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Contact-induced changes: Classification and processes

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Traditionally, contact-induced changes in languages have been classified into two broad categories: those due to ‘borrowing’ and those due to ‘interference’ by an L1 or other primary language on an L2 in the course of second language acquisition (SLA). Other terms used for ‘interference’ include ‘substratum influence’ and ‘transfer.’ Inconsistencies in the use of these terms pose a problem for the classification and analysis of the outcomes of contact-induced change. Moreover, labels like these, unfortunately, have been used to refer both to the outcomes of language contact and to the processes that lead to such results. This imprecision in the use of key terms poses serious problems for our understanding of what is actually involved in the two types of crosslinguistic influence. Moreover, it has led to inaccuracy in our assignment of changes to one or the other category. The aim of this paper is to reassess the conventional wisdom on the distinction between borrowing and ‘interference,’ and to clarify the vehicles of change as well as the outcomes characteristic of each. My approach is based on Van Coetsem's (1988) distinction between two transfer types – borrowing under RL agentivity, and imposition under SL agentivity, with their shared but differently implemented processes of imitation and adaptation. Crucially, this approach recognizes that the same agents may employ either kind of agentivity, and hence different transfer types, in the same contact situation. It is the failure to recognize this that has sometimes led to inaccuracy in accounts of the nature and origins of contact-induced changes, as well as to conflicting classifications of the outcomes of contact. The present paper proposes a more rigorous and consistent classification, based on the kinds of agentivity involved.

Keywords: agentivity in language contact; borrowing and imposition; convergence; creole formation; language contact; maintenance and shift; mixed languages; processes of contact-induced change; relexification; typology of contact languages

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The Ohio State University

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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  • International Journal for Historical Linguistics

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