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Review of  Dynamics of Contact-Induced Language Change

Reviewer: Thomas Owen-Smith
Book Title: Dynamics of Contact-Induced Language Change
Book Author: Claudine Chamoreau Isabelle Léglise
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 24.500

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EDITORS: Claudine Chamoreau, Isabelle Léglise
TITLE: Dynamics of Contact-Induced Language Change
SERIES: Language Contact and Bilingualism (LCB) 2
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

Thomas Owen-Smith, Department of Linguistics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

This volume comprises a diverse set of chapters investigating various aspects of language change in contact situations. Chamoreau and Léglise set out the essential aim of the book in the first paragraph: “the primary purpose … is to identify different factors in language change” (p.1), and the topic is examined over thirteen chapters by different authors.

The chapters address questions of contact and change in morphosyntax and semantics from a number of viewpoints, and with differing levels of language-specific focus. Several (e.g. Chamoreau, Epps) present new data and analysis of small and under-researched languages, while others (e.g. Heine, Bruno) apply recent theoretical developments to relatively well-researched (including literary) languages. The discussions are not anchored in any particular grammatical theory, but the editors state that the methodologies used in the book “generally have their roots in a typological perspective” (p.1). The geographical coverage includes one chapter on Indian Ocean creoles and one on an Austronesian language, but otherwise there is quite a strong gravity towards Latin America and Europe, with the majority of chapters dealing predominantly or exclusively with languages from these regions.

Claudine Chamoreau and Isabelle Léglise,
A multi-modal approach to contact-induced language change
In the introductory chapter, the editors present the fundamentals of their approach, stressing that linguistic change cannot be accounted for by one single factor, but is rather a “dynamic domain of complex, complementary, and correlated processes that have to be treated with a fine-grained approach” (p.1), and that this complexity demands a framework which can take account of all of these. They also introduce the other chapters, in terms of three themes: i) the role of multilingual speakers in language change; ii) the differences (and similarities) between change in “ordinary” contact situations and in situations of language endangerment and obsolescence; and iii) the relationships between contact-induced and internal change. These topics introduce two (perhaps the two) crucial questions which must be usually addressed in discussions of contact and change: whether a development in a given situation involving language contact is due to structural or to social factors, and whether it has occurred because of the linguistic contact (the term “contact-induced” is used throughout the book for such a situation), or “internally”, that is for reasons explicable by reference to the language itself rather than due to contact. The assumption which informs a lot of the work in the book is that all of the above factors “conspire” (together with cross-linguistic tendencies), so contact and social factors can often compound or strengthen tendencies which were already present in the linguistic ecology of a language. The editors note that this is “a generally accepted phenomenon in the field … but the role played by each process and their precise relationship to each other is not always clear” (p.13).

Yaron Matras,
An activity-oriented approach to contact-induced language change
Matras argues that “innovative strategies occur in pursuit of specific communicative goals” (p.23), and proposes that in situations involving multilingualism, speakers make use of their repertoire of more than one language to achieve a range of effects. Their licence to draw on their full range, and their ability to regularly select the appropriate material, are of course affected by the linguistic environment around them, and over the chapter he looks at examples of various social settings which entail different opportunities for or constraints on speakers with regard to these aspects of their performance. This is the “activity-oriented approach”. He distinguishes situations where social solidarity and shared linguistic competence encourage creative use of forms and language mixing, and those where social stress and the mental effort to cope with this cause interference and “malfunction” in speakers’ selection of the appropriate terms. While both factors influence individual speakers in particular situations, in circumstances of large-scale multilingualism, they can develop into patterns which become generally established amongst multilingual speakers, from which point they can spread to the monolingual population(s).

