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Article

John McWhorter

Creole languages have mostly resulted from interactions between Europeans and subordinated peoples amid colonization, trade, and imperialism. Given that the creation of these languages was usually driven as much by adults as children, second-language acquisition has a larger effect upon creole language structures than it does under most other conditions of language change and contact. Namely, it has traditionally been supposed that creole languages begin as makeshift pidgin varieties, expanded from this into full languages. However, various creolists have proposed that most creoles did not in fact emerge in this way; some argue that creoles are relexifications of indigenous languages, while others argue that nothing distinguishes creole genesis from language contact more generally.

Article

Lenore A. Grenoble

Language shift occurs when a community of users replaces one language by another, or “shifts” to that other language. Although language shift can and does occur at the level of the individual speaker, it is shift at the level of an entire community that is associated with widespread language replacement and loss. Shift is a particular kind of language loss, and differs from language attrition, which involves the loss of a language over an individual’s lifetime, often the result of aging or of language replacement (as in shift). Both language shift and attrition are in contrast to language maintenance, the continuing use of a language. Language maintenance and revitalization programs are responses to language shift, and are undertaken by communites who perceive that their language is threatened by a decrease in usage and under threat of loss. Language shift is widespread and can be found with majority- or minority-language populations. It is often associated with immigrant groups who take up the majority language of their new territory, leaving behind the language of their homeland. For minority-language speaker communities, language shift is generally the result of a combination of factors, in particular colonization. A nexus of factors—historical, political, social, and economic—often provides the impetus for a community to ceasing speaking their ancestral language, replacing it with the language of the majority, and usually politically dominant, group. Language shift is thus a social issue, and often coupled with other indicators of social distress. Language endangerment is the result of language shift, and in fact shift is its most widespread cause.Since the 1960s there has been ever-increasing interest across speaker communities and linguists to work to provide opportunities to learn and use minority languages to offset shift, and to document speakers in communities under the threat of shift.

Article

Victor A. Friedman

The Balkan languages were the first group of languages whose similarities were explained in modern linguistic terms as a result of language contact rather than as a result of descent from a common ancestor. Nikolai Trubetzkoy coined the term Sprachbund ‘linguistic league’ (as opposed to Sprachfamilie ‘language family’) to describe this relationship. Balkan linguistics, as both a subset of and precursor to contact linguistics, is, at its base, an historical linguistic discipline. It seeks to explain similarities among the relevant languages as the result of diffusion rather than of either transmission or of putative universal, typological properties of human language (which latter assumes parallel developments whose causation is ahistorical, i.e., unconnected with either contact or ancestry). The relevant languages are, with the exception of Turkic, all part of the Indo-European language family, but they belong to five distinct groups that are known to have been separated for a significant length of time (presumably millennia). Moreover, for four out of five Indo-European groups as well as for Turkic, there exists documentation that goes back more than a millennium, and in some cases several millennia. The Balkan languages are thus the oldest example of a well-documented and still living Sprachbund. The primary questions that Balkan linguistics seeks to answer are these: What are the results of language contact in the Balkan languages, and how did they come about? The Balkan languages are traditionally defined as Albanian, Modern Greek, Balkan Romance (Romanian, Aromanian, and Meglenoromanian), and Balkan Slavic (Bulgarian, Macedonian, and the southernmost dialects of the former Serbo-Croatian). In recent decades, it has been recognized that the relevant dialects of Romani, Judezmo, and Turkish and Gagauz also participate in at least some of the convergent processes that are taken as definitive of the Balkan linguistic league. While the language family is defined by regular sound correspondences, which in turn help define shared morphology and a core lexicon, the Balkan linguistic league is defined principally by shared morphosyntactic developments and a shared lexicon of borrowings often called “cultural.” In the Balkan linguistic league, phonological developments are sometimes shared among different languages at the dialectal level, but there are no such features that characterize the Balkan languages as a group. Just as in the language family not every diagnostic item is represented in every branch, so, too, in the Balkan linguistic league not every feature is equally represented in all languages and dialects. Among the most characteristic morphosyntactic features are the following: (1) replacement of infinitives by analytic subjunctives, (2) the use of a particle derived from etymological ‘want’ to mark the future, (3) replacement of synthetic gradation of adjectives with analytic constructions, (4) replacement of conditionals by anterior futures, (5) resumptive clitic pronouns for certain direct and indirect objects, (6) various simplifications in the declensional system, (7) postposed definite articles (for Balkan Slavic, Balkan Romance, and Albanian), (8) grammaticalized evidentials (Balkan Slavic, Albanian, Turkic, and to some extent Balkan Romance and Romani). While some of these convergences began in the ancient or medieval periods, the Balkan linguistic league took its definitive modern shape during the centuries of the Ottoman Empire (14th to early 20th centuries).

