14.1077, Review: Socioling/Psycholing: Myers-Scotton (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1077. Fri Apr 11 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1077, Review: Socioling/Psycholing: Myers-Scotton (2002)

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Date:  Wed, 09 Apr 2003 16:10:23 +0000
From:  Naima Boussofara Omar <nomar at ku.edu>
Subject:  Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Wed, 09 Apr 2003 16:10:23 +0000
From:  Naima Boussofara Omar <nomar at ku.edu>
Subject:  Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes

Myers-Scotton, Carol (2002) Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters
and Grammatical Outcomes, Oxford University Press.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-3317.html

Naima Boussofara Omar,
Department of African & African-American Studies, University of Kansas


1. Introduction

In this chapter, Myers-Scotton clearly states that this book is
concerned with grammatical structure of language when speakers,
through their speech, bring together two or more languages. She then
provides an overview of language contact research. Her main premise is
that the same principles underlie all language contact phenomena. What
makes the surface realization different is the role of the
sociopolitical and psycholinguistic conditions.  She also introduces
the Matrix Language Frame model (MLF) and its recently added
sub-models: the 4-M model and the Abstract Level model, as well as
some new principles, and a new hypothesis e.g. the Uniform Structure
Principle, the Asymmetry Principle, the Morpheme Sorting principle,
and the Differential Access Hypothesis.

2. The Roots of Language Contact

This chapter is the only chapter that deals with the social
motivations for codeswitching. Myers-Scotton first makes a distinction
between what she calls individual bilingualism and societal
bilingualism which, she states, are of relevance to this volume. Then
she discusses such issues as bilingual competence, motivations for
bilingualism, and language shift. She also reviews briefly previous
research on social motivations for codeswitching in which she includes
the re-articulation of her Markedness model as Rational Choice Model.

3. Explaining the Models and Their Uses

In her efforts to elaborate on the principles of the refined version
of the MLF model and to clarify its hypotheses, Myers-Scotton
rearticulates its provisions and explains how applying the MLF model
together with its two new sub-models (i.e. the 4-M model and the
Abstract Level model) results in better explanations for not only
classic codeswitching but also other contact phenomena.

In this chapter, Myers-Scotton explains why she has changed the unit
of analysis from discourse to sentence to CP (i.e. projection of
complementizers). Because the model, in its original version (1993) as
well the fine-tuned version (1997), is based on the pivotal concept of
hierarchies between the ML and EL on the one hand, and the content
morphemes and system morphemes on the other, Myers-Scotton
meticulously addresses the problematic issue of the identification of
the ML (matrix language) and explains why she uses the content/system
morpheme distinction rather than the open/closed class that many other
researchers use.

In her explanation of the 4-M model, she basically argues that it is a
model that explains how morphemes are activated and accessed during
speech production. The main argument is centered upon the notion that
different lemmas underlying different types of morphemes become
salient at different levels. One type of system morphemes is called
'early system' morphemes. The other type comprises two kinds of later
system morphemes ('bridge' and 'outsider system'
morphemes). Myers-Scotton also revisits what she calls
'misunderstandings' of the system morpheme principle and enunciates
the Early System Morpheme Hypothesis to explain double morphology in
classic codeswitching better. In her explanation of the Abstract Level
model, she states two major points. The first is that all lemmas
contain three levels of abstract lexical structure: the levels of
lexical-conceptual structure, predicate-argument structure, and
morphological realization patterns. The second point is that those
three levels can be split and recombined resulting in what
Myers-Scotton calls a 'composite' ML.

4. Considering Problematic Codeswitching Data and Other Approaches

In this chapter, Myers-Scotton reviews the main theoretical premises
of the MLF model, explains classic codeswitching, and reiterates the
claim that the stability of bilingual communities bear significant
influence on the stability of the ML. Then, she considers some classic
codeswitching problematic data at length and in detail with special
focus on bare forms and Embedded Language islands in light of the
Uniform Structural Principle.  She also discusses the issue of
distinguishing borrowing from codeswitching in light of Government and
Binding, and the Minimalist Program model.

