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Old English (OE) is a cover term for a variety of dialects spoken in Britain ca. 5th–11th century. Most of the manuscripts on which the descriptive handbook tradition relies date from the latter part of the period. These late OE manuscripts were produced in Wessex and show a degree of uniformity interrupted by the Norman Conquest of 1066. Middle English (ME) covers roughly 1050–1500. The early part of the period, ca. pre-1350, is marked by great diversity of scribal practices; it is only in late ME that some degree of orthographic regularity can be observed.
The consonantal system of OE differs from the Modern English system. Consonantal length was contrastive, there were no affricates, no voicing contrast for the fricatives [f, θ, s], no phonemic velar nasal [ŋ], and [h-] loss was under way. In the vocalic system, OE shows changes that identify it as a separate branch of Germanic: Proto-Germanic (PrG) ē 1 > OE ǣ/ē, PrG ai > OE ā, PrG au > OE ēa. The non-low short vowels of OE are reconstructed as non-peripheral, differing from the corresponding long vowels both in quality and quantity. The so called “short” diphthongs usually posited for OE suggest a case for which a strict binary taxonomy is inapplicable to the data. The OE long vowels and diphthongs were unstable, producing a number of important mergers including /iː - yː/, /eː - eø/, /ɛː - ɛə/. In addition to shifts in height and frontness, the stressed vowels were subject to a series of quantity adjustments that resulted in increased predictability of vowel length. The changes that jointly contribute to this are homorganic cluster lengthening, ME open syllable lengthening, pre-consonantal and trisyllabic shortening. The final unstressed vowels of ME were gradually lost, resulting in the adoption of <-e># as a diacritic marker for vowel length.
Stress-assignment was based on a combination of morphological and prosodic criteria: root-initial stress was obligatory irrespective of syllable weight, while affixal stress was also sensitive to weight. Verse evidence allows the reconstruction of left-prominent compound stress; there is also some early evidence for the formation of clitic groups. Reconstruction of patterns on higher prosodic levels—phrasal and intonational contours—is hampered by lack of testable evidence.
Old and Middle Japanese are the pre-modern periods of the attested history of the Japanese language. Old Japanese (OJ) is largely the language of the 8th century, with a modest, but still significant number of written sources, most of which is poetry. Middle Japanese is divided into two distinct periods, Early Middle Japanese (EMJ, 800–1200) and Late Middle Japanese (LMJ, 1200–1600). EMJ saw most of the significant sound changes that took place in the language, as well as profound influence from Chinese, whereas most grammatical changes took place between the end of EMJ and the end of LMJ. By the end of LMJ, the Japanese language had reached a form that is not significantly different from present-day Japanese.
OJ phonology was simple, both in terms of phoneme inventory and syllable structure, with a total of only 88 different syllables. In EMJ, the language became quantity sensitive, with the introduction of a long versus short syllables. OJ and EMJ had obligatory verb inflection for a number of modal and syntactic categories (including an important distinction between a conclusive and an (ad)nominalizing form), whereas the expression of aspect and tense was optional. Through late EMJ and LMJ this system changed completely to one without nominalizing inflection, but obligatory inflection for tense.
The morphological pronominal system of OJ was lost in EMJ, which developed a range of lexical and lexically based terms of speaker and hearer reference. OJ had a two-way (speaker–nonspeaker) demonstrative system, which in EMJ was replaced by a three-way (proximal–mesial–distal) system.
OJ had a system of differential object marking, based on specificity, as well as a word order rule that placed accusative marked objects before most subjects; both of these features were lost in EMJ. OJ and EMJ had genitive subject marking in subordinate clauses and in focused, interrogative and exclamative main clauses, but no case marking of subjects in declarative, optative, or imperative main clauses and no nominative marker. Through LMJ genitive subject marking was gradually circumscribed and a nominative case particle was acquired which could mark subjects in all types of clauses.
OJ had a well-developed system of complex predicates, in which two verbs jointly formed the predicate of a single clause, which is the source of the LMJ and NJ (Modern Japanese) verb–verb compound complex predicates. OJ and EMJ also had mono-clausal focus constructions that functionally were similar to clefts in English; these constructions were lost in LMJ.
The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extra-linguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, especially generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word-formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes, or their understanding of morphological productivity. The models adhering to such a view of language have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word-formation.
