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Review of  Language Contact in Europe

Reviewer: Francesca Cotugno
Book Title: Language Contact in Europe
Book Author: Bridget Drinka
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 29.1492

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


‘Language Contact in Europe: The Periphrastic Perfect through History’, written by Bridget Drinka, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, constitutes an extensive work on the history, diffusion and role of periphrastic perfect in the framework of Indo-European languages.

The book is organised into sixteen chapters, in which the author focuses her scholarly interest in a clear and well-planned way. The first chapters of the book (Chapters 1-4) are dedicated to a general consideration of the periphrastic perfect through history and theoretical issues. The chapters have been arranged in order to cover different topics but to addressing the same issues: the diffusion of perfect and the relevance of language contact, discussing the previous studies (e.g. Heine and Kuteva’s EUROTYPP project concerning the gradual ‘Europeanization’ of languages of Europe, cf. Chapter 2; the hodological ‘path-oriented’ approach of Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca 1994, cf. Chapter 3). Nonetheless, each chapter presents individual features as, for each of the areas investigated, it was possible to explore a different relevant sub-topic of the broad framework of the analysis of the periphrastic perfect.

The concept of Sprachbund which is generally studied by all students in Linguistics is thoroughly analysed, questioned and redefined. The perfect as a category is analysed in depth from both the theoretical and applied perspective. After this and a theoretical and general (but not superficial) introduction, the author dedicates each of the following chapters (5-13; 15) to a different Indo-European language, analysing an emblematic feature of the perfect for each language. Only Chapters 14 and 16 differ, as they are dedicated respectively to the updating of the concept of Sprachbund and to the Conclusions, in which she summarises all the aforementioned topics, presenting the final theoretical considerations. The applied framework is investigated with multifarious examples from the different languages. The examples came not only from the main languages – such as Latin, German or Dutch – but also from minority languages (i.e. Rusyn, Latvian, Algherese, Belarusian), offering visibility to languages which may be destined to fade even if they can add relevant cues for the linguistic analysis.

It should be stressed that the main aim of the book is ambitious as the author first dismisses the monolithic view of perfect tense as an ‘universal category’ as the elements involved are too varied for one explanation to be valid for everything. She moves from this very general but important element – after the premises of Chapter 1 – explaining that the notion of ‘Sprachbund’ may be appropriate for certain parts of Europe but it cannot be successfully applied in other areas like the Circumbaltic area, where macro and micro- linguistic contacts produced “multi-dimensional patterns of relationship among varieties”. Because of this more stratified and complex linguistic framework, she proposes a ‘Stratified Convergence Zone’ (cf. Chapter 2), offering further consideration of this concept in Chapter 14, where, following the analysis already offered by Wiemer and Giger (2005) she traces the distribution of the new resultatives formed with *ṷes and *-n/t- in the Baltic and N. Slavic. Another important concept introduced by the author is the crucial role of ‘roofing’, as any kind of innovation accumulates on the top of the other, creating an overlapping effect.


The author aimed at defining the perfect as a multi-layered category, analysing its distribution in the different languages taken into consideration and questioning its universality. She emphasizes that whether the concept of morphosyntactic perfect can be understood as a universal category, the use of the perfect was never obligatory and it is not an indispensable element in the cognitive makeup. Conversely, it is noticeable that its use represents an important means for adding subjective value to the discourse according to the semantic perspective.

This book may be intended to be highly specialised as the topics dealt with in it are analysed in depth. However, the book is warmly recommended for a thorough comprehension of the periphrastic perfect for the following reasons: 1) the author focuses her attention on redefining the concept of ‘Sprachbund’; 2) the matter is dealt with according to a multidisciplinary approach which encompasses Historical linguistics, Sociolinguistics, and Typology; 3) above all, this work represents a wide-encompassing analysis of this topic which moves both according to the synchronic and diachronic axes.

As already remarked in the first part of this work, considerable controversy has recently arisen concerning the notion of ‘Sprachbund’. On the one hand, Campbell (2006: 2) stated that “linguistic areas boils down merely to a study of local linguistic borrowing and its history, and little else” and also Stolz (2006: 36; 45) added that Sprachbünde are mere “projections from the minds of linguists” recommending a redefining of the matter. The analysis driven by Bridget Drinka has the unparalleled purpose – which can be also considered successful – of preserving the concept of the linguistic area (and she eventually arranges different chapters of her book according to different linguistic areas), but with substantial updating. The update proposed, which represents the core of the book, is a more dynamic, three-dimensional representation of the aforementioned linguistic area, as embodied in the concept of a ‘Stratified Convergence Zone’. In order to reassess usefulness of this redefined notion of the ‘Sprachbund’, the author has examined a rich inventory of evidence from the periphrastic perfects and resultatives of three proposed Sprachbünde, which are the Balkan Sprachbund, the Charlemagne Sprachbund, and the Circumbaltic area, in order to discover what such an updating would entail.