Article

George Starostin

“Altaic” is a common term applied by linguists to a number of language families, spread across Central Asia and the Far East and sharing a large, most likely non-coincidental, number of structural and morphemic similarities. At the onset of Altaic studies, these similarities were ascribed to the one-time existence of an ancestral language—“Proto-Altaic,” from which all these families are descended; circumstantial evidence and glottochronological calculations tentatively date this language to some time around the 6th–7th millennium bc, and suggest Southern Siberia or adjacent territories (hence the name “Altaic”) as the original homeland of its speakers. However, since the mid-20th century the dominant view in historical linguistics has shifted to that of an “Altaic Sprachbund” (diffusion area), implying that the families in question have not sprung from a common source, but rather have acquired their similarities over a long period of mutual linguistic contact. The bulk of “Altaic” has traditionally included such uncontroversial families as Turkic, Mongolic, and Manchu-Tungusic; additionally, Japanese (Japonic) and Korean are also frequently seen as potential members of the larger Altaic family (the entire five branches are sometimes referred to as “Macro-Altaic”). The debate over the nature of the relationship between the various units that constitute “Altaic,” sometimes referred to as “the Altaic controversy,” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in 20th-century historical linguistics and a major focal point of studies dealing with the prehistory of Central and East Eurasia. Supporters of “Proto-Altaic,” commonly known as “(pro-)Altaicists,” claim that only divergence from an original common ancestor can account for the observed regular phonetic correspondences and other structural similarities, whereas “anti-Altaicists,” without denying the existence of such similarities, insist that they do not belong to the “core” layers of the respective languages and are therefore better explained as results of lexical borrowing and other forms of areal linguistic contact. As a rule, “pro-Altaicists” claim that “Proto-Altaic” is as reconstructible by means of the classic comparative method as any uncontroversial linguistic family; in support of this view, they have produced several attempts to assemble large bodies of etymological evidence for the hypothesis, backed by systems of regular phonetic correspondences between compared languages. All of these, however, have been heavily criticized by “anti-Altaicists” for lack of methodological rigor, implausibility of proposed phonetic and/or semantic changes, and confusion of recent borrowings with items allegedly inherited from a common ancestor. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.

Article

Albanian has been documented in historical texts only since the 16th century. In contrast, it had been in continuous contact with languages of the Latin phylum since the first encounters of Romans and Proto-Albanians in the 2nd century bce. Given the late documentation of Albanian, the different layers of matter borrowings from Latin and its daughter languages are relevant for the reconstruction of Proto-Albanian phonology and its development through the centuries. Latinisms also play a role in the discussion about the original home of the Albanians. From the very beginning, Latin influence seems to have been all-embracing with respect to the lexical domain, including word formation and lexical calquing. This is true not only for Latin itself but also for later Romance, especially for Italian historical varieties, less so for now extinct Balkan-Romance vernaculars like Dalmatian, and doubtful for Romanian, whose similarities with Albanian had been strongly overestimated in the past. Many Latin-based words in Albanian have the character of indirect Latinisms, as they go back to originally Latin borrowings via Ancient (and Medieval) Greek, and there is also the problem of learned borrowings from Medieval Latin. As for other Romance languages, only French has to be considered as the source of fairly recent borrowings, often hardly distinguishable from Italian ones, due to analogical integration processes. In spite of 19th-century claims in this respect, Latin (and Romance) grammatical influence on Albanian is (next to) zero. In Italo-Albanian varieties that have developed all over southern Italy since the late Middle Ages, based on a succession of immigration waves, Italian influence has been especially strong, not only with respect to the lexical domain but by interfering in some parts of grammar, too.