The Northeast Asia is one of the unique points on the globe where there are many language isolates and portmanteau families. From a conservative point of view, the Japanese language is a member of such a portmanteau family that has recently and increasingly been called Japonic in the Western literature. While Japanese is unquestionably a member of this Japonic language family, which consists of two Japanese languages (Japanese itself and the moribund Hachijō language) and four or five relatively closely related Ryūkyūan languages (Amami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and possibly Yonaguni), attempts have also been made to establish a genetic relationship between Japanese and various other language families. Most of these attempts have been amateurish, a major exception being the Koreo-Japonic hypothesis, which still remains unproven as well. It is also quite likely that the Japonic language family (or, more precisely, Insular Japonic) is the only linguistic grouping whose genetic relationship can be established beyond any doubt. A genetic relationship is also likely to exist between Japonic and a number of fragmentarily attested languages that once flourished in the south and center of the Korean Peninsula, but that died out no later than 9th century A.D. The paucity of material available does not allow one to establish solid predictive-productive regular correspondences in many cases, but intuitively the genetic relationship seems to be a matter of fact. Anything beyond intuition, however, lies in the realm of conjecture and speculation. The alleged Koreo-Japonic relationship is best explained by a centuries-long contact relationship rather than by common origin, given such factors as the virtual absence of any kind of shared paradigmatic morphology, as well as by multiple problems in establishing the real (and not imaginable or made-to-fit) regular correspondences. The Japanese-“Altaic” hypothesis is even more speculative and far-fetched. Consequently, the conclusion is that the Japanese language or the Japonic language family has no demonstrable relationship with any other language family or language isolate on the planet.
Anna M. Thornton
Overabundance is the situation in which two (or more) inflectional forms are available to realize the same cell in the inflectional paradigm of a lexeme (i.e., to express the meaning arising from the combination of the lexical meaning of the lexeme and the morphosyntactic and morphosemantic feature values that define the cell). An example from English is dreamed / dreamt, both of which realize ‘dream.
Most linguists assume that overabundance can exist only as a transitional stage during diachronic change, and that any single speaker only uses one of the cell mates available in a community’s repertoire; besides, many assume that cell mates always differ according to geo-socio-stylistic conditions, or in meaning. However, corpus based studies of specific instances of overabundance have shown that there are cases of truly interchangeable cell mates, that a single speaker can use different cell mates even within the same utterance, and that some instances of overabundance are stably attested for centuries. Language standardization often aims at eliminating overabundance, but low frequency forms may escape elimination and remain in usage. Many principles assumed to regulate language acquisition (e.g., Clark’s Principle of Contrast) ban overabundance; however, forms acquired later than in the early stages of language acquisition, sometimes only with schooling, may escape this ban. Even principles of grammar, such as Blocking, or Pāṇini’s principle, appear to entail the impossibility of having synonymous cell mates. However, much depends on the exact formulation of these principles; and the existence of cell mates can be reconciled with certain versions of them and has been acknowledged in much recent work in theoretical morphology.
Relative clauses of which the predicate contains a present, past, or passive participle can be used in a reduced form. Although it has been shown that participial relative clauses cannot always be considered to be non-complete variants of full relative clauses, they are generally called reduced relative clauses in the literature. Since they differ from full relative clauses in containing a non-finite predicate, they are also called non-finite relative clauses. Another type of non-finite relative clause is the infinitival relative clause. In English, in participial relative clauses, the antecedent noun is interpreted as the subject of the predicate of the relative clause. Because of this restriction, the status of relative clause has been put into doubt for participial adnominal modifiers, especially, because in a language such as English, they can occur in pre-nominal position, whereas a full relative clause cannot. While some linguists analyze both pre-nominal and post-nominal participles as verbal, others have argued that participles are essentially adjectival categories. In a third type of analysis, participles are divided into verbal and adjectival ones. This also holds for adnominal participles. Besides the relation to full relative clauses and the category of the participle, participial relative clauses raise a number of other interesting questions, which have been discussed in the literature. These questions concern the similarity or difference in interpretation of the pre-nominal and the post-nominal participial clause, restrictions on the type of verb used in past participial relative clauses, and similarities and differences between the syntax and semantics of participial clauses in English and other languages. Besides syntactic and semantic issues, participial relative clauses have raised other questions, such as their use in texts. Participial relative clauses have been studied from a diachronic and a stylistic point of view. It has been shown that the use of reduced forms such as participial relative clauses has increased over time and that, because of their condensed form, they are used more in academic styles than in colloquial speech. Nonetheless, they have proven to be used already by very young children, although in second language acquisition they are used late, because their condensed form is associated with an academic style of writing. Since passive or past participles often have the same form as the past tense, it has been shown that sentences containing a subject noun modified by a post-nominal past or passive participle are difficult to process, although certain factors may facilitate the processing of the sentence.
