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Centrifugal forces in language change under contact


Dunn,  Michael
Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

Jordan,  Fiona
Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Dunn, M., & Jordan, F. (2010). Centrifugal forces in language change under contact. Talk presented at Languages in Contact. Wrocław, Poland. 2010-05-22 - 2010-05-23.

On the human level, social contact gives rise to contradictory impulses: to be more like those we are in contact with, as well as to delimit ourselves from them. But contact-induced language change most frequently results in some degree of linguistic convergence. The opposite result―contact induced linguistic divergence―does also occur, but it remains much more difficult to make generalizations about as a process. In studying variation on the level of community or language group there have been proposals about the factors favoring strengthening ties with neighbors, versus those favoring the intensification of boundaries. On a different scale, similar phenomena obtain between subdivisions of these communities (according to the familiar categories such as age, gender and social class). Here the literature on, for instance, covert prestige can explain the innovation and/or persistence of linguistic expressions deprecated by the wider community. There are fewer accounts of linguistic variation at the community or language group level that treat contact induced diversification. In linguistics this phenomenon is sometimes discussed under the rubric of "esoterogeny" (Thurston 1989, Ross 1996); this remains an area requiring development: While the correspondence between emblematicity and esoterogeny [...] is appealing, and many examples can be presented to make the correspondence seem convincing, we have a long way to go before we can say that we have explained all instances of linguistic diversification according to this model. (Crowley and Bowern 2009:288 ) In evolutionary biology a process in many ways analogous to esoterogeny is known as "character displacement". This refers to the phenomenon of accelerated outwards drift of two species inhabiting the same ecological niche (Brown and Wilson 1956). In this paper we attempt to identify regular patterns of contact induced linguistic diversification among members of the Austronesian family languages. The amount of change embodied by the branches of the Austronesian family tree is quantified using computational phylogenetic methods. We quantify notions of niche competition for language groups using a metric derived from geographic information and from ethnographic data about subsistence patterns and economy. We predict that language groups which are both are in close proximity and which have highly similar subsistence patterns can be considered to be in competition for a "social niche", and in such situations we predict an increase in the rate of diversification language (and perhaps other emblematic aspects of culture). Sociolinguistic variation is so tightly integrated into every level of language structure that communication is in practice non-existent without the extra layers of social signalling of these contradictory social impulses. The ubiquity of variation suggests that there must be adaptive value in language variation, including complex, stratified language-internal variation. Brown, W. L., and E. O. Wilson. 1956. Character Displacement. Systematic Zoology 5, no. 2 (6): 49. Crowley, Terry, and Claire Bowern. 2009. An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. Oxford University Press. Ross, M. D. 1996. Contact-induced Change and the Comparative Method: Cases from Papua New Guinea. The comparative method reviewed: Regularity and irregularity in language change: 180. Thomason, S. G. 2007. Language contact and deliberate change. Journal of Language Contact - THEMA 1: 41-62. Thurston, William. 1989. How exoteric languages build a lexicon: Esoterogeny in Western New Britain. In VICAL 1: Oceanic Languages, Papers from the Fifth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, part 2, ed. by Ray Harlow and Robin Hooper, pp. 555–579. Auckland: Linguistic Society of New Zealand.