5. Convergence and Attrition

Chapter 5 is devoted to convergence and attrition with a main focus on
the latter. First, Myers-Scotton surveys major claims of the contact
literature on L1 attrition then she suggests theoretical assumptions
that predict the grammatical features of a speaker's language when it
displays attrition.  In her discussion of the theoretical framework
that she proposes to study convergence and attrition, she draws on the
Abstract Level model and the 4-M model. Her basic argument from the
Abstract Level model is that convergence and attrition result when the
three levels of abstract grammatical structure in any lemma in the
mental lexicon from language A are split and recombined with the
levels in a lemma from language B. The argument that she develops from
the 4-M model is that the type of morpheme has an effect on the extent
to which attrition affects an L1.  Hence her claim that splitting and
recombining is an earlier attrition feature for [+conceptually
activated] morphemes, i.e. early system morphemes and content

6. Lexical Borrowing, Split (Mixed) Languages, and Creole Formation

In this chapter, Myers-Scotton discusses three types of language
contact phenomena. First, she discusses lexical borrowings with a
brief review of previous research on borrowing, and a special focus on
motivations for borrowing, and types of lexical borrowing. Second, she
discusses split languages by describing and analyzing three examples
languages: Michif, Mednyj Aleut, and Ma'a (Mbugu). She basically
argues that split languages arise when there is a Matrix Language
turnover that fossilizes at a certain point. Split languages, too,
Myers-Scotton claims, have a composite Matrix Language. But what makes
the difference between a composite Matrix Language (Recall that it is
composite because the abstract structure comes from one source) and a
split language is not readily answered. However, in her efforts to
explain the conditions under which a split language arises,
Myers-Scotton invokes 'sociopolitical' and socio-psychological'
factors, all of which can also promote a shift in the dominant

The last contact phenomenon that Myers-Scotton discusses is Creole
formation. She first examines how Creole developed, then she presents
a brief overview of research on Creoles and Creole structuring, and
finally she proposes five hypotheses to account for Creole
structuring. The major claim that Myers-Scotton makes in this chapter
is that the form of the three contact phenomena, although these
phenomena are different, is constrained.

7. Concluding Remarks: The Out of Sight in Contact Linguistics

In her concluding remarks, Myers-Scotton emphasizes two major topics.
The first concerns the theoretical notion that the same structures and
principles regulate all language phenomena (e.g. codeswitching,
convergence and attrition, lexical borrowing, split languages, and
Creole development), and language in general, for that matter. The
second relates to the MLF (Myers-Scotton 1993a, [1997]), the 4-M model
and the Abstract Level model (Myers-Scotton and Jake 2000a, b, 2001)
as theoretical frameworks to explain with precision classic
codeswitching and language contact phenomena.  She concludes the book
by proposing a set of hypotheses with two major ones.  The first
relates to the asymmetry between participating languages in contact
phenomena. The second hypothesis concerns the unequal distribution
between content and system morphemes on the one hand, and between
early and late system morphemes on the other. The asymmetry in the
distribution is due to the differential access and election of
morphemes. Recall that early system morphemes and content morphemes
share the feature [+conceptually activated]. Early system morphemes,
however, are indirectly elected. Late system morphemes are
[+structurally assigned]. They are accessed at a different stage in
the production process from early system morphemes and content
morphemes. More precisely, they are claimed to be accessed when the
lemmas underlying content morphemes send directions to the Formulator
about how larger constituents are to be put together.


This volume is definitely an engaging discussion of far more
challenging issues than just bilingualism, language contact phenomena,
syntax, and morphology, to which the book is principally devoted. It
is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of ways to
link a theory of language to a theory of language processing. The
discussion demonstrates how challenging the task is and will be in
future research.  The MLF model, the 4-M model, and the Abstract Level
model emphasize the notion that codeswitching is based on abstract
cognitive processes. In light of these models, codeswitching is not
investigated solely by explaining surface configurations but by
''go[ing] beyond the observed behavior of CS itself [and]
investigating the linguistic knowledge that underlies CS
(Myers-Scotton and Jake, 2001: 84). However, in this book, the link
between what is realized at the surface level and the theoretical
constructs and processes that Myers-Scotton claims she has established
(in this book) remains unconvincing. I will illustrate my comment by
pointing to three problems. The first concerns her initial definition
of the ML and its re-articulation. The second problems concerns her
notion of congruency and the last problem relates to her notion of
categorical/partial application of major principles.

One of the major early criticisms leveled against the MLF model, as
initially articulated (1993a), was the circularity of her definition
of the ML. Such a definition is significant because it allows us
identify the ML and hence test the System Morpheme Principle.

In this book Myers-Scotton (p. 61) first acknowledges that her initial
claim that the Matrix Language can be identified as the source of more
morphemes in a discourse was abandoned. I think the claim was
re-articulated but the unit of analysis (i.e. the discourse) was
abandoned because she still maintains that it is the language that
''supplies more morphemes in a bilingual CP'' but she adds that ''this
is not always the case'' (61-62). In fact this was a response to what
Myers-Scotton called 'atypical' examples.  These examples were
reported in the literature by researchers who applied the MLF model
(1993a version) not to classic codeswitching only but to language
contact phenomena as well. Recall that the MLF model was claimed to be
universal. In the examples cited in the literature, both participating
languages supply system morphemes. Hence they are clear violations of
the System Morpheme Principle.