Cross-linguistic differences in passive formation and the differences between verbal and adjectival passives reveal some of the core properties of the passive. In earlier stages of the Principles and Parameters framework, differences in both these domains were taken as evidence that the grammar has two distinct components to build passives, namely the lexicon and the syntax. This intuition can be restated by adopting the view that all passive formation is syntactic. Indeed, it has been posited that there are two syntactic domains to build passives, and these two domains correlate with distinct properties of passive formations within a language and across languages.
Anthony P. Grant
The Penutian language family, Penutian phylum, or better still, Penutian hypothesis is one of the largest genealogical linguistic groupings to have been proposed for western North America. It involves 16 families or isolates. Only a few of these families are demonstrably relatable to one another according to current knowledge and diachronic techniques. Sometimes Penutian is split by observers into groups of languages assumed to be interrelated, and this is done without assumptions that the groups themselves are interrelated.
This article focuses on the Canadian and US languages in “Sapir’s Penutian,” the most commonly accepted version; the most southerly family within Penutian is thus held as Yokutsan of California’s Sierra Nevada. It discusses the subclassification of the so-called Penutian languages into families and smaller units; aspects of their phonology, morphosyntax, and contact histories; and issues in their revitalization and the potential reconstruction of Proto-Penutian.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
As far as personal nouns are concerned, an agent noun is a derived noun whose general meaning is “person who usually/typically does . . .”. It is thus characterized by the feature [+ Human], irrespective of the fact that the person involved actually performs an action (e.g., French nageur “swimmer,” i.e., “a person who swims”), carries on a profession (e.g., Spanish carpintero “carpenter,” i.e., “a person who builds or repairs wooden structures”), adheres to a certain ideology or group (e.g., Italian femminista “feminist,” i.e., “a person who supports or follows the feminist movement”), etc.
Agent nouns can be both denominal and deverbal. Latin denominal agent nouns were mainly formed with –ARIUS, though the Latin agentive suffix par excellence was –TOR, which derived nouns from verbs. The reflexes of both –ARIUS and –TOR are widespread and highly productive in Romance: For the former, see Portuguese –eiro / –ario, Spanish –ero / –ario, Catalan –er, French –ier / –aire, Italian –aio / –aro / –ario, Romanian –ar, etc.; for the latter, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan –dor, French –eur, Italian –tore, Romanian –tor, etc. At any rate, the distinction between denominal and deverbal agent nouns is not always straightforward, as is shown by the Romance forms connected with Latin present particle –NTE: Whereas most of them display a verbal base (see, e.g., Italian cantante “singer” ← cantare “to sing”), some others do not (see, e.g., Italian bracciante “hired hand” ← braccio “arm”), allowing them to be regarded as denominal derivations.
The distribution of agentive suffixes in Romance is sometimes conditioned by borrowing phenomena. For example, Italian –iere is not a direct outcome of Latin –ARIUS, but rather a borrowing from French –ier; Sardinian –eri is of Spanish/Catalan origin, whereas Piedmontese –aire and –eur are loans from Occitan and French, respectively.
A theoretical issue that is related to agent nouns in Romance is the so-called agent-instrument-locative polysemy. While traditionally attributed to the result of metaphorical and/or semantic extensions, this polysemy is better explained by such factors as homonymization, ellipsis, analogy, borrowing/calque, though, at least in some cases, we cannot exclude that a combination of both explanation types has taken place.
The category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant derived nouns comprises a conglomeration of derived nouns that denote among others agents, instruments, patients/themes, inhabitants, and followers of a person. Based on the thematic relations between the derived noun and its base lexeme, Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns can be classified into two subclasses. The first subclass comprises derived nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings (e.g., driver). The second subclass consists of derived nouns with athematic readings (e.g., Marxist).
