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Review of  The Handbook of Language Contact, 2nd Edition

Reviewer: Emmanuel Schang
Book Title: The Handbook of Language Contact, 2nd Edition
Book Author: Raymond Hickey
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.2117

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The Handbook of Language Contact is edited by Raymond Hickey and gathers 37 chapters, plus an important introduction written by the editor. The book is divided into two parts: a theoretical presentation of the main aspects of language contact (Part 1 - Contact, Contact Studies, and Linguistics) and some important case studies (Part 2 - Case Studies of Contact) for a total of 780 pages (all included).

It is aimed at a large audience of scholars and students in linguistics (but a basic knowledge of the key concepts of linguistics is required).

The volume starts with an erudite presentation of the literature on the topic (Language Contact and Linguistic Research, by R. Hickey) and this introduction lists the questions related to the field.

In Chapter 1, S. Tomason ('Contact Explanations in Linguistics) shows that '' both internal and external motivations are needed in any full account of language history and, by implication, of synchronic variation''. She explains why the extreme positions (language contact is responsible only for minor changes vs contact is the sole source of change and variation) are both untenable.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to bilingualism and diglossia (Contact, Bilingualism and Diglossia, by L. Sayahi). The author starts with a discussion on the uses of the term diglossia (and extended diglossia), and continues with the description of language contact phenomena such as code-switching. Most of the examples and cases come from Arabic and its contact with French.

The next chapter (Chapter 3: Language Contact and Change through Child First Language Acquisition, by C. O'Shannessy and L. Davidson) addresses the role of children in contact-induced change. It describes several cases of new language creation or new dialect creation where children have played a significant role.

In Chapter 4, B. Heine and T. Kuteva is entitled Contact and Grammaticalization. They show that ''grammatical replication in general, and contact-induced grammaticalization in particular, are far more common than has previously been assumed''.

In Chapter 5, A. Grant deals with ''Contact and Language Convergence''. After having defined the different meanings behind the notion of convergence, he describes different places where convergence may take place (from phonetics to semantics and pragmatics).

Chapter 6 (Contact and Linguistic Typology, by O. Bond, H. Sims-Williams and M. Baerman) focuses on morphological typology and ''recent developments in research on language contact in relation to contemporary thought in linguistic typology''.The authors conclude that ''language contact is an important explanatory tool for understanding the distribution of typological variables, and must be taken into consideration as a possible influence when constructing probabilistic theories accounting for cross-linguistic diversity''.

In Chapter 7 (Contact and Language Shift) R. Hickey presents data from the language shift form Irish to English over the past centuries. Beyond this case study, he asks the question ''whether language shift varieties represent a typological class of their own''. He concluded that ''to answer this question positively, there must be sufficient features which are unique to shift varieties (...) and which appear irrespective of their occurrence in either the substrate or superstrate inputs which engender a shift variety''.

In Chapter 8, P. Durkin deals with Lexical Borrowing. He defines the notion and reviews the different types of borrowing found in the literature.

Chapter 9 is dedicated to code-switching (Contact and Code-switching, by P. Gardner-Chloros). It ponderates its impact in language change and shows precisely what is its impact.

Chapter 10 (Contact and Mixed Languages, by P. Bakker) deals with mixed language as ''the most extreme result of language contact''. P. Bakker defines the notions of pidgins, pidgincreoles, creoles and mixed languages, using a ''thought experiment'' where he creates fictitious specimen of these types to illustrate pedagogically the content of these notions.

In Chapter 11, entitled ''Contact and Sociolinguistic Variation'', M. Ravindranath Abtahian and J. Kasstan focus ''on research in the variationist paradigm that intersects with the field of language contact. [They] predominantly focus on sound change, which forms the bulk of the work at this interface, as well as a significant part of the tradition of variationist sociolinguistics''.

Chapter 12, entitled Contact and New Varieties (by P. Kerswill) describes the different scenarios and forces at play in the emergence of 'new' varieties. It deals with dialect leveling, new-dialect formation, koineization, ethnolects and multiethnolects.

'Contact in the City', by H. Wiese, is the penultimate chapter of Part 1. As its title indicates, it deals with language contact in the urban context, but in very different places, such as Cameroon (Camfranglais) or Germany (berlin, Kiezdeutsch).

The last chapter of Part 1 (Linguistic Landscapes and Language Contact, by K. Bolton, W. Botha and S-L. Lee) proposes an overview of the studies in linguistic landscapes, and provides examples taken from studies in contemporary Hong Kong.

