Multilingualism and language contact


CHAPTER IV an introduction to sociolinguistics by faizal risdianto ss mhum

multilingualism and language contact


Multilingualism has likely been common throughout much of human history, and today most people in the world are multilingual.In tribal hunter-gatherer societies, multilingualism was common, as tribes must communicate with neighboring peoples and there is often inter-marriage. In present-day areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is much variation in language over short distances, it is usual for anyone who has dealings outside their own town or village to know two or more languages.


When speakers of different languages interact closely, it is typical for their languages to influence each other. Languages normally develop by gradually accumulating dialectal differences until two dialects cease to be mutually understandable, somewhat analogous to the species barrier in biology. Language contact can occur at language borders, between adstratum languages, or as the result of migration, with a “disturbing” language acting as either a super-stratum or a sub-stratum.

Language contact occurs in a variety of phenomena, including language convergence and borrowing. The most common products are code-switchingand mixed languages. Other hybrid languages, such as English, do not strictly fit into any of these categories.

The most common way that languages influence each other is the exchange of words. Much is made about the contemporary borrowing of English words into other languages, but this phenomenon is not new, nor is it very large by historical standards. The large-scale importation of words from Latin, French and other languages into English in the 16th and 17th centuries was more significant. Some languages have borrowed so much that they have become scarcely recognizable. Armenian borrowed so many words from Iranian languages, for example, that it was at first considered a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages. It was not recognized as an independent branch of the Indo-European languages for many decades.

A. Adoption of Other Language Features

The influence can go deeper, extending to the exchange of even basic characteristics of a language such as morphology and grammar. The language of Nepali, for example, spoken in Nepal, is a Sino-Tibetan language distantly related to Chinese, but has had so many centuries of contact with neighboring Indo-Iranian languages that it has even developed noun inflection, a trait typical of the Indo-European family but rare in Sino-Tibetan. It has absorbed features of grammar as well, such as verb tenses. Romanian was influenced by the Slavic languages spoken by neighboring tribes in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, not only in vocabulary but also in phonology and morphology.

English has a few phrases, adapted from French, in which the adjective follows the noun: court-martial, attorney-general, Lake Superior. It is easy to see how a word can diffuse from one language to another, but not as obvious how more basic features can do the same; nevertheless, this phenomenon is not rare.

  1. Language shift

The result of the contact of two languages can be the replacement of one by the other. This is most common when one language has a higher social position. This sometimes leads to language endangerment or extinction.

However, when language shift occurs, the language that is replaced (known as the substratum) can leave a profound impression on the replacing language (known as the superstratum), when people retain features of the substratum as they learn the new language and pass these features on to their children, leading to the development of a new variety. For example, the Latin that came to replace local languages in present-day France during Roman times was influenced by Gaulish and Germanic. The distinct pronunciation of the dialect of English spoken in Ireland comes partially from the influence of the substratum of Irish. Outside the Indo-European phylum, Coptic, the last stage of ancient Egyptian, is a substratum of Egyptian Arabic.



C. Creolization And Mixed Languages

Language contact can also lead to the development of new languages when people without a common language interact closely, developing a pidgin, which may eventually become a full-fledged creole language through the process of creolization. A prime example of this is Saramaccan, spoken in Suriname, which has vocabulary mainly from Portuguese, English and Dutch, but phonology and even tones which are closer to African languages.

A much rarer but still observed process is the formation of mixed languages. Whereas creoles are formed by communities lacking a common language, mixed languages are formed by communities fluent in both languages. They tend to inherit much more of the complexity (grammatical, phonological, etc.) of their parent languages, whereas creoles begin as simple languages and then develop in complexity more independently. It is sometimes explained as bilingual communities that no longer identify with the cultures of either of the languages they speak, and seek to develop their own language as an expression of their own cultural uniqueness.

  1. Mutual and Non-Mutual Influence

Change as a result of contact is often one-sided. Chinese, for instance, has had a profound effect on the development of Japanese, but the Chinese language remains relatively free of Japanese influence, other than some modern terms that were re-borrowed after having been coined in Japan based on Chinese precepts and using Chinese characters.