Claudine Chamoreau,
Contact-induced change as an innovation
One of the editors, Chamoreau also contributes a chapter, in which she presents an example of a situation where an element of a contact language is adopted, but employed in a manner which does not exist in that language. Specifically, this is how a Mesoamerican language Purepecha has adopted the Spanish preposition ‘entre’ only as a comparative marker, a function for which it is not used in Spanish. The adoption of comparative expressions involving particles reflects a long and intense period of contact, over which Spanish patterns (which appear not to have existed in the language as spoken in the 16th century) have entered Purepecha both through loanwords and calques, displacing native strategies. Chamoreau proposes that the unusual use of Spanish ‘entre’ for comparison serves to emphasise the independent linguistic identity of Purepecha speakers, and notes that the employment of an element with locative semantics for comparison is common cross-linguistically.

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald,
Language contact in language obsolescence
Aikhenvald’s chapter investigates whether contact-induced changes proceed in a different manner in a language which is falling into disuse, or whether they follow patterns similar to those of any intense contact situation, with a discussion of data from a number of Amazonian languages (though she also refers to others). She notes the position of several scholars that contact-induced change in obsolescent languages is similar to that in healthy languages and it is above all the speed of change which distinguishes the two, however she argues that apart from the general “simplification and reduction of grammar and lexicon” (p.80) of obsolescent languages (even to the extent that their genetic affiliation may become obscured), “a massive influx of non-native forms…may result in unusual phenomena” (p.81), which sometimes involve large-scale restructuring and/or elaboration of native categories in favour of those of the dominant language. She gives several examples, including the adoption of an inclusive/exclusive distinction in first person plural, gender distinctions, oblique cases and classifiers (pp.89-94), and notes that in the most extreme situations, the obsolescent language may replicate dominant categories to such an extent that it can become almost like a relexified version of the dominant language.

Ana Fernández Garay,
The emergence of a marked-nominative system in Tehuelche or Aonek’o ʔaʔjen: a contact-induced change?
Pressure from other languages may lead to new patterns in a given language without fully extinguishing aspects of the older (native) system. Fernández Garay’s chapter discusses such a situation in Tehuelche, a language of Patagonia, which saw the extension of an adnominal element from marking A (the more agent-like argument in transitive clauses) to marking S (the argument of an intransitive clause) as well. This constitutes the transition from a marked ergative to a marked nominative system, and Fernández Garay proposes that it developed due to Tehuelche speakers’ contact with Mapadungun, which has nominative-accusative alignment. While verbal morphology preserves remnants of the ergative system, where certain verbs (“group 1”) agree in gender with P (the more patient-like argument in transitive clauses), the system appears to be in the process of breaking down, as there is an apparently growing group of verbs (“group 2”) which do not show this pattern. This and the fact that the case morpheme under discussion is sometimes a preposition and sometimes a postposition (which Fernández Garay also attributes to contact) give a snapshot of opposing tendencies in a language under sustained social and linguistic pressure.

Bernd Heine,
On polysemy copying and grammaticalization in language contact
Heine looks at the phenomenon of grammatical replication, “that is, a process where speakers create a new grammatical meaning or structure in language R (the replica language) on the model of some meaning or structure of another language M (the model language)” (p.127), using his and Kuteva’s grammaticalization model (2005, 2006, inter alia). This involves breaking down the development of a grammatical morpheme into certain stages, which are unidirectional: stage 2 can only follow stage 1, and so on. He examines data from a large number of European languages, focusing on developments concerning articles, possessive perfects, and auxiliation of verbs whose lexical meaning is ‘threaten’, all of which he shows to have radiated out from the “core” European languages (generally Romance and Germanic), into “peripheral” European languages (Slavic, Celtic, etc.) which previously lacked them. The kernel of Heine’s argument is that, although peripheral languages have developed features which can be considered analogous to categories in the core languages, their uses tend to be subject to a greater number of constraints, and as such they are still at earlier stages of grammaticalization. He concedes that why such constraints exist, and exactly how a given feature is introduced from a model into a replica language, is still poorly understand, and requires further research.

