Category Archives: language contact

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.

Ross Burkholder @ LVC & LCC on Friday, November 13th

Friday, November 13th @ 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 301

Language use in MOBA Gaming Communities

Ross Burkholder
University of Chicago

In this talk I discuss a recent project investigating language use in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, focusing in particular on language use in the community surrounding the game DOTA 2. During the course of this talk I hope to describe, compare, and highlight specific areas of language use in MOBAs.

Describe: What kind of language is being used in-game?
– How do variables effect individuals language use?
– How has language use changed over time?

Compare: How does the register used in MOBA games compare to…
– Other MOBAs?
– Other online gaming communities?
– Other computer mediated language?

Highlight: How does the multilingual nature of the community effect language use?
– What strategies are used when no mutual language is available?
– How are responses to multilingualism framed and formed?

In order to answer these questions, this study makes use of a small (but growing) corpus of game replay files, looking at various frequencies, concordances, and collocations. As this project is in the beginning phases, there will be more emphasis during the talk on the formulation of research questions, and the methodologies used in order to answer them, than on the presentation of results. Discussion of all aspects of this project is strongly encouraged.

10 February: William Cotter (University of Essex) and Uri Horesh (Northwestern University)

Monday, February 10th @ 4:30 PM, Harper 150

Language variation and change in two Palestinian Arabic varieties: Gaza and Jaffa

While research in Arabic sociolinguistics has been on the rise in recent years, a number of regions are still under-investigated. Most varieties of Palestinian Arabic, though described by dialectologists in the traditional sense over the years, have not received much attention from a variationist perspective. This presentation will shed light on two urban varieties of Palestinian Arabic and discuss future directions in the research of the region as a whole, concentrating on the shared history between Gaza and Jaffa, the two cities in which we have done our fieldwork.

Our presentation will focus on two variables, one from each of these Palestinian cities:

1. The phonological variable (ʕ) in Jaffa
2. The morphophonological variable (ah) in Gaza

Each of these speech communities has its unique characteristics: Jaffa speakers tend to be bilingual—their L2 being Modern Hebrew—and the variation observed is assumed to be contact-induced. This hypothesis is tested, and for the most part confirmed, through quantitative analysis. The community in Gaza has been living under military occupation an physical siege, which has isolated them from the rest of the Palestinian population for quite some time, rendering their dialect quite distinct from most other varieties of Arabic in the region, in addition to its predisposition as a sort of bridge dialect between the Levant and Egypt, given its geographical location. Many speakers in Gaza are in fact refugees from Jaffa, and we will discuss the significance of this fact both in the context of work already carried out and for work in progress for future publication.

31 January: Britta Ingebretson (UChicago)

Friday, January 31st @ 3 PM, Harper 150 (NOTE FRIDAY MEETING)

Notes from the field: language and Gender in Huangshan China

This Semiotics/LVC paper provides an ethnographic account on the current use of the Tunxi dialect in Huangshan City, Anhui, China. Tunxi dialect (Tunxi hua) is a member of the Xiuyi (Xiuning-Yi) subbranch of China’s smallest language family, the Huizhou language family. Huizhou is the smallest language family in China, and the group of mutually unintelligible languages characterized by their complex tonal systems. This paper examines on the impact of Mandarin promulgation on local dialect usage. The paper looks, broadly speaking, at language use in three sites: a yoga studio, a newsstand, and a nearby village. It presents less an sustained argument, systematic analysis of a data corpus so much as it provides a series of ethnographic vignettes, anecdotes and reports o on language and gender in this small city in contemporary China.

4 November: Jeff Good (University at Buffalo)

Monday, November 4th @ 3 PM, Harper 140

Magical ideologies of language change: Connecting micro-level variation to macro-areal diversification

In many respects, historical investigation of the Bantu language family serves as a model application of the Comparative Method to a genealogical unit outside of Indo-European. The close relationship of hundreds of languages occupying the greater part of southern sub-Saharan Africa is beyond question, and there is  consensus on many important features of the proto-language. At the same time, despite more than a century and a half of scholarship, significant issues regarding the development of the family remain unresolved almost to the point of seeming intractable. No shared innovation has been found that uniquely delineates Bantu from its closest relatives, no family-wide subgrouping has become accepted, and no fully convincing explanation has been offered for Bantu’s incredibly successful spread throughout southern Africa.

This talk reconsiders these issues through the examination of the comparative linguistics of a small, linguistically diverse region of Cameroon known as Lower Fungom, which is located within the putative Proto-Bantu homeland. By treating Lower Fungom as a microcosm for Bantu, it becomes possible to explore how a local ideology that links languages to relatively ephemeral political entities results in patterns of language change which are neither tree-like nor wave-like but, rather, “magnetic”, with varieties in contact constantly converging and diverging from each other to reflect shifting patterns of solidarity and antagonism. This ideological stance is further associated with a system of beliefs wherein code choice is perceived as a means to access the magical protection associated with a given community. This fosters multilingualism and frequent language shift as strategies through which individuals can attempt to increase their spiritual security.

Through the examination of specific structural features of the languages of Lower Fungom, it will be argued that the presence of these ideological patterns can take us far in understanding why there was never a clean linguistic “break” between Bantu and its closest relatives, why clear-cut subgroups never formed, and why the family spread so successfully. More generally, it will be suggested that detailed investigation of the ways that local language ideologies relate codes to communities has a significant role to play in addressing the actuation problem in language change.