In India, Hindi and other native languages have been influenced by English up to the extent that loan words from English are part of day to day vocabulary. In some cases, language contact may lead to mutual exchange, although this exchange may be confined to a particular geographic region. For example, in Switzerland, the local French has been influenced by German, and vice-versa. In Scotland, the Scots language has been heavily influenced by English, and many Scots terms have been adopted into the regional English dialect.


  1. Linguistic Hegemony

Obviously, a language’s influence widens as its speakers grow in power. Chinese, Greek, Latin, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Russian, German and English have each seen periods of widespread importance, and have had varying degrees of influence on the native languages spoken in the areas over which they have held sway.

Some forms of language contact affect only a particular segment of a speech community. Consequently, change may be manifested only in particular dialects, jargons, or registers. The South African dialect of English has been significantly affected by Afrikaans, in terms of lexis and pronunciation, but English as a whole has remained almost totally unaffected by Afrikaans. In some cases, a language develops an acrolect which contains elements of a more prestigious language. For example, in England during a large part of the Medieval period, upper-class speech was dramatically influenced by French, to the point that it often resembled a French dialect. A similar situation existed in Tsarist Russia, where the native Russian language was widely disparaged as barbaric and uncultured.

F. Code Mixing

Code-mixing refers to the mixing of two or more languages or language varieties in speech. Some scholars use the terms “code-mixing” and “code-switching” interchangeably, especially in studies of syntax, morphology, and other formal aspects of language. Others assume more specific definitions of code-mixing, but these specific definitions may be different in different subfields of linguistics, education theory, communications etc.

Code-mixing is similar to the use or creation of pidgins; but while a pidgin is created across groups that do not share a common language, code-mixing may occur within a multilingual setting where speakers share more than one language.

Some linguists use the terms code-mixing and code-switching more or less interchangeably. Especially in formal studies of syntax, morphology, etc., both terms are used to refer to utterances that draw from elements of two or more grammatical systems. These studies are often interested in the alignment of elements from distinct systems, or on constraints that limit switching. While many linguists have worked to describe the difference between code-switching and borrowing of words or phrases, the term code-mixing may be used to encompass both types of language behavior.

While the term code-switching emphasizes a multilingual speaker’s movement from one grammatical system to another, the term code-mixing suggests a hybrid form, drawing from distinct grammars. In other words, code-mixing emphasizes the formal aspects of language structures or linguistic competence, while code-switching emphasizes linguistic performance.

While linguists who are primarily interested in the structure or form of code-mixing may have relatively little interest to separate code-mixing from code-switching, some sociolinguists have gone to great lengths to differentiate the two phenomena. For these scholars, code-switching is associated with particular pragmatic effects, discourse functions, or associations with group identity. In this tradition, the terms code-mixing or language alternation are used to describe more stable situations in which multiple languages are used without such pragmatic effects.

In studies of bilingual language acquisition, code-mixing refers to a developmental stage during which children mix elements of more than one language. Nearly all bilingual children go through a period in which they move from one language to another without apparent discrimination. This differs from code-switching, which is understood as the socially and grammatically appropriate use of multiple varieties.

Beginning at the babbling stage, young children in bilingual or multilingual environments produce utterances that combine elements of both (or all) of their developing languages. Some linguists suggest that this code-mixing reflects a lack of control or ability to differentiate the languages. Others argue that it is a product of limited vocabulary; very young children may know a word in one language but not in another. More recent studies argue that this early code-mixing is a demonstration of a developing ability to code-switch in socially appropriate ways.

In psychology and in psycholinguistics the label code-mixing is used in theories that draw on studies of language alternation or code-switching to describe the cognitive structures underlying bilingualism. During the 1950s and 1960s, psychologists and linguists treated bilingual speakers as, in Grosjean’s term, “two monolinguals in one person.” This “fractional view” supposed that a bilingual speaker carried two separate mental grammars that were more or less identical to the mental grammars of monolinguals and that were ideally kept separate and used separately. Studies since the 1970s, however, have shown that bilinguals regularly combine elements from “separate” languages. These findings have led to studies of code-mixing in psychology and psycholinguistics.

