7. The connections between loan translation and contact-induced change: mapping a grey area

language contacts, contact-induced language change, loan translations, structural change, lexical change

Anna Verschik, Tallinn University
Ad Backus, Tilburg University

“Loan translations” or “calques” are often presented as a product of language contact next to codeswitching and contact-induced structural change, but its description and explanation has generally not received the same degree of theoretical attention. In fact, it is not entirely clear what counts as a loan translation. The term covers a wide range of different cases (examples are taken from Verschik 2008 and Verschik & Kask 2019 work on Estonian in various contact settings):
(1) semantic extensions: English really as a particle, expressing doubt > Estonian reaalselt;
(2) word for word renditions of fixed expressions: English it is not my cup of tea > Estonian see ei ole minu teetass;
(3) copying of argument structure: Estonian ostma + ablative/elative (‘to buy from somewhere/somebody’) > Estonia’s Russian kupit’ + iz/ot + genitive (‘to buy from somewhere/somebody’, cf. Standard Russian kupit’ + v + accusative ‘to buy somewhere’ or kupit’ + u + genitive ‘to buy at somebody’);
(4) extensions of functions: usage of Russian genitive for partial subject /object, based on Estonian model: tal on vendi ‘he has brothers’ (partitive) > u nego jest’ brat’jev (genitive).
Backus and Dorleijn (2009) proposed a continuum between ‘lexical’ semantic extensions and loan translations in the strict sense and contact-induced structural change. In the lexical cases, a new meaning emerges (as in 1) or a new combination of words (as in 2), but no grammar rules are violated. From the point of view of a monolingual speaker the utterance is unusual or not entirely clear. In the grammatical cases (as in 3 and 4), grammatical morphemes or constructions are used in unconventional ways. The meaning may be easily recoverable, but the utterance sounds “ungrammatical” to monolingual ears. The crucial dimension that differentiates between the lexical and grammatical cases is the degree to which the pivotal element that gets translated has primarily lexical content or a functional role.
We seek to combine presentations that collectively address the following questions:
  • To what extent can all lexical and grammatical kinds of contact effect be analysed as mapping foreign usage onto native equivalent morphemes, words and constructions?
  • Does the contact-induced changed use of grammatical morphemes and constructions lead to diachronic grammatical change or can it be limited to individual expressions?
  • How do these phenomena relate to codeswitching? When do speakers use which contact phenomenon?
  • What are the theoretical implications of all this?
  • What methodological limitations and opportunities should be considered?
The presentations in this colloquium come from senior scholars and doctoral students. The case studies cover a variety of contact situations: a recent one (English-Estonian), an indigenous minority language (Finnish Romani), closely related languages (German-Dutch), and a heritage language (Australian Croatian).
Backus, Ad; Dorleijn, Margreet. 2009. Loan translations versus code-switching. In Barbara Bullock and Almeida Jaqueline Toribio (eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching. 75-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Verschik, Anna 2008. Emerging Bilingual Speech: From Monolingualism to Code-Copying. London: Continuum.
Verschik, Anna; Kask, Helin 2019. English-Estonian code-copying: comparing blogs and vlogs. Applied Linguistics Review. https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2019-0028

  1. Different paths of Finnish Romani, Kimmo Granqvist
  2. Loan translation and contact phenomena in homeland and heritage varieties of Croatian, Jim Hlavac
  3. Loan translation vs. structural change in Estonian blogs and vlogs, Helin Kask
  4. Similarity in Language Transfer, Marie Barking, Ad Backus and Maria Mos
  5. Changes in Russian-Sakha bilingualism in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Lidiya Manchurina