The examination of the category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns allows one to delve deeply into the study of multiplicity of meaning in word formation and the factors that bear on the readings of derived words. These factors range from the historical mechanisms that lead to multiplicity of meaning and the lexical-semantic properties of the bases that derived nouns are based on, to the syntactic context into which derived nouns occur, and the pragmatic-encyclopedic facets of both the base and the derived lexeme.
D. H. Whalen
Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the physical realization of meaningful distinctions in spoken language. Phoneticians study the anatomy and physics of sound generation, acoustic properties of the sounds of the world’s languages, the features of the signal that listeners use to perceive the message, and the brain mechanisms involved in both production and perception. Therefore, phonetics connects most directly to phonology and psycholinguistics, but it also engages a range of disciplines that are not unique to linguistics, including acoustics, physiology, biomechanics, hearing, evolution, and many others. Early theorists assumed that phonetic implementation of phonological features was universal, but it has become clear that languages differ in their phonetic spaces for phonological elements, with systematic differences in acoustics and articulation. Such language-specific details place phonetics solidly in the domain of linguistics; any complete description of a language must include its specific phonetic realization patterns. The description of what phonetic realizations are possible in human language continues to expand as more languages are described; many of the under-documented languages are endangered, lending urgency to the phonetic study of the world’s languages.
Phonetic analysis can consist of transcription, acoustic analysis, measurement of speech articulators, and perceptual tests, with recent advances in brain imaging adding detail at the level of neural control and processing. Because of its dual nature as a component of a linguistic system and a set of actions in the physical world, phonetics has connections to many other branches of linguistics, including not only phonology but syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and clinical linguistics as well. Speech perception has been shown to integrate information from both vision and tactile sensation, indicating an embodied system. Sign language, though primarily visual, has adopted the term “phonetics” to represent the realization component, highlighting the linguistic nature both of phonetics and of sign language. Such diversity offers many avenues for studying phonetics, but it presents challenges to forming a comprehensive account of any language’s phonetic system.
Susan Rvachew and Abdulsalam Alhaidary
Babbling is made up of meaningless speechlike syllables called canonical syllables. Canonical syllables are characterized by the coordination of consonantal and vocalic elements in syllables that have speechlike timing, phonation, and resonance characteristics. Infants begin to babble on average at approximately seven months of age. Babbling continues in parallel with less mature noncanonical vocalizations that make up the majority of utterances through the first year. Babbling also continues in parallel with the emergence of meaningful speech during the second year. Regardless of the language that the infant is learning, most canonical syllables have a CV shape with the consonant being a labial or alveolar stop or nasal and the vowel most likely to be central or low- to mid-front in place (e.g., [bʌ], [da], [mæ]). Approximately 15% of canonical utterances consist of multisyllable strings; in other words, most babbled utterances contain only a single CV syllable. The onset of the canonical babbling stage is crucially dependent upon normal hearing, permitting access to language input and feedback of self-produced speech. Many studies have reported differences in the phonetic and acoustic characteristics of babble produced by infants learning different languages. These differences include the frequency with which certain consonants are produced, the location, size, and shape of the vowel space, and the rhythmic and intonation qualities of multisyllable babbles, in each case reflecting specificities of the input language. However, replications of these findings are rare and further research is required to better understand the learning mechanisms that underlie language specific acquisition of articulatory representations during the prelinguistic stage of vocal development.
Susanne Fuchs and Peter Birkholz
Consonants are a major class of sounds occurring in all human languages. Typologically, consonant inventories are richer than vowel inventories. Consonants have been classified according to four basic features. Airstream mechanism is one of these features and describes the direction of airflow in or out of the oral cavity. The outgoing airflow is further separated according to its origin, that is, air coming from the lungs (pulmonic) or the oral cavity (non-pulmonic). Consonants are also grouped according to their phonological voicing contrast, which can be manifested phonetically by the presence or absence of vocal fold oscillations during the oral closure/constriction phase and by the duration from an oral closure release to the onset of voicing. Place of articulation is the third feature and refers to the location at which a consonantal constriction or closure is produced in the vocal tract. Finally, manner of articulation reflects different timing and coordinated actions of the articulators closely tied to aerodynamic properties.