Article

Yongxian Luo

Kra-Dai, also known as Tai–Kadai, Daic, and Kadai, is a family of diverse languages found in southern China, northeast India, and Southeast Asia. The number of these languages is estimated to be close to a hundred, with approximately 100 million speakers all over the world. As the name itself suggests, Kra-Dai is made up of two major groups, Kra and Dai. The former refers to a number of lesser-known languages, some of which have only a few hundred fluent speakers or even less. The latter (also known as Tai, or Kam-Tai) is well established, and comprises the best-known members of the family, Thai and Lao, the national languages of Thailand and Laos respectively, whose speakers account for over half of the Kra-Dai population. The ultimate genetic affiliation of Kra-Dai remains controversial, although a consensus among western scholars holds that it belongs under Austronesian. The majority of Kra-Dai languages have no writing systems of their own, particularly Kra. Languages with writing systems include Thai, Lao, Sipsongpanna Dai, and Tai Lue. These use Indic-based scripts. Others use Chinese character-based scripts, such as the Zhuang and Kam-Sui in southern China and surrounding regions. The government introduced Romanized scripts in the 1950s for the Zhuang and the Kam-Sui languages. Almost every group within Kra-Dai has a rich oral history tradition. The languages are typically tonal, isolating, and analytic, lacking in inflectional morphology, with no distinction for number and gender. A significant number of basic vocabulary items are monosyllabic, but bisyllabic and multisyllabic compounds also abound. There are morphological processes in which etymologically related words manifest themselves in groups through tonal, initial, or vowel alternations. Reduplication is a salient word formation mechanism. In syntax, the Kra-Dai languages can be said to have basic SVO word order. They possess a rich system of noun classifiers. Other features include verb serialization without overt marking to indicate grammatical relations. A number of lexical items (mostly verbs) may function as grammatical morphemes in syntactic operations. Temporal and aspectual meanings are expressed through tense-aspect markers typically derived from verbs, while mood and modality are conveyed via a rich array of discourse particles.

Article

Edward Vajda

Dene-Yeniseian is a proposed genealogical link between the widespread North American language family Na-Dene (Athabaskan, Eyak, Tlingit) and Yeniseian in central Siberia, represented today by the critically endangered Ket and several documented extinct relatives. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis is an old idea, but since 2006 new evidence supporting it has been published in the form of shared morphological systems and a modest number of lexical cognates showing interlocking sound correspondences. Recent data from human genetics and folklore studies also increasingly indicate the plausibility of a prehistoric (probably Late Pleistocene) connection between populations in northwestern North America and the traditionally Yeniseian-speaking areas of south-central Siberia. At present, Dene-Yeniseian cannot be accepted as a proven language family until the purported evidence supporting the lexical and morphological correspondences between Yeniseian and Na-Dene is expanded and tested by further critical analysis and their relationship to Old World families such as Sino-Tibetan and Caucasian, as well as the isolate Burushaski (all earlier proposed as relatives of Yeniseian, and sometimes also of Na-Dene), becomes clearer.

Article

Markku Filppula and Juhani Klemola

Few European languages have in the course of their histories undergone as radical changes as English did in the medieval period. The earliest documented variety of the language, Old English (c. 450 to 1100 ce), was a synthetic language, typologically similar to modern German, with its three genders, relatively free word order, rich case system, and verbal morphology. By the beginning of the Middle English period (c. 1100 to 1500), changes that had begun a few centuries earlier in the Old English period had resulted in a remarkable typological shift from a synthetic language to an analytic language with fixed word order, very few inflections, and a heavy reliance on function words. System-internal pressures had a role to play in these changes, but arguably they were primarily due to intensive contacts with other languages, including Celtic languages, (British) Latin, Scandinavian languages, and a little later, French. As a result, English came to diverge from its Germanic sister languages, losing or reducing such Proto-Germanic features as grammatical gender; most inflections on nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs; verb-second syntax; and certain types of reflexive marking. Among the external influences, long contacts with speakers of especially Brittonic Celtic languages (i.e., Welsh, Cornish, and Cumbrian) can be considered to have been of particular importance. Following the arrival of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from around 450 ce onward, there began an intensive and large-scale process of language shift on the part of the indigenous Celtic and British Latin speaking population in Britain. A general wisdom in contact linguistics is that in such circumstances—when the contact is intensive and the shifting population large enough—the acquired language (in this case English) undergoes moderate to heavy restructuring of its grammatical system, leading generally to simplification of its morphosyntax. In the history of English, this process was also greatly reinforced by the Viking invasions, which started in the late 8th century ce, and brought a large Scandinavian-speaking population to Britain. The resulting contacts between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings also contributed to the decrease of complexity of the Old English morphosyntax. In addition, the Scandinavian settlements of the Danelaw area left their permanent mark in place-names and dialect vocabulary in especially the eastern and northern parts of the country. In contrast to syntactic influences, which are typical of conditions of language shift, contacts that are less intensive and involve extensive bilingualism generally lead to lexical borrowing. This was the situation following the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066 ce. It led to an influx of French loanwords into English, most of which have persisted in use up to the present day. It has been estimated that almost one third of the present-day English vocabulary is of French origin. By comparison, there is far less evidence of French influence on “core” English syntax. The earliest loanwords were superimposed by the French-speaking new nobility and pertained to administration, law, military terminology, and religion. Cultural prestige was the prime motivation for the later medieval borrowings.