Sridhar and Sridhar define code-mixing as “the transition from using linguistic units (words, phrases, clauses, etc.) of one language to using those of another within a single sentence.”. They note that this is distinct from code-switching in that it occurs in a single sentence (sometimes known as intrasentential switching) and in that it does not fulfill the pragmatic or discourse-oriented functions described by sociolinguists. (See Code-mixing in sociolinguistics, above.) The practice of code-mixing, which draws from competence in two languages at the same time suggests that these competences are not stored or processed separately. Code-mixing among bilinguals is therefore studied in order to explore the mental structures underlying language abilities.

A mixed language or a fused lect is a relatively stable mixture of two or more languages. What some linguists have described as “code switching as unmarked choice” or “frequent code switching” has more recently been described as “language mixing”, or in the case of the most strictly grammaticalized forms as “fused lects”. In areas where code-switching among two or more languages is very common, it may become normal for words from both languages to be used together in everyday speech. Unlike code-switching, where a switch tends to occur at semantically or sociolinguistically meaningful junctures, this code-mixing has no specific meaning in the local context. A fused lect is identical to a mixed language in terms of semantics and pragmatics, but fused lects allow less variation since they are fully grammaticalized. In other words, there are grammatical structures of the fused lect that determine which source-language elements may occur.

A mixed language is different from a creole language. Creoles are thought to develop from pidgins as they become nativized. Mixed languages develop from situations of code-switching. There are many names for specific mixed languages or fused lects. These names are often used facetiously or carry a pejorative sense. Named varieties include the following, among others:

Chinglish,Denglisch,Dunglish,Englog,Franglais,Franponais,Greeklish,Hinglish,Konglish,Manglish,Maltenglish,Poglish,Porglish,Portuñol,Singlish,Spanglish,Svorsk,Tanglish, and Taglish.

G. Code Switching

In linguistics, code-switching is switching between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. Multilingual—people who speak more than one language—sometimes use elements of multiple languages in conversing with each other. Thus, code-switching is the use of more than one linguistic variety in a manner consistent with the syntax and phonology of each variety.

Code-switching is distinct from other language contact phenomena, such as borrowing, pidgins and creoles, loan translation (calques), and language transfer (language interference). Borrowing affects the lexicon, the words that make up a language, while code-switching takes place in individual utterances. Speakers form and establish a pidgin language when two or more speakers who do not speak a common language form an intermediate, third language.

On the other hand, speakers practice code-switching when they are each fluent in both languages. Code mixing is a thematically related term, but the usage of the terms code-switching and code-mixing varies. Some scholars use either term to denote the same practice, while others apply code-mixing to denote the formal linguistic properties of said language-contact phenomena, and code-switching to denote the actual, spoken usages by multilingual persons.

In the 1940s and 1950s, many scholars considered code-switching to be a sub-standard use of language.Since the 1980s, however, most scholars have recognized it is a normal, natural product of bilingual and multilingual language use.

The term code-switching is also used outside the field of linguistics. Some scholars of literature use the term to describe literary styles which include elements from more than one language, as in novels by Chinese-American, Anglo-Indian, or Latino/writers.In popular usage code-switching is sometimes used to refer to relatively stable informal mixtures of two languages, such as Spanglish, Franponais or Portuñol.

Both in popular usage and in sociolinguistic scholarship, the name code-switching is sometimes used to refer to switching among dialects, styles or registers, such as that practiced by speakers of African American Vernacular English as they move from less formal to more formal settings.

There may be many reasons that people code-switch. Code-switching relates to, and sometimes indexes social-group membership in bilingual and multilingual communities. Some sociolinguists describe the relationships between code-switching behaviors and class, ethnicity, and other social positions.In addition, scholars in interactional linguistics and conversation analysis have studied code-switching as a means of structuring talk in interaction.Some discourse analysts, including conversation analyst Peter Auer, suggest that code-switching does not simply reflect social situations, but that it is a means to create social situations.