Thomas Stolz,
The attraction of indefinite articles: on the borrowing of Spanish ‘un’ in Chamorro
Stolz discusses the adoption of the Spanish indefinite article in the Austronesian language Chamorro (spoken on the Marianas Islands), and subsequent developments of the morpheme following its incorporation into the language’s morphosyntax. Considering the morpheme in the context of Heine and Kuteva’s (2005, 2006, inter alia) grammaticalization framework, where indefinite articles developing from the numeral ‘one’ are considered to progress by stages from a pure numeral to a generalized article, he argues that the usage of ‘un’ in Chamorro supports their claim that borrowed morphemes will invariably be incorporated on the lowest stages of this scale. However, the subsequent development of ‘un’ in this language has been substantially different from the corresponding situations in European languages. This is largely because it “has to compete with pre-Hispanic strategies of indefiniteness marking (antipassive, common article, zero article)” (p.188), which means that only certain (i.e. less grammaticalized) parts of the full range of Spanish ‘un’ are attractive to Chamorro speakers, who have other devices at their disposal. Based on the evidence of Chamorro, Stolz concludes that once an element is borrowed “together with its least grammaticalized properties, it develops largely language-internally, especially if the pressure of the erstwhile prestige language ceases to be strong” (p.190).

Patience Epps,
On form and function in language contact: a case study from the Amazonian Vaupés region
Epps’ chapter examines aspects of the contact situation in the Vaupés region of northwest Amazonia, which involves languages from three families (East Tukanoan, Nadahup and Arawak), the speakers of which have a “negative attitude towards language mixing” (p.196) and generally resist borrowing lexical items and morphology (although the widespread calquing of constructions with native material has led to convergence of grammar). The form ‘ni’ or similar etymons which appear cognate occur as verbs of existence/location, equative copulas, evidential operators, aspectual markers, light verbs in predicate chaining constructions, and verbalizers across the area -- a situation which Epps proposes is likely to have involved areal influence in some form, although she admits that with the data at hand, it is not possible to ascertain exactly how this has happened or where the form originated. Consequently she proposes that the fact that ‘ni’ existed in some form in many of the relevant languages, where it was (crucially) perceived as a native rather than a foreign element, facilitated its extension into a wider range of structures, which would probably have been resisted for an obviously foreign morpheme.

Julen Manterola,
The Basque articles ‘-a’ and ‘bat’ and recent contact theories
In another chapter discussing articles (and contact with Spanish), Manterola offers a rigorous critique of Haase’s (1992) and Heine and Kuteva’s (2005, 2006, inter alia) analyses of the development of definite and indefinite articles (‘-a’ and ‘bat’ respectively) in Basque. He argues that these authors have not given enough importance to certain evidence, for instance cross-dialectal and diachronic data, and states essentially that he disagrees with attempting to solve a given problem by applying a general hypothesis rather than by a thorough examination of the particularities of the data. While Manterola in fact agrees with the above authors that “contact has played a determining role” (p.257) in the development of the articles, he points to the difficulty of claiming that the Basque definite article has been replicated from a Romance model, as it is “more developed in its grammaticalization path than its counterparts in Romance languages” (p.232). Based on the particularities of Basque, he proposes that it is possible that the extension of ‘bat’ could have been restricted by the very wide range of ‘-a’, and that ‘-a’ might have developed more to distinguish between singular and plural rather than to mark definiteness.

Sibylle Kriegel,
Contact phenomena/code copying in Indian Ocean Creoles: the post-abolition period
Kriegel looks at two elements in French-based Indian Ocean creoles: ‘depi’ as ablative preposition in Mauritian Creole, and ‘pourdir’ as a complementizer in Seychelles Creole, both of which are unusual, not being attested in other French-based creoles. She considers these elements in Johanson’s framework of code copying (2002). While in both cases the form is transparently French, the range of use of each form appears to pattern with categories from languages which became widely used on each of the islands following different immigration patterns after the abolition of slavery in 1835: they are therefore examples of covert copying. ‘depi’ conflates both a spatial ablative and temporal meaning ‘since’ on a pattern of the Bhojpuri postposition ‘-se’ (which interestingly appears to have been identified with a preposition in the copying code), while the lexicalized (and grammaticalized) ‘pourdir’ appears to follow the pattern of complementizer constructions in Bantu languages. While Kriegel admits that there is not conclusive proof that these are indeed the explanations for the unusual patterns, her analysis raises the importance of considering languages other than the base language in creoles.