Part 2 (Case Studies of Contact) brings together case studies from a wide range of geographic situations and times (the title of the chapters give the reader the indication of the geographic area). The chapters mentioned in the list below are both an overview of the situation in a specific area (with bibliographical information) and an analysis of particular points relevant to this specific area. For instance, in the chapter on Contact and African Englishes, the reader can find (among others) an analysis of resumptive pronouns, which is motivated by the fact that Standard English uses a 'gap' in relative clauses, while in Chapter 15 (Early Indo-European), the analyses focus on phonetics and lexicon. In short, the content of the chapter is adapted to the current debates in the area.

In Chapter 15 (Contact and Early Indo-European in Europe, by B. Drinka), the author addresses the question of reconstruction for prehistoric languages and the kind of arguments we can find in support of contact versus genetic relatedness and several related questions.

In Chapter 16 (Contact and the History of Germanic Languages, by P. Roberge), the author reviews various contacts in the area of Germanic languages and concludes that ''contact with co-territorial languages has been a key element in the development of Germanic in its diffusion across northwestern Europe and the British Isles'' (p.338).

The next chapter (Chapter 17: Contact in the History of English, by R. McColl Millar) discusses different types of lexical borrowings and the morphosyntactic changes triggered by contact (a.o. A comparison on French and Italian Lexical influence on English).

In Chapter 18 (Contact and the Development of American English, by J.C. Salmon and T. Purnell), the authors review a number of recent arguments in favor of the 'substratum' influence and claim that ''we now understand the diversification of American English today in no small part as the slow-motion resolution of the contacts encoded in our history.'' (p.377). And they conclude “Time and again, we see the interplay between “internal”, or structural, and “external”, or social factors, in the origins and transmission of change. (p.378)”

Chapter 19 (Chapter 19: Contact and African Englishes, by R. Mesthrie) starts with setting the background to Anglo-African contact. It goes on with a survey of contact in phonology and syntax in the subsaharian varieties of English.

In Chapter 20 (Contact and Caribbean Creoles, E. W. Schneider and R. Hickey), the authors review the influence of various sources of contact. They provide arguments which mitigate the idea that creolization is a ''unique and highly exceptional process'' (p.419). In particular, they show that aside from the well known and well documented varieties of Jamaica, Trinidad or Guyana, smaller and less documented varieties provide elements for a nuanced approach of creolization (in sections “The Cline of Creoleness” and “Dialect Input to the Caribbean”) taking in account the whole diversity of varieties and the complexity of the input.

Chapter 21 (Contact and the Romance Languages, by J. C. Smith) consists in an overview of the contacts in a well studied area: Romance languages. Interestingly, the author claims that ''it is also fair to claim that contact influence on Romance has often been overstated'' (p.444).

Chapter 22 (Contact and Spanish in the Pacific, by E. Sippola) deals mainly with Spanish in the Philippines and Marianas, “where we find very different situations and outcomes of Spanish in contact, including the maintenance of Spanish as a heritage language, heavy borrowings form Spanish to local languages (e.g. Tagalog in the Philippines and Chamorro in the Marianas), and creolization leading to the emergence of a new variety called Chabacano” (p. 453). It also shows how the situation differs from other Spanish speaking places.

H. Cardoso (Chapter 23: Contact and Portuguese-Lexified Creoles) presents an overview of the Portuguese-based Creoles and their importance in creolistics.These languages were some of the older creoles based on European languages as the result of the European expansion since the 15th century.

Chapter 24 (Contact and the Celtic Languages, by J. F. Eska) discusses contact in the early history of Celtic languages and contact in the Insular Celtic languages. It reviews various grammatical features originating from contact, sometimes dating from Prehistory (languages spoken in Britain and Ireland before Celtic speakers could have arrived there).

L.A. Grenoble (Chapter 25: Contact and the Slavic Languages) surveys the various types of contacts that occurred through time in the Slavic languages as a result of the expansion of Slavic languages speakers over vast territories. While Russian plays an important role here, this chapter also includes discussion on other languages (Sorbian, Czech etc.).

Chapter 26 (Contact and the Finno-Ugric Languages, by J. Laakso) discusses the reconstruction of language contact in Finno-Ugric family. In particular, it discusses and challenges the traditional view of a bipartite division of the Uralic family. The last section however deals with globalization and the nature of contact in the recent years.

Chapter 27 (Language Contact in the Balkans, by B. D. Joseph) addresses the question of the Sprachbund in the Balkans, the causes and the type of convergence between groups of languages of the area.

In Chapter 28 (Turkic Languages Contacts) L. Johanson, E.A. Csató and B. Karakoç explain that the massive displacements of the Turkic-speaking groups over centuries has led to numerous contacts between languages. This chapter proposes an overview of the various areas (Anatolia, Lithuania, Northwestern Europe etc) and a description of the main features related to contact.

Chapter 29 (Contact and Afroasiatic Languages, by Z. Frajzingier and E. Shay) deals with a wide number of linguistic features (from vowel harmony to logophoricity among many others) which can be related to contact between languages inside Afroasiatic Languages or in connection with other languages.