Thanks to the thorough analysis in this book, which takes into consideration different variants (diachronic and synchronic change, social variation and language contact), the author is able to draw a profile or map of the linguistic landscape of Europe according to the distribution of the perfect: the BE forms predominate in the East whereas the HAVE/BE perfects have both spread in the West. The author leads the reader towards the understanding of the matter, using examples from historical and modern languages, and inspects the underlying motivation (micro and macro-processes, language contact and roofing effect) for the diffusion for each of the areas taken into consideration.

According to the author’s analysis, the concept of ‘Stratified Convergence Zone’ better captures the dynamic nature of the complex linguistic area of the Balkan Sprachbund, more than the monolithic and homogeneous characterization of this area as a mere ‘Sprachbund’. This happens because there is a stratification of innovation that resulted not in a “tidy bundle” of shared features but in an array of scattered and scrambled isoglosses, whose microlevels represent the responses of individuals and communities to micro-historical processes. The analysis of this topic also emphasizes that the mapping of this area needs to recognize two important elements: first, the chronological layering and the variable geographical diffusion of other innovation; second, the ‘roofing effect’ of Greek, Old Church Slavonic and Turkish, which played an important linguistic role in this area.

Further considerations have been addressed concerning the Charlemagne Sprachbund (first proposed by van der Auwera in 1998). This area encompasses under its label languages which share a large number of similar features, i.e. French, German, Dutch and northern Italian. In this part of the book, the author demonstrates the ‘roofing’ role of Latin, starting from Early and Classical Latin (with examples from literary texts, cf. Chapter 6) ranging to Late Latin and Carolingian Latin (cf. Chapters 6 and 7). This complex and diachronic analysis through three different stages of the evolution of Latin languages demonstrates one more time the need for a stratification of the layers of linguistic innovation across time. In this way, the dichotomy between HAVE and BE of the present-day languages of Europe appears, then, and it finds its explanation within the complex and multi-layered history of the region.

The last linguistic area treated by Bridget Drinka’s analysis is the Circumbaltic area, which presents a complex set of features related to a persistent language contact among contiguous languages (Stolz 1991). For what concerns this area, the role of stratification was emphasized by the spread of the possessive resultative (cf. Chapter 14). As a matter of fact, in this area it is possible to notice a two-stage development of the resultative. The varieties which have experienced the heaviest contact with German show the highest frequency of ‘have’ perfects or resultatives, as they calqued on the model of the Low German Have perfect. Conversely, there are ‘transitional’ zones in which the possessive structures developed based on the Baltic Finnic model of oblique possessor + BE.

In conclusion, it can be said that Bridget Drinka’s ‘Language Contact in Europe: The Periphrastic Perfect through History’ successfully offers an impressive account of the diachronic and synchronic diffusion of the perfect in the languages in Europe. This represents a relevant contribution not only for its main area of interest – that is the areal typology study and the processes of grammaticalization – but also an important reference for historical sociolinguistics. As a matter of fact, it dismantles the broad universal category of ‘Sprachbund’, implementing a new interpretation of this former concept with her multi-layered analysis, which takes into consideration the different variants of the multi-faceted linguistic areas.

This work represents, for its scale of the geographical and historical breadth across Europe, a suitable reference for both students and scholars also because each chapter is balanced with the other but it can be taken as an independent reference.

The author dealt with the historical and typological perspective with remarkable precision; each topic was analysed once contextualized in its proper scholarly framework (with rich state-of-the art research for each chapter), providing different examples from different languages.

There is only one point which should be considered slightly misleading: the main title of Bridget Drinka’s work is ‘Language Contact in Europe’ which can suggest a very wide analysis of the different type of linguistic contacts in the linguistic framework. However, this work offers a wide and over-encompassing analysis of the periphrastic perfect – as defined by the subtitle – but this is a morphological phenomenon and it does not encompass the great variety of phenomena involved in the language contact in Europe.


Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect and Modality in the Languages of the World. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 2006. Areal Linguistics: A Closer Scrutiny. In Matras, Yaron, April McMahon, and Nigel Vincent (eds.). 2006. Linguistic Areas: Convergence in Historical and Typological perspective. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave and Macmillan.

Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva. 2003. On Contact induced Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stolz, Thomas. 1991. Sprachbund in Baltikum?: Etnisch und Lettisch im Zentrum einer sprachlichen Konvergenzlandschaft. Bochum: Brochmeyer.

Stolz, Thomas. 2001. All or Nothing. In Matras, Yaron, April McMahon, and Nigel Vincent (eds.). 2006. Linguistic Areas: Convergence in Historical and Typological perspective. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave and Macmillan.

van der Auwera, Johan (ed.). 1998. Adverbial constructions in the languages of Europe. (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology, EUROTYP 20-3), Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Wiemer, Björn and Markus Giger. 2005. Manifestation of areal convergence in rural Belarusian spoken in the Baltic-Slavic contact zone. LINCOM Studies in Language Typology 10. Munich: LINCOM.
PhD in Latin linguistics (University of Pisa - Universiteit Gent). Research topic: Non-literary texts from Roman Britain.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780521514934
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