The function of the voice organ is basically the same in classical singing as in speech. However, loud orchestral accompaniment has necessitated the use of the voice in an economical way. As a consequence, the vowel sounds tend to deviate considerably from those in speech. Male voices cluster formant three, four, and five, so that a marked peak is produced in spectrum envelope near 3,000 Hz. This helps them to get heard through a loud orchestral accompaniment. They seem to achieve this effect by widening the lower pharynx, which makes the vowels more centralized than in speech. Singers often sing at fundamental frequencies higher than the normal first formant frequency of the vowel in the lyrics. In such cases they raise the first formant frequency so that it gets somewhat higher than the fundamental frequency. This is achieved by reducing the degree of vocal tract constriction or by widening the lip and jaw openings, constricting the vocal tract in the pharyngeal end and widening it in the mouth. These deviations from speech cause difficulties in vowel identification, particularly at high fundamental frequencies. Actually, vowel identification is almost impossible above 700 Hz (pitch F5).
Another great difference between vocal sound produced in speech and the classical singing tradition concerns female voices, which need to reduce the timbral differences between voice registers. Females normally speak in modal or chest register, and the transition to falsetto tends to happen somewhere above 350 Hz. The great timbral differences between these registers are avoided by establishing control over the register function, that is, over the vocal fold vibration characteristics, so that seamless transitions are achieved.
In many other respects, there are more or less close similarities between speech and singing. Thus, marking phrase structure, emphasizing important events, and emotional coloring are common principles, which may make vocal artists deviate considerably from the score’s nominal description of fundamental frequency and syllable duration.
Christine Ericsdotter Nordgren
Speech sounds are commonly divided into two main categories in human languages: vowels, such as ‘e’, ‘a’, ‘o’, and consonants, such as ‘k’, ‘n’, ‘s’. This division is made on the basis of both phonetic and phonological principles, which is useful from a general linguistic point of view but problematic for detailed description and analysis. The main differences between vowels and consonants are that (1) vowels are sounds produced with an open airway between the larynx and the lips, at least along the midline, whereas consonants are produced with a stricture or closure somewhere along it; and (2) that vowels tend to be syllabic in languages, meaning that they embody a sonorous peak in a syllable, whereas only some kinds of consonants tend to be syllabic. There are two main physical components needed to produce a vowel: a sound source, typically a tone produced by vocal fold vibration at the larynx, and a resonator, typically the upper airways. When the tone resonates in the upper airways, it gets a specific quality of sound, perceived and interpreted as a vowel quality, for example, ‘e’ or ‘a’. Which vowel quality is produced is determined by the shape of the inner space of the throat and mouth, the vocal tract shape, created by the speaker’s configuration of the articulators, which include the lips, tongue, jaw, hard and soft palate, pharynx, and larynx. Which vowel is perceived is determined by the auditory and visual input as well as by the listener’s expectations and language experience. Diachronic and synchronic studies on vowel typology show main trends in the vowel inventories in the worlds’ languages, which can be associated with human phonetic aptitude.
Reduplication is a word-formation process in which all or part of a word is repeated to convey some form of meaning. A wide range of patterns are found in terms of both the form and meaning expressed by reduplication, making it one of the most studied phenomenon in phonology and morphology. Because the form always varies, depending on the base to which it is attached, it raises many issues such as the nature of the repetition mechanism, how to represent reduplicative morphemes, and whether or not a unified approach can be proposed to account for the full range of patterns.
A phonological inventory is a repertoire of contrastive articulatory or manual gestures shared by a community of users. Whether spoken or signed, all human languages have a phonological inventory. In spoken languages, the phonological inventory is comprised of a set of segments (consonants and vowels) and suprasegmentals (stress and intonation) that are linguistically contrastive, either lexically or grammatically, in a particular language or one of its dialects. Sign languages also have phonological inventories, which include a set of linguistically contrastive signs made from movement, hand shape, and location.
