Mikael Parkvall parkvall at LING.SU.SE
Wed Apr 26 16:41:07 UTC 2000

Hilary Young wrote:

>I was wondering if the members of this list could contribute examples or 
>counterexamples of this.  Also, does anyone have a functional explanation 
>of why this might be?

It is not particularly difficult at to find exceptions to this 
generalisation -- the most obvious one being, as Dick Hudson pointed out, 
English, with its 60% or so of borrowed material. Until recently, I thought 
that was pretty exceptional, but I have now realised that it is more common 
that I originally thought. For instance, figures of borrowed vocabulary 
that have been suggested for some other languages include:

Korean - at least more than half
Swedish - 65-70%
Vietnamese - 60-70%
Breton - 60-80% (including 40% core vocab)
Lolak (Austronesian) - 80%
Vlax Romani - 90% (note that this is not a so-called Para-Romani variety!)
Hungarian - 90%
Albanian - 90%

Clearly, then, such languages abound. I still think Bakker & Mous have a 
point, though, that there is a rather clear difference between languages 
such as the above, and what I would call truly mixed (aka "intertwined") 
languages. In the former case, borrowing goes, so to speak, from the 
periphery and towards the core. Presumably, the 10% of Fenno-Ugric lexical 
material in Hungarian is core vocabulary, whereas the core is mostly 
Spanish (ie from the "intruding" language in an intertwiner such as Media 
Lengua). Similarly, while English is 60% French, there are only six French 
items on the English version of the Swadesh 100 list.

Secondly, it would probably be possible to divide those 90% borrowed items 
according to 1) different source languages, and/or 2) different diachronic 
layers (as manifested by different sound correspondences or the like). I 
would suspect that what I would call true intertwined languages (eg Media 
Lengua and Michif), on the other hand, typically derive the "borrowed" 
lexicon from one single source language to the virtual exclusion of others, 
and the "borrowed" component can not be demonstrated to have grown over 
time, but seems rather to have entered the language all at once.

So, while it is not remarkable that most of a language's word stock gets 
replaced bit by bit over time, it is indeed remarkable that a large 
proportion (and in particular its core vocabulary) is replaced overnight, 
and this is what makes intertwined languages unique. I think that is what 
Bakker & Mous were after, although the expressed themselves somewhat awkwardly.

As for Hilary Young's follow-up question "does anyone have a functional 
explanation of why this might be?", the way I see it (and I'm now 
deliberately oversimplifying) is that borrowing reflects one culture being 
impressed by another. There may then be a "critical mass" of how many 
borrowings can be received from one language at any one given time before 
the perceived cultural superiority of the other party would make you rather 
want to shift language altogether. In other words, there is a limit for how 
impressed you can be by somebody without giving in completely, and you want 
to become fully assimilated. So (if we for the sake of discussion) assume 
the Bakker & Mous quote to be true, 45% would reflect speakers of A being 
impressed by speakers of B, 100% would reflect a complete language shift to 
B, and 90%+ would represent the unique cases of language intertwining. 45% 
is then the threshold that represents the point where there is no longer 
any perceived use for the ethnic language as a symbol of identity -- this 
would then be (empirically, if the quote were true) how impressed you can 
be before being completely outcooled by the socioeconomically superior group.

Again, I am of course deliberately oversimplifying here, but I hope you get 
the point.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mikael Parkvall
Institutionen för lingvistik
Stockholms Universitet

+46 (0)8 16 14 41, +46 (0)8 656 68 24 (home)
Fax: +46 (0)8 15 53 89

parkvall at

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