Category Archives: language contact

Wednesday, May 2: Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS)

Our visiting syntax guru, Ricardo Etxepare, will be speaking at LVC this Wednesday, May 2nd at 12 pm in Foster 103. Lunch will be served.

Details about his talk can be found below, and you can learn more about his research at his website:

Hope you can make it!

“Economy governed microparameters: a view from Basque dialects”
Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS, IKER UMR 5478)

The general question:

The general question I would like to address in this talk is the following: what can we learn about mental properties, more particularly about language as a cognitive system, from the spatial distribution of linguistic variables? I would like to show that correlated variation (that is, correlative distribution patterns involving syntactic phenomena), can help us understand formal relations between pieces of I-language, and uncover certain basic aspects of the acquisition device that go beyond UG. The geolinguistic information used for this work is of the traditional sort, based on data gathered from elicitation methods, and mapped into cartographic resources.

More concretely:

The phenomenon: The presentation will be devoted to examine the syntactic distribution of auxiliaries in Basque, which is subject to significant variation along the west-east axis.

The microparameter: In eastern varieties, the auxiliary can behave as a semi-lexical or light verb, and then has the same distribution of so-called “synthetic verbs” in Basque, which possess a lexical root. In central dialects, the auxiliaries correspond to the lexicalization of purely functional material, probably of T/Agr (Arregi and Nevins, 2012). This microparameter has effects in other areas of the grammar, particularly in the left periphery of the clause.

The historical background: This variation has its diachronic source in the emergence or verbal periphrases from biclausal structures (Mounole, 2011), and their varying grammaticalization into monoclausal structures. Basically, the process can be seen as one going from lexical restructuring to functional restructuring (Wurmbrandt, 2014 amongmany others).

Beyond the microparameter: When looking beyond the auxiliary domain into the domain of finite copulas, however, we realize that issues other than lexicalization are at stake. The contrasting distribution of copulas and auxiliaries across the Basque varieties examined here points out to a principle of representational economy that governs the distribution of marked and unmarked values of a micro-parameter. This principle must be part of the learning algorithm (as in Roberts, 2007; Holmberg and Roberts, 2010; Biberauer and Roberts, 2012; Roberts, 2016; and Roberts and Roussou, 2003; also Van Gelderen, 2011).

Friday, April 6: Alan Yu (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change workshop this Friday, April 6 at 3:30 pm in Cobb 119. Please note the unusual location.

Our speaker will be Alan Yu. Please see below for details about his talk.

“Investigating South Asian Cantonese in Hong Kong from a phonological perspective
Alan Yu (University of Chicago)

More than 6% of the population of Hong Kong are ethnic minorities, speaking a variety of languages. This focus on the South Asian subpopulation in Hong Kong. While Cantonese is the dominant language of Hong Kong, only around 30% of the South Asian inhabitants reported Cantonese as the language of choice. Little is known about the variety of Cantonese spoken by this community of speakers. This talk reports the progress of a joint project that focuses on the phonetics and phonology of Hong Kong South Asian Cantonese. I show that South Asian Cantonese is not monolithic and the variation, particularly the tonal variation, depends on the sociolinguistic background of the speakers.

Friday, March 30: Savithry Namboodiripad (UMich)

This week we will be hosting Savithry Namboodiripad of the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on how language contact affects linguistic variation, in particular constituent order in the world’s languages. Her dissertation examined this question in Malayalam via psycholinguistic experimental methodology (you can read more here:

Please see below for information about her talk this Friday, March 30th at 3:30 pm. We will meet in RO 301.

“Contact, variation, and change in constituent order: integrating social and cognitive approaches”

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan)

Languages vary as to how flexible the order of the major sentential constituents are, and both basic (canonical) constituent order and flexibility are empirical domains which have been described as being particularly susceptible to contact-induced change (e.g., Heine 2008, Friedman 2003, Bickel et al. 2017). However, less is known about the processes by which language contact leads to change in constituent order, and what the role of flexibility might be, if any. Here, I address these topics using an approach to contact-induced change which integrates social and cognitive explanations, and I argue that systematicity in the outcomes of contact-induced change can be at least partially explained by the dynamics of language learning and use in multilingual contexts.
The talk has two main parts: first, I propose and motivate a cross-linguistically valid operational measure of flexibility in constituent order using formal acceptability judgment experiments. I present experiments in English, Malayalam, and Korean which show that this measure yields gradient results that align with what is known about the structure of each language. In addition, I show that speakers of Malayalam and Korean who have more experience with English differ quantitatively but not qualitatively from those who have less experience with English: more experience with English corresponds to a greater preference for canonical SOV order in both Korean and Malayalam.
In the second part of the talk, I discuss the details of the contact situation for both groups of speakers. The high-contact Malayalam speakers are young people who grew up in post-colonial India where English is an inextricable part of daily life, and English has led to change in Malayalam as spoken in India at all levels of linguistic analysis. The high-contact Korean speakers are English-dominant individuals who grew up in the United States, were schooled in English, and, in some cases, have limited fluency in speaking Korean. Based on the properties of these acceptability judgment experiments, I argue that the similarities between these two contact situations could explain the similar outcomes of contact. On analogy with “frontier conditions” (Nichols 2017), I discuss the potential for common contact outcomes under “post-colonial conditions” and “immigrant conditions” more broadly speaking, and posit that future investigation of these types of speech communities can shed light on other cases of contact-induced phenomena like creoles and mixed languages.
Under this approach, factors like literacy, language attitudes, and language policy are treated as causal variables which shape the contexts in which the languages and varieties in an individual’s repertoire are used and processed. Individuals inherit the social contexts in which they learn and use language (cf. ontogenetic niche). Thus, links between social structure and language structure are derivable from systematic investigation into how languages are differentially processed in multilingual contexts across the lifespan.

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.