The Markedness Model, developed by Carol Myers-Scotton, is one of the more complete theories of code-switching motivations. It posits that language users are rational, and choose (speak) a language that clearly marks their rights and obligations, relative to other speakers, in the conversation and its setting.When there is no clear, unmarked language choice, speakers practice code-switching to explore possible language choices. Many sociolinguists, however, object to the Markedness Model’s postulation that language-choice is entirely rational.

Scholars such as Peter Auer and Li Wei argue that the explanation of the social motivation of code-switching lies in the way code-switching is structured and managed in conversational interaction; in other words, the question of why code-switching occurs cannot be answered without first addressing the question of how it occurs. Using conversation analysis (CA), these scholars focus their attention on the sequential implications of code-switching. That is, whatever language a speaker chooses to use for a conversational turn or part of a turn has implications for the subsequent choices of language by the speaker as well as the hearer. Rather than focusing on the social values inherent in the languages the speaker chooses (brought along meaning), the analysis should try to concentrate on the meaning that the act of code-switching itself creates (brought about meaning).

The Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT), developed by Howard Giles, professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, seeks to explain the cognitive reasons for code-switching and other changes in speech, as a person seeks either to emphasize or to minimize the social differences between him- or herself and the other person(s) in conversation. Prof. Giles posits that when speakers seek approval in a social situation they are likely to converge their speech with that of the other person speaking. This can include, but is not limited to, the language of choice, accent, dialect, and paralinguistic features used in the conversation. In contrast to convergence, speakers might also engage in divergent speech, with which an individual person emphasizes the social distance between him- or herself and other speakers by using speech with linguistic features characteristic of his or her own group.

In a diglossic situation, some topics and situations are better suited to one language over another. Joshua Fishman proposes a domain-specific code-switching model(later refined by Blom and Gumperz) wherein bilingual speakers choose which code to speak depending on where they are and what they are discussing. For example, a child who is a bilingual Spanish-English speaker might speak Spanish at home and English in class, but Spanish at recess.

Bilinguals who code-switch report grammatical intuitions such that switching at some grammatical boundaries is licit while switching at other boundaries is illicit. In this sense, code-switching exhibits speakers’ intuitions about grammaticality just as monolingual language does.Linguists have made significant effort toward defining the difference between borrowing (loanword usage) and code-switching. Generally, borrowing occurs in the lexicon, while code-switching occurs at either the syntax level or the utterance-construction level.

In studying the syntactic and morphological patterns of language alternation, linguists have postulated specific grammatical rules and specific syntactic boundaries for where code-switching might occur. Historically, research on the grammar of code-switching has focused on constraint-oriented approaches and constraint-free approaches.

Attempts to formulate grammatical constraints on code-switching include the Free-morpheme Constraint, which stipulated that a code-switching cannot occur between bound morphemes,and the Closed-class Constraint, which posited that closed class items (pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.), cannot be switched.

The Equivalence Constraint suggests that code-switching can occur only in positions where “the order of any two sentence elements, one before and one after the switch, is not excluded in either language.” Thus, the sentence: “I like you porque eres simpático” (“I like you because you are nice”) is allowed because it obeys the syntactic rules of both Spanish and English. The Functional Head Constraint is another constraint-based theory. It holds that code-switching cannot occur between a functional head (a complementizer, a determiner, an inflection, etc.) and its complement (sentence, noun-phrase, verb-phrase).

Although constraint-based theories are widely discussed, linguists continue to debate apparent counter-examples to each proposed constraint.

The constraint-free approach views explicit reference to code-switching in grammatical analysis as tautological, and looks to explain specific instances of grammaticality in code-switching in terms of the unique contributions of the grammatical properties of the languages involved in the construction of interest. Jeff McSwan characterized this approach with the research program refrain, “Nothing constrains codeswitching apart from the requirements of the mixed grammars.” This approach focuses on the repudiation of any rule or principle which explicitly refers to codeswitching itself.

