Category Archives: language contact

Friday, February 16: E-Ching Ng (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, February 16th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be E-Ching Ng, who is doing her postdoc in the Linguistics Department. Please see below for details about her talk.

“Word-final vowel epenthesis: An L2 sound change?”
E-Ching Ng (UChicago)
Word-final vowel epenthesis (e.g. English bike > Japanese [baiku]) is common in many types of language contact: pidgins, creoles, loanwords, and second language (L2) acquisition. However, this sound change is reportedly much less common in ‘normal’ L1 language transmission. A database of 50 cases tends to confirm this asymmetry. I suggest that this sound change arises from the phonetics of L2 speech, and even appears to be disfavoured in contact situations where L2 speakers become relatively fluent. As such it may be useful as an indicator of L2 acquisition in a language’s past.

Friday, January 12 at 3:30 PM: Yaroslav Gorbachov (UChicago)

Please join us for the first LVC meeting of the quarter on Friday, January 12th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Yaroslav Gorbachov. Please see below for details about his talk.

Slavic ‘animacy’/’virility’ as a contact phenomenon?
Yaroslav Gorbachov (University of Chicago)
It appears to be commonplace in the literature to assume that the “animacy” category of Russian (which has evolved from an earlier “virility” category) is a contact phenomenon (thus, e.g., Andersen 1980, Thomason, Kaufman (1988:249)). In this paper I discuss the “animacy”/“virility” category in a broader context of differential object marking (DOM) and argue that it is unlikely to have arisen in Slavic as an areal feature due to contact with Uralic.

Friday, November 17 at 3:30 PM: Fieldwork Recap (Part 1)

The Language Variation and Change workshop will host its first fieldwork recap session this Friday, November 17th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Come learn where students are doing their fieldwork, their methods, and the challenges they face. This week we’ll hear from Hilary McMahan, Cherry Meyer, Kat Montemurro, and Adam Singerman! A small reception will follow everyone’s presentations.

Friday, October 6th at 3:30 PM: Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Please join us for a talk by yours truly at LVC on October 6th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Details about the talk are below.

Alignment shift in Chukotkan: the case against contact-induced change

Jessica Kantarovich
University of Chicago

The Chukotkan branch of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family displays an unusual kind of ergativity, with unambiguously ergative case marking on nouns but an “ergative split” in the verb. Based on Fortescue’s (1997, 2003) reconstructions and the accusative patterning of Kamchatkan, ergative case marking appears to be an innovation in Chukotkan. While Fortescue argues that this change arose due to substrate effects from Yupik, I argue that this is unlikely, based on other contact-driven changes in both language families and the nature of this contact. Instead, I propose that the change was internally-motivated, stemming from the reanalysis of a passive participial.


Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM: Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Please join us for a talk by visiting speaker Lev Michael of the University of California Berkeley. The talk will be Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 011. Refreshments will be provided. Hope to see you there!

“Lexical homology in computational phylogenetics: A comparative Tupí-Guaraní”

Lev Michael
UC Berkeley

Friday, March 3rd at 3:30 PM: Brian Joseph at LVC

LVC is very pleased to be hosting Brian Joseph of OSU this Friday, March 3rd. We hope you can join us for his talk at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. As always, there will be a small reception following the talk.

Social and Semantic Factors in the Diffusion of Morpho-Syntactic Change — Evidence from the Infinitive in Greek and the Balkans”

Brian Joseph
Ohio State University

A key feature differentiating latter Greek from Classical Greek is the demise of the verbal category and set of verbal forms known as the infinitive.  Starting in Koine Greek of the Hellenistic period, we see a gradual erosion of the domain of the infinitive – both as to use and as to form – culminating in the modern form of the language with no infinitive at all.  Rather, there is only finite subordination with verbal forms marked for person, number, and aspect, and in some instances tense.  Moreover, this retreat of the infinitive and spread of finite subordination is found throughout all of the Balkan languages. I trace here the spread, i.e. the diffusion, of the loss of the infinitive within Greek, first examining the semantic factors that play a role in the progression of infinitive-loss and tying it to event structure.  I then shift gears and look at a seemingly anomalous late retention of the infinitive in Jewish Greek of Constantinople, and tie that to the social circumstances of Jewish languages in general.  In this way I provide some insight into both the semantic and the social side of the diffusion of a key morpho-syntactic change in Greek and other languages in the Balkans.

Poster with Event Details

Friday, November 11 @ 3:30 PM: Nicole Rosen (UManitoba)

Please join the Language Variation and Change Workshop this Friday, November 11th at 3:30 PM in Cobb 116, for a talk from our invited speaker, Nicole Rosen. Details below.

“Nominal Contact in the Michif Language”

Nicole Rosen
University of Manitoba

Michif is an endangered Metis language with its roots in the Fur Trade in Canada, where it arose through the intermarriage of Cree and French people in Canada’s Red River Valley. It is considered a contact language, mixing Plains Cree and French. Michif has received considerable attention in the language contact literature due to its seemingly unusual syntactic and phonological patterns arising from the French-Plains Cree contact situation in which it was created. Bakker (1997) described the language as being formed through a process called language intertwining, resulting in a mixed language posited to have an NP/VP split, where French lexical items pattern like French and Cree lexical items pattern like Plains Cree. Since this time, the accepted view of the language is that the French-source DPs behave like French, while the Cree-source VPs behave like Plains Cree. In this talk I will argue against this received view, showing that this analysis of Michif holds only at a very superficial level. Once we examine the constituency of the DP and investigate the underlying structure in a more rigorous manner, the picture becomes quite different. Using evidence from gender, number and DP constituency, I show that the Michif DP in fact shows very little structural similarity to its parent French DP. As a result, with the one domain said to be French no longer looking French-like, we are left with a language which follows regular Algonquian-type syntax and semantics, with some particularities to allow for the introduction of French elements and some resulting Michif-specific innovations. Although it may be useful to historical linguists to describe its creation as V-N language mixing, I argue that this designation holds little insight into synchronic patterning of the Michif grammar, and that there is little motivation for this exoticization of the language, which patterns according to structures already available cross-linguistically.