Zarina Estrada-Fernández,
Grammaticalization of modal auxiliary verbs in Pima Bajo: an internal or a contact-induced change?
Estrada-Fernández considers complex verbal constructions in a number of Uto-Aztecan languages, setting out a typology which draws much from Anderson’s (2005) study of auxiliary constructions. She shows that languages in the family have a variety of patterns for encoding verbal complements: nominalized constructions, morphologically complex predicates, analytical periphrastic constructions (i.e. modal auxiliary verbs), and biclausal constructions involving a subordinator. Drawing data from Nevome, an earlier stage of Pima Bajo documented in the 17th century, she shows that the language has moved from a more polysynthetic to a more analytic morphological profile. Part of this trend has involved the development of analytic constructions involving auxiliary verbs for expressing certain types of modal and aspectual information, which appears to have been expressed by clitic morphemes in the earlier period. Estrada-Fernández proposes that contact with Spanish may have played a role in the development of such constructions, however she admits that it is not possible to prove this, stating that her hypothesis “shall remain descriptive rather than explanatory” (p.304).

Anthony P. Grant,
Contact, convergence, and conjunctions: a cross-linguistic study of borrowing correlations among certain kinds of discourse, phrasal adverbial, and dependent clause markers
Grant’s chapter investigates borrowing patterns of conjunctions and discourse markers across languages and aims to shed light on the question of purported “universals” in structural borrowing. He starts from Matras’ (1998) proposals that there exist hierarchies in the order of borrowing, for instance that a term equivalent to ‘but’ has to be borrowed before a term equivalent to ‘or’, and these two before a term equivalent to ‘and’, etc. In an etic fashion similar to Dahl’s (1985) TMA (Tense-Modality-Aspect) questionnaire, he surveys from published sources 18 categories for which many languages use conjunctions, particles, or various kinds of subordinating constructions, across 22 diverse languages (including English) which are known to have borrowed some proportion of the relevant material from other languages. The data show various patterns of borrowing, including taking wholesale the form and its function from the model language, replicating of the form with native material, and cases where part of a construction is borrowed, and embedded in native morphemes. From examples which go against the hierarchies proposed for borrowing, Grant is able to show that these are not universals but merely tendencies.

Carla Bruno,
On a Latin-Greek diachronic convergence: the perfects with Latin ‘habeo’ / Greek ‘échō’ and a participle
In the final chapter, Bruno examines parallel structures in Latin/Romance and Greek, looking at the structurally equivalent developments of perfect constructions from possessive verbs and participles in these languages. She discusses whether the development of these similar constructions could have been influenced by contact between the two languages, or is more likely due to independent parallel developments according to general tendencies which related languages are likely to share. Bruno also considers why the construction developed to become a core component of Romance tense/aspect systems on the one hand, while in Greek it has always been marginal. The answer to this question (as for several other examples in the book, discussed in other chapters) lies in its structural opposition with other constructions in the relevant languages. So while in Latin, “the emergence of the ‘habeo’ active periphrastic forms … results in the balancing of a perfective system originally showing periphrastic forms only in middle structures” (p.366), in Greek “the presence of a complex participial system has continuously interfered with attempts to systematize the opposition between ‘eimí’ and ‘échō’ in auxiliating participles” (p.371).

This volume certainly succeeds in presenting a variety of approaches to language change and contact, and as such is a helpful resource for those who are grappling with the complexities of language contact in their own research. While the more general chapters (e.g. Matras, Heine) are especially useful in this regard, as they present approaches which can be applied to essentially any contact situation, the more language-specific chapters present data and analysis of little-known languages and unusual developments, which also enlarge our knowledge of what is possible in contact situations. Some of them (e.g. Manterola) also provide data and analysis which question the ability of the general approaches to account for all phenomena. This is also welcome, as theories must be refined in a constant discourse with actual data.