With around 275 languages from around 55 different families, North American Languages present a wide range of effects of language contact. In Chapter 30, (Contact and North American Languages), M. Mithun considers several important problems in phonology, morphology and syntax and provides numerous interesting examples.

In Chapter 31 (Contact and Mayan Languages, by D. Law), the author provides an overview of the currents discussions and questions about contact and mixing in the area. While the Mayan family is quite small (32 languages spoken today), the situation is very complex and the author underlines the methodological difficulties in separating the contact induced changes from inheritance from a common ancestor. While there is not a lot of examples, the bibliography is rich and leads the reader to the sources.

South America contains 107 language families (53 language families and 54 language isolates). L. Campbell, T. Chacon and J. Elliott (Chapter 32: Contact and South American Languages) propose an survey of the different areas (Amazonia, Andes, etc) and review the contact languages, linguas francas, mixed languages, pidgins and creoles of this wide area.

Chapter 33 (Contact among African Languages, by K. Beyer) reviews various aspects of language contact in Africa and language contact research in this area and provides two case studies in multilingual environment: Souroudougou (Burkina Faso and Mali) and Ngaoundere (Cameroon).

Siberia is another vast geographic area, but the number of languages in the area is rather low (over 30 languages). Nevertheless, B. Pakendorf (Chapter 34: Contact and Siberian Languages) explains that ''the indigeneous languages show several structural similarities, leading Anderson (2004,02006) to speak of a 'Siberian linguistic macro-area' ''. She provides examples of Russian influence on the languages of Siberia, pidgins and mixed languages, and ends the chapter with language contact among the indigenous languages.

In Chapter 35 (Language Contact: Sino-Russia), Z. Frajzingier, N. Gurian and S. Karpenko focus on two questions: ''(i) What are the formal features used by contact language speakers? and (ii) What functions are coded by these formal features?''. They conclude that the ''use of Sino-Russian idiolects is different from that of pidgins'' and they explain the differences.

Chapter 36 (Language Contact and Australian Languages, by J. Vaughan and D. Loakes) deals with pidgins and creoles, mixed languages, restructured traditional languages and arboriginal Englishes. The authors describe the linguistic landscape of Australia and ''emphasize the importance of attending to the social, the ideological and the emotional in language contact''.

In Chapter 37 (Contact Languages of the Pacific) J. Siegel provides an overview of the various pidgin and creole languages of the Pacific area (Australia and New Zealand excluded), focusing on lexicon and morphosyntax. It deals with new languages only, and not with contact induced changes among the thousand of languages of the area.


This book (in its second edition) brings together a considerable amount of knowledge on the subject of language contact. Inasmuch as topics range from methodological discussions on contacts in prehistoric languages to urban sociolinguistics, the diversity of the methodological approaches and the extent of the phenomena covered are very impressive. The wide range of languages taken in account is also impressive, even in Part 1 which is the theoretical part of the book.

This book represents a perfect entry point for the study of language contact phenomena. Even a linguist familiar with the field will probably discover a hidden gem in these pages.

The bibliography which ends each chapter will help the reader to find more information on the topic. As a consequence, each chapter is free-standing. And surprisingly, the bibliography is not as redundant as one could have expected.

While the book is overall clear and easy to read, some chapters are quite technical and require a good knowledge of the concepts of historical linguistics. This reserves their access to students who already have a solid theoretical background.

Let me give you some elements about what this book is not, in contrast with other related books:

- It is not an introduction on pidgin and creole languages. While pidgin and creoles take a important place in these pages (the theoretical discussion is not limited to Chapter 10), the content goes beyond these languages and takes on many other cases of contact. Moreover, some elements of Chapter 10 are quite controversial among creolists (see Aboh 2015 among others) and could be mitigated.

- A cookbook for studying contact phenomena. The diversity of the approaches in Part 1 can provide the reader some inspiration for new researches with new techniques. It is a source of inspiration, but definitely not a method.

Having said that, I recommend this book for any scholar looking for a comprehensive overview of language contacts, and for (advanced) students in linguistics. It is unquestionably a useful resource to have in your library.


Aboh, E. O. (2015). The emergence of hybrid grammars: Language contact and change. Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, G. D. (2004). The languages of Central Siberia: Introduction and overview. Languages and prehistory of Central Siberia, 262, 1-119.

Anderson, G. D. (2006). Towards a typology of the Siberian linguistic area. In Linguistic Areas (pp. 266-300). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Emmanuel Schang is an associate professor (HDR) in linguistics at the University of Orléans (France). His research mixes creole languages studies (Portuguese-based Creoles of the Gulf of Guinea, Guadeloupean Creole) and natural language processing. He has led several projects on creole languages.

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