Working within a speech production framework advocated by Willem Levelt, Carol Myers-Scotton has proposed the Matrix Language Frame (MLF) model of code-switching which distinguishes between the roles of the participant languages. Some theories, such as the Closed-class Constraint, the Matrix Language Frame model, and the Functional Head Constraint, which make general predictions based upon specific presumptions about the nature of syntax, are controversial among linguists positing alternative theories. In contrast, descriptions based on empirical analyses of corpora, such as the Equivalence Constraint, are relatively independent of syntactic theory, but the code-switching patterns they describe vary considerably among speech communities, even among those sharing the same language pairs.

Scholars use different names for various types of code-switching.Intersentential switching occurs outside the sentence or the clause level (i.e. at sentence or clause boundaries).[34] It is sometimes called “extra-sentential” switching Whereas, Intra-sentential switching occurs within a sentence or a clause. Tag-switching is the switching of either a tag phrase or a word, or both, from language-B to language-A, (common intra-sentential switches).Intra-word switching occurs within a word, itself, such as at a morpheme boundary.

Researcher Ana Celia Zentella offers this example from her work with Puerto Rican Spanish-English bilingual speakers in New York City. In this example, Marta and her younger sister, Lolita, speak Spanish and English with Zentella outside of their apartment building.

Zentella explains that the children of the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood speak both English and Spanish: “Within the children’s network, English predominated, but code-switching from English to Spanish occurred once every three minutes, on average.”

F. What is dialect?

Sociolinguists also study dialect — any regional, social or ethnic variety of a language. By that definition, the English taught in school as correct and used in non-personal writing is only one dialect of contemporary American English. Usually called Standard American English or Edited American English, it is the dialect used in this essay.

Scholars are currently using a sociolinguistic perspective to answer some intriguing questions about language in the United States, including these:

Which speakers in urban areas of the North are changing the pronunciation of vowels in a systematic way? For instance, some speakers in Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago pronounce bat so that it sounds like bet and bet so that it sounds like but. Linguists call these patterned alterations the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.

Which features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) grammar are used by middle-class white teen-agers who admire contemporary African-American music, entertainment and clothing? For instance, white adolescents might speak approvingly of the style of a peer by saying “She money” or “He be jammin’“— sentence structures associated with African Americans.

Which stereotypical local pronunciations are exaggerated to show local allegiance? Such language behavior has been pointed out recently for Pittsburgh, New Orleans and the barrier islands off North Carolina known as the Outer Banks. At the end of the 20th century, connections between the isolated Outer Banks and the greater world increased. This changed the local seafood industry and made the Outer Banks a destination for a growing number of tourists. Using the typical way that the natives pronounce the vowel in the words high and tide, these North Carolinians are called “Hoi Toiders”. They continue to use this distinctive vowel even though in other ways their dialect is becoming more like other American dialects.

What will be the linguistic impact of the impending loss of monolingual French speakers in the Acadian, or Cajun, region of southern Louisiana? What are the traces of French in Cajun Vernacular English, the dialect of monolingual speakers of English who consider themselves Cajun? Will these French features be sustained?

What slang terms do students use to show affiliation with subgroups of their peers and to distinguish themselves from their parents’ generation? In 2002, for example, university students in North Carolina described things that were great, pleasing or favorable as cool, hype, money, phat, tight or sweet — but definitely not swell.

Variation in language is not helter-skelter. It is systematic. For instance, a speaker may sometimes pronounce the word mind to sound just like mine through a process called consonant cluster reduction. Pronunciation of the final –nd consonant cluster as –n tends to occur before consonants; i.e., the speaker’s choice of saying mine instead of mind is conditioned by a feature of the language itself (whether or not a consonant sound follows the word).For instance, a speaker is likely to say “I wouldn’t mind owning a BMW” (with both n and d pronounced before o), but “I wouldn’t mine borrowing your BMW” (with “nd” reduced to “n” before “b”).