The copy editing is generally very good: all examples are transparently glossed according to the Leipzig glossing rules, and the instances of typographical errors can probably be counted on two hands. The text flows well for the most part, although there are some instances where information which turns out to be quite important for the argument of the chapter is not introduced as clearly or as early as it might be (for instance, in Fernández Garay’s chapter the opposition between groups 1 and 2 of verbs in Tehuelche; in Kriegel’s chapter the nature of the spatial and temporal syncretism of Bhojpuri ‘-se’ and how exactly this caused Mauritian Creole ‘depi’ to be extended from temporal to spatial expressions; and in Bruno’s chapter the fact that in Modern Greek the construction involving ‘échō’ and the past passive participle is extremely marginal and barely used). Several chapters also lack lists of abbreviations used, and references have adopted the unhelpful practice of including only initials rather than first names for authors. However these matters are relatively minor, and do not significantly detract from the generally high editorial and thematic quality of the work as a whole.

All chapters are thickly referenced, and situate their content within discussions of contact and language change over recent decades. Heine and Kuteva’s (2005, 2006 inter alia) framework of grammaticalization looms particularly large, and a number of the contributors engage with it in detail, either using it as the basis of their analysis (e.g. Heine, Stolz), or using their analysis to critique this theory (Manterola). Other contact-centred frameworks employed include Johanson’s (2002 inter alia) work on code copying and Matras’ (1998 inter alia) proposals for hierarchies in borrowing, as well as Thomason and Kaufman’s (1988) proposals about types of contact situations.

One of the book’s strengths as an edited volume is that it presents a relatively diverse range of views and very detailed focus on particular topics in relation to certain languages and areas: This plurality of voices and interests gives the work a quality which would not really be possible in an authored work. The theme(s) of the book can be considered to cohere, as apart from fitting into the broad thematic structure outlined in the introductory chapter, many chapters make points which are pertinent to other chapters. For example, Stolz and Manterola actually reach similar conclusions from their data (i.e. that structures are borrowed at an early stage of grammaticalization, and after this develop in the replica language conditioned by the existing structures in that language and independent from subsequent developments in the one-time model language), though the two chapters take quite different positions with regard to Heine and Kuteva’s approach.

While the contributors generally seem to share certain fundamental working assumptions about the nature of contact and change (for instance, the “conspiracy” of many factors), it is refreshing that they differ on some points, for instance whether certain processes and tendencies should be seen as universals (e.g. Matras, Heine) or merely tendencies (e.g. Grant, Manterola). The contributors also differ somewhat in their willingness to go “on record” saying that they believe the development they are discussing is due to contact: some push the boat out (e.g. Epps, Kriegel) and say they believe contact has played a decisive role, while others (e.g. Estrada-Fernández, Bruno) merely point out that it could have.

Meagre and inconclusive data are a persistent problem in contact linguistics, which combined with the subtlety of many aspects of contact such as code copying means that perhaps little can actually be proven to the extent of being watertight. However, through work which teases apart the complexities of contact in particular situations, while relating these details to general problems, we gradually move forward at least towards a fuller understanding of the forces which can play a role in these processes. This book is a valuable contribution in that direction.

Anderson, Gregory D.S. 2005. Auxiliary Verb Constructions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and aspect systems. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell.

Haase, Martin. 1992. Sprachkontakt und Sprachwandel im Baskenland: Die Einflüsse des Gaskognischen und Französischen auf das Baskische. Hamburg: Helmut Buske.

Heine, Bernd and Tanya Kuteva. 2005. Language Contact and Grammatical Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heine, Bernd and Tanya Kuteva. 2006. The Changing Languages of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johanson, Lars. 2002. ‘Contact-induced linguistic change in a code-copying framework’. In: Jones, Mari C. & Esch, Edith (eds.) Language change: The interplay of internal, external and extra-linguistic factors. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp. 285-313.

Matras, Yaron. 1998. Utterance modifiers and universals of grammatical borrowing. Linguistics 36: 281-331.

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

Thomas Owen-Smith is PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His thesis focuses on aspects of the morphosyntax and semantics of Tamang, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the Central Himalaya. His other research interests include language contact and its historical dimensions (particularly in Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Turkic); historical linguistics and typology; and links between language and traditional knowledge, the environment and agriculture.