The study of phonological inventories is interesting because they tell us about the distribution, frequency, and diversity of gestures that individuals acquire and produce in the world’s 7,000 or so languages. Their study has also raised important empirical questions about the comparability of linguistic concepts across different languages and modalities, in the use of statistics and sampling in quantitative approaches to comparative linguistics, and in the study of language ontogeny and phylogeny over the course of language evolution. As such, some recent research highlights include the following: quantitative approaches suggest causal relationships between phonological inventory composition and gene-culture and language-environment coevolution; the study of de novo sign languages provides important insights into the emergence of phonology; and comparative animal communication studies suggest evolutionary speech precursors in phonological repertoires of nonhuman primates, and potentially in extinct hominids including Neanderthal.
Marilyn May Vihman
Child phonological templates are idiosyncratic word production patterns. They can be understood as deriving, through generalization of patterning, from the very first words of the child, which are typically close in form to their adult targets. Templates can generally be identified only some time after a child’s first 20–50 words have been produced but before the child has achieved an expressive lexicon of 200 words. The templates appear to serve as a kind of ‘holding strategy’, a way for children to produce more complex adult word forms while remaining within the limits imposed by the articulatory, planning, and memory limitations of the early word period. Templates have been identified in the early words of children acquiring a number of languages, although not all children give clear evidence of using them. Within a given language we see a range of different templatic patterns, but these are nevertheless broadly shaped by the prosodic characteristics of the adult language as well as by the idiosyncratic production preferences of a given child; it is thus possible to begin to outline a typology of child templates. However, the evidence base for most languages remains small, ranging from individual diary studies to rare longitudinal studies of as many as 30 children. Thus templates undeniably play a role in phonological development, but their extent of use or generality remains unclear, their timing for the children who show them is unpredictable, and their period of sway is typically brief—a matter of a few weeks or months at most. Finally, the formal status and relationship of child phonological templates to adult grammars has so far received relatively little attention, but the closest parallels may lie in active novel word formation and in the lexicalization of commonly occurring expressions, both of which draw, like child templates, on the mnemonic effects of repetition.
The phonology of Italian is subject to considerable variability both at the segmental and at the prosodic level. Changes affect different features of the phonological system such as the composition of the inventory of phonemes and allophones, the phonotactic patterning of phonemes, and their lexical distribution. On the prosodic level, the variability takes the form of a composite collection of intonational patterns. In fact, the classification of intonational contours in geographical varieties appears fuzzier and less precise than the traditional division into geographical areas based on segmental features.
The reasons for the high variability must be traced back, on the one hand, to the rapid and recent standardization and, on the other hand, to the prolonged contact with Romance dialects of Italy. Variation in Italian phonology can be traced back to two main dimensions: A geographic dimension, accounting for a large proportion of the total variability, and a social dimension that regulates variety-internal variation.
The overall picture can be understood as a combination of vertical and horizontal sociolinguistic forces. Horizontal dynamics is responsible for the creation of a pluricentric standard, that is, a multiplicity of models of pronunciation that could be considered as geographical versions of the standard. Vertical dynamics brings about the formation of new norms at a local level and, most important, it generates a continuum of dialects ranging from the (regional) standard to the most local variety. Moving along this vertical continuum from the standard down to the local variety, there is an increasing of variability that represents a source for the emergence of social and stylistic values.
Pidgin languages sometimes form in contact situations where a means of communication is urgently needed between groups lacking a common code. They are typically less elaborate than any of the languages involved in their formation, and in comparison to those, reduction characterizes all linguistic levels.
The process is relatively uncommon, and the life span of pidgins is usually short – most disappear when the contact situation changes, or when another medium of intergroup communication becomes available. In some rare cases, however, they expand (both socially and structurally), and may even nativize, i. e. become mother tongues to their speakers (when they may be re-labelled “creoles”).
Pidgins are severely understudied, and while they are often mentioned as precursors to creoles, few linguists have shown a serious interest in them. As a result, many generalizations have been based on extremely limited amounts of data or even on intuition. Some frequently occurring ones is that pidginization is a case of second language acquisition, that power and prestige are important factors, and that most structures are derived from the input languages. My work with pidgins has led me to believe the opposite to be true in these cases: pidgins form through a trial-and-error process, where anything that is understood by the other party is sanctioned, this process is one of collaborative language creation (rather than one involving one group of teachers and one group of learners), and much of what finds its way in the resultant contact language do so independently of what the creators spoke prior to their encounter.
As for theoretical implications, pidgins may shed light on which features in traditional languages are necessary for communication, and which are superfluous from the point of view of pure information transmission.