Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

International Symposium: Contact Among Genetically Related Languages

Organizers: Patience Epps, John Huehnergard, Na'ama Pat-El
April 21-22, 2012


Paul-Alain Beaulieu (University of Toronto)
Claire Bowern (Yale)
Bridget Drinka (UT San Antonio)
Patience Epps (UT Austin)
Danny Law (Vanderbilt University)
Maarten Kossmann (Leiden University)
Alexander Magidow (UT Austin)
H. Craig Melchert (UCLA)
Marianne Mithun (UC Sanata Barbara)
Na’ama Pat-El (UT Austin)
David Quinto-Pozos (UT-Austin)

For a link to the flier, click here.

One of the major issues discussed in the context of contact is the question of linguistic structure and what contribution typological structural similarity has on the extent of borrowing. The assumption that similar structure is an essential factor in borrowability (“structural compatibility requirement”), which was common early on (Weinreich 1953; Moravcsik 1978) has been abandoned, but recent studies suggest that there is some correlation between structural similarity and structural changes, although this may hold only as a tendency (Haig 2001). To date, most investigations of contact phenomena have focused on languages coming from different or only distantly related families. In such languages, if any similarity exists, it is typological, rather than genetic. Yet the issue of contact among genetically related languages is a crucial problem for historical linguistics, with profound implications for determining subgrouping among related languages, reconstructing protolanguages, and understanding the histories of their speakers. In the past, historical linguistics often worked under the assumption that languages split from a common language (proto-language) and developed independently thereafter. The effects of contact among related languages may lead to erroneous family trees, in which languages are assigned to incorrect nodes on the basis of borrowed similarities. Yet despite these challenges, detailed investigation that weighs different features according to their relative borrowability can make progress toward untangling these complex linguistic relationships. Establishing the methodological best practices and most common pitfalls in distinguishing contact from genetic inheritance remains an outstanding challenge in historical linguistics. Therefore, we plan to conduct an international workshop where relevant test cases will be presented and theoretical debates may further our understanding of the effect of genetic relation on the results of language contact.

In this workshop we expect to address, among others, the following questions:

  1. What kinds of problems are unique to dealing with contact between closely related languages? Is it possible conclude that some contact-induced changes are more likely to be displayed in related languages?
  2. What insights may be provided by case studies of particular contact situations involving related languages? Can these insights serve to inform the theoretical debate in general or should we treat contact between genetically related languages as a different type?
  3. What are the implications of such contact effects for reconstruction? What are the criteria to distinguish evolutionary changes from contact induced changes, if such exist?
  4. To what extent can we predict the relative borrowability of different types of linguistic features, and in different sociolinguistic circumstances (language shift, bilingualism, etc.)? How much is the terminology used in language contact applicable to contact between related languages? Is it, for example, meaningful to call speakers of related languages bilingual?
  5. What are the linguistic implications of contact among related dialects, as opposed to more distantly related languages?
  6. To what extent, and by what criteria, can subgrouping be reliably determined when contact has taken place? How can we efficiently distinguish between contact-induced change and internal changes?
  7. With regard to the on going debate about typological similarity as a factor in borrowability, what is the difference between typologically-based similarity and genetically-based similarity?


Saturday morning

9:15 John Huehnergard / Welcome

9:30 Claire Bowern / Linguistic Split and Language Contact

10:00 Paul-Alain Beaulieu / Semitic Languages Interaction in First Millennium BC Iraq

10:30 Break

11:00 Bridget Drinka / Contact, Genetic Relationship, and a New Family Tree Model

11:30 Discussion

12:00 - 1:30 Lunch

Saturday afternoon

1:30 H. Craig Melchert / Hittite and Hieroglyphic Luvian arha ‘away': Common Inheritance or Borrowing?

2:00 Na'ama Pat-El / Contact or Inheritance? Criteria for distinguishing internal and external change in genetically related languages

2:30 Break

3:00 Alexander Magidow / Diachrony and Dialects

3:30 Patience Epps / Tracing the histories of morphologically complex forms: inheritance, calquing, or independent innovation?

4:00 Discussion

Sunday morning

9:30 Danny Law / Three ways that genetic relatedness shaped the outcome of language contact in the Maya lowlands

10:00 Maarten Kossmann / Divergence and convergence: a history of Moroccan Arabic

10:30 Break

11:00 Marianne Mithun / Challenges and Benefits of Contact among Relatives

11:30 Discussion and wrap-up


Semitic Languages Interaction in First Millennium BC Iraq
Paul-Alain Beaulieu

First millennium BC Iraq has produced an abundant cuneiform documentation illustrating the evolution of the Akkadian language in its last vernacular stages (Neo-Assyrian and Neo- and Late Babylonian dialects) and in various shades of literary, non-spoken forms, i.e. grapholects (Standard Babylonian and Official Achaemenid Akkadian). Over this period of several hundred years (8th to 2nd centuries), Akkadian was also in close contact with Aramaic, which was officially recognized as administrative language already in the 8th century and eventually replaced Akkadian as vernacular. Few studies have been devoted to the interaction between these closely related languages and dialects/grapholects, although it is generally assumed that there was significant mutual influence between Akkadian and Aramaic. However, almost all the Aramaic documentation has disappeared, creating an equation with too many unknowns. This paper will outline some of the main issues in studying Semitic language interaction in that area and period from the perspective of sociolinguistics and contact linguistics.