Thursday, November 3 at 4:30 PM: Semiotics Workshop (Perry Wong, UChicago)

LVC is cosponsoring a meeting of the Semiotics Workshop, on November 3 at 4:30 PM in Haskell 101, which will touch upon language contact in Mesoamerica.

“Notes on Mesoamerican ‘fashions of speaking’”
Perry Wong

with a brief addendum by Chris Bloechl


For a copy of the paper, please email Perry Wong at or Briel Kobak at
For the full schedule and other information, visit our website at: with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact Perry Wong at or Briel Kobak at

Tatiana Nikitina @ LVC on Friday, April 1st!

Friday, April 1st at 3:00PM, location TBA

Frames of reference in discourse: Spatial descriptions in Bashkir (Turkic)

Tatiana Nikitina
CNRS, Paris

Cross-linguistic and individual variation in the use of spatial reference frames has been one of the central questions in the study of semantic typology (Pederson et al. 1998; Levinson 2003, inter alia). It is well-known that languages vary in the way locative expressions refer to asymmetries defining major spatial axes: front and back, for example, can be defined with respect to the Ground’s internal asymmetry (sitting in front of a TV) or with respect to the position of an external observer (the fork is in front of the plate). It is normal for speakers to use multiple frames of reference with the same spatial expression, sometimes switching from one frame to another within the same utterance (Bohnemeyer 2011). The nature of this variation, however, is understudied, and very little is known about factors that make individual speakers prefer one frame of reference over others.

In this talk, I will present an ongoing study of the use of reference frames by speakers of Bashkir, a Turkic language spoken in Russia. I explore the inventory of devices employed for describing spatial relations in an experimental task and discuss the role of factors such as education and bilingualism in the choice of reference frames. While variation in reference frame use in linguistic descriptions has been previously suggested to reflect the use of different cognitive strategies (Levinson 1996; Majid et al. 2004), I find no correlation between speakers’ performance in verbal and non-verbal tasks (cf. Li & Gleitman 2002). In verbal interaction, speakers show high levels of flexibility in the use of different frames of reference, and work together actively to converge on a common reference frame for individual spatial expressions.

The study is part of an international collaboration aimed at exploring cross-cultural variation in spatial cognition (NSF-BCS-1053123).

Bohnemeyer, Juergen. 2011. Spatial frames of reference in Yucatec: Referential promiscuity and task-specificity. Language Sciences 33(6): 892-914.
Levinson, Stephen C. 1996. Frames of reference and Molyneux’s question: Crosslinguistic evidence. Paul Bloom (ed.) Language and Space. MIT Press, 109-169.
Levinson, Stephen C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge University Press.
Li, Peggy & Lila Gleitman. 2002. Turning the tables: Language and spatial reasoning. Cognition 83(3): 265-294.
Majid, Asifa, et al. 2004. Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8(3): 108-114.
Pederson, Eric, et al. 1998. Semantic typology and spatial conceptualization. Language 74(3): 557-589.

Itxaso Rodríguez-Ordóñez @ LVC on Friday, December 4th

Friday, December 4th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 301

Understanding Basque Differential Object Marking from Typological, Contact and Attitudinal perspectives

Itxaso Rodríguez-Ordóñez
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Differential Object Marking (DOM) has enjoyed abundant scholarly interest insomuch as theoretical explanations of its key parameters (Aissen 2003; Malchukov and Swart 2008; Hoop and Swart 2007), language-specific constraints (Leonetti 2004; Seifart 2012; Sinnemaki 2014) and synchronic and diachronic accounts in various languages (Morimoto and Swart 2004; Robertson 2007). However, less attention has been paid to the role that language contact plays in the emergence of DOM or the processes that lead to its variable use in contact settings. Basque DOM has been characterized as the product of intense contact with Basque-Spanish leísmo (Austin 2006; Rodríguez-Ordóñez, 2015), but its variable use and the role that attitudes play in its use remain understudied.

Using spontaneous speech of 70 Basque-Spanish bilinguals and 19 Basque-French bilinguals in combination of experimental techniques on production and perception, I provide evidence to the argument that Basque DOM involves a process of replica grammaticalization (Heine and Kuteva 2010) in which contact features and typological constraints work interactively, particularly dependent upon the language dominance of the speaker. The low use among L2 speakers is explained through the attitudinal results; Basque DOM is considered ‘defective’ and ‘non-authentic’ in Standard Basque, the variety of L2 and early sequential bilinguals. It is proposed that these speakers do not use Basque DOM so that their ‘authentic Basque identity’ is not fully questioned.

The present study builds upon theoretical and methodological implications: first, it argues that a multi-disciplinary study of contact-phenomena advances our theory on the interplay of language as ‘human faculty’ and ‘social competence’ in which bilinguals engage in a linguistic task that involve cognitive processing mechanisms and the ability to implement societal norms (Matras 2010). Second, it advocates for the formal study of language attitudes as an integrated part of a theory of contact-linguistics.