In her explanation of why she abandoned her initial definition of the
Matrix Language she states that what she had in mind was the notion of
''dominant language'' as understood in psycholinguistic and bilingual
child language literature, and ''unmarked choice'' in her Markedness
Model (Myers-Scotton 1993c). It seems to me that Myers-Scotton
conjures up notions of abstract constructs that are not directly
testable when she deals with violations of any principle or hypothesis
she puts forward in her model.  Her re-articulation of the notion of
the ML is a good illustration of this point. In her re-articulation,
she argues: ''The Matrix Language is not to be equated with an
existing language; rather one should view the Matrix language as an
abstract frame for the morphosyntax of the bilingual CP'' (66). What
makes her explanation ambiguous if not confusing is that in her own
analysis of some examples, she identifies the Matrix Language as the
language that supplies system morphemes. One may wonder why the ML is
identified as a language (i.e. a linguistic source of the
morphosyntactic frame of ML + EL constituents) but conceptualized as a
theoretical construct in language contact phenomena? The second
question to pose: How can the ML be identified in a CP where both
languages participate in the frame, as I have demonstrated in my
discussion of some problematic cases in Arabic diglossic switching
(Boussofara-Omar 1999, 2003). Does this claim not weaken or violate
the ML/EL hierarchy and their differential activation? Do not the
access and election of an EL early system morpheme along with content
morphemes at the conceptual level constrain the access and election of
late system morphemes at the Formulator level?

Myers-Scotton states: ''If the bilingual CP contains a mixed
constituent, with one or more singly occurring Embedded Language
content morphemes that are fully morphosyntactically integrated into
the Matrix Language, then, yes, the Matrix Language is entirely
identical with the morphosyntax of one of the source language''
(Myers-Scotton 2000:67).

I have a problem understanding the meaning and application of such
vague concepts as ''fully morphosyntactically integrated'' (which she
invokes to explain when the Matrix Language may be the same as the
language that supplies more system morphemes), or ''sufficient
congruence'' (to explain how certain constructions are possible), or
''sufficient access'' to the morphosyntax of a desired target for the
ML (to explain the conditions under which a composite ML arises). One
may wonder first how sufficient/ insufficient congruence/access,
total/partial proficiency can be determined, and second what hinders
speakers' access to the grammar of a language (or abstract frame for
that matter) that they have chosen as an ML to frame their bilingual

A further problem I have is Myers-Scotton's argument or hypothesis
that the Morpheme Order and System Morpheme Principles may not be
applied *categorically* (my emphasis) in order to explain the
composite ML. Why does she apply these two principles categorically
and in unison in some cases (i.e. in classic CS) but partially in
language contact phenomena?  The last issue that I wish to raise is
Myers-Scotton's recourse to extra-linguistic factors to explain some
bilingual patterns and configurations that obtain. I am aware (as
Myers-Scotton clearly argues in the Preface and chapter two) that this
volume is totally devoted to structural analysis but it is puzzling
that she invokes the extra-linguistic factors when there are no
linguistic 'constraints' available to explain some of the puzzling
patterns, namely those patterns that violate the System Morpheme
Principle, for example. In order to explain the simultaneous
participation of the ML and EL in providing system morphemes (a clear
violation of the System Morpheme Principle), she first posits the
composite ML and then she invokes the notion of
sufficient/insufficient proficiency in a language and its varying
degrees of stability. It seems to me that the calls for research that
focuses on the intersection between the grammatical and the social to
explain switching patterns have yet to be heard. Serious attention to
the interplay between the linguistic and the extra-linguistic factors
in shaping the switching patterns would encourage much needed
rethinking of our models in order to re-conceptualize the dialectical
relationship between the two types of factors in a more consistent


Boussofara-Omar, Naima (1999) Arabic Diglossic Switching in Tunisia:
An Application of Myers-Scotton's Matrix Language Frame
Model. Unpublished PhD.  Dissertation, The University of Texas at

Boussofara-Omar, Naima (to appear in 2003) Revisiting Arabic Diglossic
Switching in Light of the MLF and its Sub-models: The 4-M and the
Abstract Level models. Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 6(1)
pp. 1-13.

Myers-Scotton, Carole (1993a [1997]). Dueling Languages: Grammatical
Structure in Codeswitching (1997 editions with a new Afterword).
Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers-Scotton, Carole (2001) 'Explaining Aspects of Codeswitching and
their Implications, in Janet Nicol (ed.), One Mind, Two Languages:
Bilingual Language Procession, 84-116. Oxford: Blackwell.


Naima Boussofara Omar is an Assistant professor at the Department of
African & African-American Studies at the University of Kansas,
USA. She is trained in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics at the
University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include language
change, and variation in the Arab World, language ideologies and
identity in Arab political discourse, and teaching Arabic as a Foreign


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