Linguistic Split and Language Contact
Claire Bowern, Yale University
In order to diagnose language contact among related language, we need a model of language split that allows the differentiation of transfer between languages and transfer between dialects. In this paper, I take a population-level approach to the question. Since languages are not placed ‘neutrally' on the landscape, it is very difficult to test contact conditions that are independent of family history and historical trade and political patterns. Because of the way in which languages split, their nearest neighbors geographically tend also to be their closest relatives phylogenetically. Thus the languages that are most available for contact are often closely related. I argue here that the best approach to diagnosing historical contact is one which takes advantage of models in which contact is mappable to social interaction. I assume (following Thomason and Kaufmann 1988 and others) that transfer of structural features does not tend to occur in the absence of intense contact. I build on sociolinguistic work which treats dialect borrowing as distinct from borrowing between languages. The talk is illustrated by examples from Australia which shed light on questions of dialect mixing versus diffusion across language boundaries.

Tracing the histories of morphologically complex forms: inheritance, calquing, or independent innovation?
Patience Epps, University of Texas at Austin

The reconstruction of morphologically complex forms offers familiar problems. As illustrated by textbook examples like Bloomfield's seemingly reconstructable anachronism - Algonquian 'fire-water' for 'whisky' - the existence of complex forms across related languages can alternatively be attributed to calquing or parallel independent innovation. This talk considers the problem of accounting for the history of complex forms in the context of the northwest Amazon, where lexical borrowing is actively resisted but calquing is rampant. Where such complex forms are widely shared across related and unrelated languages, is there any hope of identifying their source, or establishing their relative age in particular groups of languages? I focus in particular on numeral terms in the region, which reveal considerable etymological complexity. I argue that, at least in some cases, we can make a case for time-depth and even reconstructability of particular complex forms, but the comparative linguistic picture must be informed by typological and geographical considerations.

Divergence and convergence: a history of Moroccan Arabic
Maarten Kossmann, LUCL, Universiteit Leiden

The linguistic history of Arabic in Morocco is characterized by a number of different stages in Arabicization. Before the advent of Islam, all inhabitants of the country spoke Berber or African Romance. The first speakers of Arabic arrived with the Islamic conquest; it is unclear in what numbers. The earliest stages of Arabic in northern Africa are unknown. There are some features that suggest the presence of a strongly simplified variety in the earliest stages - possibly in the old and new cities, supplanting Romance. In the course of the first four Islamic centuries, parts of Morocco were arabicized, especially in the urban areas and along the main trade routes. During this period, a much more mainstream type of Arabic came in place of the earliest variety, even though the latter may be responsible for some surviving salient features. The Arabic implanted during this period belongs to the so-called sedentary dialects. Its descendant is still spoken in a number of Muslim and Jewish dialects in Morocco. From the 11th century onwards, nomadic tribes from the east infiltrated into northern Africa. As a result large parts of the region that had hitherto been Berber-speaking shifted to a nomadic type of Arabic, which, originally, must have been highly different from the sedentary type already present there. This second type - no more restricted to nomads - is still recognizable in large parts of Morocco and elsewhere in northern Africa.

The presence of two varieties of Arabic (the first "pidgin" variety does not exist any more) presents us with a layered structuring of the dialects; a fact which has lead to a focus in the research tradition on the diversity of these layers. In this paper I want to shift the focus, studying the convergence phenomena between the two layers, and asking how it can be that the two layers are still easily recognized.

Three ways that genetic relatedness shaped the outcome of language contact in the Maya lowlands
Danny Law, Vanderbilt University
Similarity has been cited, generally anecdotally, as a significant factor in shaping the outcomes of language contact. A detailed investigation of long-term contact among more than a dozen related lowland Mayan languages has yielded several concrete examples of contact-induced language changes that I argue were facilitated by the systematic similarities shared by these languages because of genetic relatedness. Three factors that seem to have been particularly impactful in the Mayan case are 1) the high number of "bridge contexts" in the languages-points of similarity from which adjacent features can be more readily affected, 2) exchangeability-structural equivalencies allowing for the ready replacement of a linguistic element in one language with an element from another language without adaptation or accommodation, and 3)"contact-induced drift"- parallel secondary developments in related languages that were sparked by initial contact-induced changes, but that proceeded along similar paths of change after contact because of the preexisting structural similarities that the languages shared due to common inheritance. I argue that these processes of change are much less likely to be possible in situations of contact between unrelated languages, suggesting that these are specific ways in which contact between genetically related languages can be qualitatively different from contact between languages that lack pervasive systematic similarity.