Variation also correlates with social factors outside of language. For example, Appalachian working-class speakers reduce consonant clusters more often than northern Anglo-American working class speakers and working-class African Americans, regardless of their region, reduce consonant clusters more frequently than do other working-class speakers. Thus, the occurrence of final consonant cluster reduction is conditioned internally by its position in the speech stream and externally by the social factors of socioeconomic class and ethnicity.

Another example of an internal linguistic variable is the pronunciation of the words spelled pen, ten and Ben so that they sound as if they were spelled pin, tin and bin.  This variable correlates with being Southern, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic class or ethnicity. However, among Southerners, the pronunciation of ask as if it were spelled ax correlates with ethnicity, because the pronunciation is used most often (but not exclusively) by African Americans.

Another pronunciation variant that correlates with a social category is heard in New Orleans. In working-class neighborhoods, words spelled with “oi” are often pronounced as if spelled “er”. For these speakers, then, the word point rhymes with weren’t. Age is another social variable. In North Carolina, elderly speakers often pronounce duke, stupid and newspaper with a y-sound before the vowel. Instead of the common pronunciations dook, stoopid, and nooz for these words, they say dyuke, styupid, and nyuz. (This is basically the difference all English speakers make between the words food and feud; feud has a “y”-sound before the vowel.) Speakers born after World War II seldom use this pronunciation.

G. Vocabulary sometimes varies by region

Vocabulary sometimes varies by region. The expression “lost bread” to refer to French toast is a translation of French “Pain Perdu”, part of the vocabulary of southern Louisiana. Other vocabulary is not regional but rather is old-fashioned, such as frock for a woman’s dresses or tarry for ‘wait.’ Some vocabulary may vary by degree of formality, as in the choice among the words barf, upchuck, vomit and regurgitate.

Grammatical constructions also vary. In the Midland region of the United States, speakers use a construction called positive anymore, as in “Anymore you see round bales of hay in the fields.” In other regions, speakers would say, “Nowadays you see round bales of hay in the field.” A grammatical variation associated with AAVE omits the verb be, as in “The teacher in the classroom.” Another variation that is widespread in spoken American English is the double negative, as in “We don’t want no more construction on this road.” Such sentences are not Standard American English.

H. Putting It in Context

Considerations other than grammatical correctness often govern speaker choices. For example, Sign this paper is a grammatically correct imperative sentence. However, a student approaching a teacher to obtain permission to drop a course, for reasons having nothing to do with grammar,will probably avoid the imperative — expressing the request instead as a statement or a question, such as I need to get your signature on this paper or Will you please sign this drop form?

Some social factors are attributes of the speaker — for example, age, gender, socio-economic class, ethnicity and educational level. Many studies have shown that these factors commonly correlate both with variation within the language itself (such as the pronunciation of final consonant clusters) and with variation in the use of language (such as the use of more or less formal vocabulary, depending on the audience). These findings match our everyday experience; most people are well aware that men and women use the language differently, that poor people often speak differently from rich people, and that educated people use language differently from uneducated people.

I. People Adjust the Way They Talk

It is common knowledge that people also adjust the way they talk to their social situation. Socio-situational variation, sometimes called register, depends on the subject matter, the occasion and the relationship between participants — in addition to the previously mentioned attributes of region, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age and gender. Here are some examples.

Constraints on subject matter vary from culture to culture. In American English, it is fine to ask a child or a medical patient, “Have you had a bowel movement today?”  However, the same question to an acquaintance might be coarse. Even a good friend would find it at the least peculiar. American English speakers must approach other subjects with care. They wouldn’t dare ask, for example, “Are you too fat for one plane seat?” “What’s your take-home pay?” “Are you sure you’re only 50?”

Any of these questions posed at a cocktail party might draw a prompt “None of your business” — or something less polite. However, in other situations, between other participants, those same questions might be appropriate. A public-health official encouraging Americans to lose weight might well ask a general audience, “Are you too fat to fit in one plane seat?” A financial planner speaking to a client certainly should ask, “What is your take-home pay?”.

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