buszard-Welcher (ed), 33-56. Berkeley: Department of Linguistics, University of California at Berkeley.

Johanson, Lars. 2002. Contact-induced change in a code-copying framework. In Language Change: The Interplay of Internal, External and Extra-Linguistic Factors, Mari C. Jones & Edith Esch (eds), 285-313. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Operstein, Natalie. 2019. Loanword marking as a mechanism of structural change. Italian Journal of Linguistics 31(1): 149-192.

Thomason, Sarah J. & Terrence Kaufman. 1988. Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Van Coetsem, Frans. 1988. Loan Phonology and the Two Transfer Types in Language Contact. Dordrecht: Foris.

Van Coetsem, Frans. 2000. A General and Unified Theory of the Transmission Process in Language Contact. Heidelberg: Winter.
Natalie Operstein's research interests center on language change, phonology and language contact. Her publications include ''Consonant Structure and Prevocalization'' (John Benjamins, 2010), ''Zaniza Zapotec'' (Lincom Europa, 2015), ''Valence Changes in Zapotec: Synchrony, Diachrony, Typology'', ed. with Aaron Huey Sonnenschein (2015) and ''Language Contact and Change in Mesoamerica and Beyond'', ed. with Karen Dakin and Claudia Parodi (2017).

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780199945092
Pages: 806
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