Hittite and Hieroglyphic Luvian arha ‘away': Common Inheritance or Borrowing?
Craig Melchert (UCLA)

Yakubovich (2010), in arguing convincingly that Hittite borrowed its enclitic reflexive particle from Luvian, emphasizes that this contact-induced change in the pronominal system was due not only to close and prolonged contact between speakers of the two languages, but also to the structural (in this case genetic) similarity of the respective systems (2010: 196ff.). He follows Dawson (2003) in comparing this with the influence of Old Norse on the Old English pronominal system (the third person plural pronoun). Most discussion by Yakubovich and others has focused on Luvian influence on Hittite, prehistoric and in the Middle and New Hittite period. While a few lexical borrowings from Hittite into Luvian have been acknowledged, the question of Hittite-induced changes in Luvian grammatical morphemes has received little or no attention. I will argue that the likewise very similar systems of "local adverbs" and "preverbs" in the two languages led to at least one and possibly two borrowings from Hittite to Luvian in this set of grammatical morphemes. While fine details assure a borrowing in one case, the very similarity of the respective systems makes it hard to determine whether the other represents common inheritance, borrowing, or a contact-induced change in one use of an inherited morpheme.

Dawson, Hope. 2003. Defining the Outcome of Language Contact: Old English and Old Norse. Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics 57.40-57.

Yakubovich, Ilya. 2010. Sociolinguistics of the Luvian Language. Leiden/Boston: Brill.

Challenges and Benefits of Contact among Relatives
Marianne Mithun, University of California, Santa Barbara

Investigation of contact among related languages poses a special challenge: distinguishing common inheritance, drift, and contact-induced transfer. Certain circumstances can facilitate the task, such as complex family structure with multiple reconstructible subgroups, diagnostic sound changes, and relatives outside of the area. But contact among related languages can also offer special opportunities. We know that not all features of a language are equally susceptible to transfer at first contact. Various hierarchies of borrowability have been proposed, with stages ranging along a path from nouns to abstract structure, correlated with ever more intense contact. Each step along the path can also increase typological similarity, crucial if bilingual speakers are to recognize equivalences across their languages and bring elements of one into the other. But where the languages are related, they may already be typologically similar. Their common development can provide a counterpart to the intense contact assumed in hierarchies. Even with highly complex structures, such as polysynthesis and fusion, more pieces match, and speakers can become bilingual more easily and spot correspondences more quickly. Such situations allow us to focus on more advanced contact effects. One pertinent issue is a proposal by Heine and Kuteva that the transfer of grammatical meanings and structures is shaped by universal processes of grammatical change (2005:1). Johanson (2008) counters that contact effects do not replicate diachronic processes, but can be understood instead in terms of properties that can be copied under contact: material (substance), semantic (meaning and function), combinatorial (grammatical properties), and frequency. Here the challenges of work on contact among related languages, along with the insight they can offer on this issue, are illustrated with material from Tuscarora, of eastern North America, which apparently separated from its Northern Iroquoian relatives well over a millennium ago, only to rejoin them in the 18th century.

Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva 2005. Language contact and grammatical change. Cambridge.

Johanson, Lars 2008. Remodeling grammar: Copying, conventionalization, grammaticalization. Language contact and contact languages. Peter Siemund and Noemi Kintana, eds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins 61-79.

Contact or Inheritance? Criteria for distinguishing internal and external change in genetically related languages
Na'ama Pat-El (University of Texas at Austin)

As was noted by a number of historical linguists (e.g., Harris and Campbell 1995) most changes have multiple causations. However, in the case of genetically related languages, the main practical problem is how to differentiate internal changes, changes motivated by internal processes, from external changes, changes due to language contact, when the structure of the languages are so similar. In other words, how do we know which linguistic form is the source of the change: one of the attested languages, or the mother of both of them. Even if the cultural history of both languages is fully or mostly known to us, it still doesn't offer any indication which one of them is the source. I suggest three criteria which are by no means fail-safe and are not easily available in every case: (1) intermediary stages, (2) consistency across categories and (3) similarity, but non-identity. I will use these criteria to examine several test cases from the Semitic family: proleptic genitive in Aramaic (allegedly under Akkadian influence), a causal subordinator in Hebrew (allegedly under Aramaic influence) and the use of the active perfect as a part of the verbal system (in various languages).

  •   Map
  • Middle Eastern Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    204 W 21st Street Stop F9400
    Calhoun Hall (CAL) 528
    Austin, TX 78712