Article

The varieties of Canadian French are the result of both conservatism and innovation. The conservatism is manifested in the retention of archaic structures, which derive on the one hand from the dialects of northern and western France, the areas of origin of the Quebecker and Acadian settlers, and on the other hand from the common vernacular of the Ile-de-France area, the français populaire. Innovation has occurred independently of France because of the political rupture between France and New France in 1763, which also severed emotional ties: France had to cede territories to Great Britain due to its defeat in the Seven Years’ War and chose to separate from its North American colony while holding onto more profitable colonies, such as Guadeloupe. All normative influence on the development of Canadian French stopped. Since the French-speaking territories in North America have never been united administratively, and English has been the dominant language for the majority of citizens in Canada, no common institution providing prescriptive guidelines as to language use (such as the Académie Française in France) has been established. The varieties of Quebec and Acadian French spoken in Canada—and subsequently in the United States—developed freely. This resulted in an almost indescribable amount of linguistic variants in all fields. Whereas the phonological systems of Canadian and standard French (i.e., the hexagonal norm), in other words the inventory of sounds, barely differ, there is considerable variation in phonetics (i.e., pronunciation). The traditional areas of settlement for speakers of predominantly northern French dialects (Quebec) and predominantly western French dialects (Acadia and Maritime Provinces) have stayed administratively separate, resulting in considerable variation among the varieties of Canadian French.

Article

The study of Romance linguistics was born in the 19th-century German university, and like all linguistics of that era it is historical in nature. With respect to Indo-European and Germanic linguistics, a difference was immediately apparent: Unlike Indo-European and Common Germanic, Latin’s attestation is extensive in duration, as well as rich and varied: Romance linguists can thus make use of reconstruction as well as documentation. Friedrich Diez, author of the first historical grammar and first etymological dictionary on Romance languages, founded Romance linguistics. His studies singlehandedly constructed the foundations of the discipline. His teaching soon spread not only across German-speaking countries, but also into France and Italy. Subsequently, the most significant contributions came from two scholars trained in the Indo-European field: the German linguist Hugo Schuchardt, whose doctoral thesis studied with sharp theoretical awareness the passage from Latin to the Romance languages, and the Italian Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, who showed how the Romance panorama could be extraordinarily enriched by the analysis of nonstandard varieties. The discipline thus developed fully and radiated out. Great issues came to be debated: models of linguistic change (genealogical tree, wave), the possibility of distinguishing dialect groups, the relative weight of phonology, and semantics in lexical reconstruction. New disciplines such as linguistic geography were born, and new instruments like the linguistic atlas were forged. Romance linguistics thus became the avant-garde of general linguistics. Meanwhile, a new synthesis of the discipline had been created by a Swiss scholar, Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke, who published a historical grammar and an etymological dictionary of the Romance languages.

