Conceptualizing order of contact-induced language change

Thematic Section: Usage-based approaches to bilingual contact phenomena

usage-based approach, bilingualism, language contact phenomena, entrenchment, constructions

Anna Verschik, Tallin University

According to the generalizations made by Thomason and Kaufman (1988), contact-induced language change in language maintenance starts from the lexicon, then progresses to semantics, phonology, non-core morphosyntax and, if sociolinguistic circumstances are favourable, results in a profound morphosyntactic restructuring. So far no explanations of this particular order have been suggested. The paper “translates” the borrowing scale (Thomason and Kaufman 1988) into the metalanguage of code-copying framework (Johanson 1992) that describes all types of contact-induced language change (in lexicon, meaning and structure) in the same terminology. Every linguistic item has material, semantic, combinational and frequential properties. When all properties are copied, it is called global copy, and when only some properties (meaning, combination of elements, argument structure, function etc.), it is called selective copy. Focusing on the meaning of copied elements, one notices that specific or expressive items yield global copying, while more abstract meaning (grammatical) yields selective copying. Apparently, processing, entrenchment and conventionalization of more abstract meaning requires more time. This explains why structural changes (selective copies) appears later. Based on data from Estonian-Russian and English-Estonian language contact situation, a conclusion can be drawn that there are different types of selective copying that form a continuum as far as the degree of abstractness of meaning is concerned. Estonian impact on Russian produces selective combinational copies that “disrupt” some areas of monolingual grammar, while English impact of Estonian is mainly non-structural, and selective copies appear either in fixed expressions or in functions of some Estonian constructions.