Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Apr 14 12:31:31 UTC 2003

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 14.1077, Fri Apr 11 2003

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

Reviewed by 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

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 morphemes.

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 language.

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

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 utterance?

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 manner.


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 Austin.

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 Language.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list