Article

Dene-Yeniseian is a putative family consisting of two branches: Yeniseian in central Siberia and Na-Dene (Tlingit-Eyak-Athabaskan) in northwestern North America. Yeniseian contains a single living representative, Ket, as well as the extinct Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol languages. Na-Dene contains Tlingit, spoken mainly in the Alaskan Panhandle, and a second branch divided equidistantly between the recently extinct Eyak language of coastal Alaska and the widespread Athabaskan subfamily, which originally contained more than 40 distinct languages, some now extinct. Athabaskan was once spoken throughout interior Alaska (Dena’ina, Koyukon) and most of northwestern Canada (Slave, Witsuwit’en, Tsuut’ina), with enclaves in California (Hupa), Oregon (Tolowa), Washington (Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie), and the American Southwest (Navajo, Apache). Both families are typologically unusual in having a strongly prefixing verb and nominal possessive prefixes, but postpositions rather than prepositions. The finite verb arose from the amalgamation of an auxiliary and a main verb, both with its own agreement prefixes and tense-mood-aspect suffixes, creating a rigid, mostly prefixing template. The word-final suffixes largely elided in Yeniseian but merged with the ancient verb root in Na-Dene to create a series of allophones called stem sets. Na-Dene innovated a unique complex of verb prefixes called “classifiers” on the basis of certain inherited agreement and tense-mood-aspect markers; all of these morphemes have cognates in Yeniseian, where they did not innovate into a single complex. Metathesis and reanalysis of old morphological material is quite prevalent in the most ancient core verb morphology of both families, while new prefixal or suffixal slots added onto the verb’s periphery represent innovations that distinguish the individual daughter branches within each family. Other shared Dene-Yeniseian morphology includes possessive constructions, directional words, and an intricate formula for deriving action nominals from finite verb stems. Yeniseian languages have been strongly affected by the exclusively suffixing languages brought north to Siberia by reindeer breeders during the past two millennia. In modern Ket the originally prefixing verb has largely become suffixing, and possessive prefixes have evolved into clitics that prefer to attach to any available preceding word. Na-Dene languages were likewise influenced by traits prevalent across the Americas. Athabaskan, for example, developed a system of obviation in third-person agreement marking and elaborated an array of distinct verb forms reflecting the shape, animacy, number, or consistency of transitive object or intransitive subject. Features motivated by language contact differ between Tlingit, Eyak, and Athabaskan, suggesting they arose after the breakup of Na-Dene, as the various branches spread across northwestern North America. The study of Dene-Yeniseian morphology contributes to historical-comparative linguistics, contact linguistics, and also to the diachronic study of complex morphology. In particular, comparing Yeniseian and Na-Dene verb structure reveals the prominence of metathesis and reanalysis in processes of language change. Dene-Yeniseian is noteworthy not only for its wide geographic spread and for the effects of language contact on each separate family, but also for the opportunity to trace the evolution of uncommon morphological structures.

Article

The Ibero-Romance-speaking Jews of medieval Christian Iberia were linguistically distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors primarily as a result of their language’s unique Hebrew-Aramaic component; preservations from older Jewish Greek, Latin, and Arabic; a tradition of translating sacred Hebrew and Aramaic texts into their language using archaisms and Hebrew-Aramaic rather than Hispanic syntax; and their Hebrew-letter writing system. With the expulsions from Iberia in the late 15th century, most of the Sephardim who continued to maintain their Iberian-origin language resettled in the Ottoman Empire, with smaller numbers in North Africa and Italy. Their forced migration, and perhaps a conscious choice, essentially disconnected the Sephardim from the Spanish language as it developed in Iberia and Latin America, causing their language—which they came to call laðino ‘Romance’, ʤuðezmo or ʤuðjó ‘Jewish, Judezmo’, and more recently (ʤudeo)espaɲol ‘Judeo-Spanish’—to appear archaic when compared with modern Spanish. In their new locales the Sephardim developed the Hispanic component of their language along independent lines, resulting in further differentiation from Spanish. Divergence was intensified through borrowing from contact languages of the Ottoman Empire such as Turkish, Greek, and South Slavic. Especially from the late 18th century, factors such as the colonializing interests of France, Italy, and Austro-Hungary in the region led to considerable influence of their languages on Judezmo. In the 19th century, the dismemberment of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and their replacement by highly nationalistic states resulted in a massive language shift to the local languages; that factor, followed by large speech-population losses during World War II and immigration to countries stressing linguistic homogeneity, have in recent years made Judezmo an endangered language.