Aspects of Multilingualism in European Language History

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Mar 15 14:10:30 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List

Braunmueller, Kurt; Ferraresi, Gisella

Aspects of Multilingualism in European Language History
SERIES: Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism 2
John Benjamins 2003
Announced at

Reviewed by Adam Siegel, Shields Library, University of California, Davis


Following an introduction by the volume's editors (pp. 1-15) describing
the need for a survey of multilingualism among speakers of selected
minority language(s) in various parts of Europe over the centuries, a
roughly geographically arranged collection of ten essays discussing
contact-induced change among multilingual communities in Europe. The
contributions in volume 2 in Benjamins' Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism
individually stake out a relatively small area: reliance on secondary
sources, surveys of small speech communities, textual analyses of
restricted corpora (including single-person correspondence), and a
tendency to devote a good deal of space to establishing political-
historical contexts for contact-induced language change, particularly
among minority languages.


David Trotter's "Oceano vox: You Never Know Where a Ship Comes From"
discusses the lexicon of Middle English shipping and seafaring, noting the
linguistically rich sources for this vocabulary, including contributions
from other Germanic languages (Norse, Dutch, Low German), Latin and
French, and as far afield as Arabic. Drawing heavily on Bertil Sandahl's
magisterial Middle English Sea Terms, Trotter discusses the successive
stages of shipping loanwords into English stock, noting that most of the
Old Norse terminology predates the Norman Conquest. While the influence
of (Norman) French on the English shipping lexicon is substantial, it is
argued that the French component (rather than what Sandahl calls "Channel
words," or a "fairly homogeneous core of terms that were common to the
seafaring language of all the Germanic nations,") tends to reflect a mode
of transmission for technological innovations from more distant cultures,
viz., calfater, calfatyngge < French calfatar < Arabic qalfaata 'to
caulk.' Trotter then discusses ship naming conventions, concluding that
the linguistic variety of ships' names in England in the period further
reflect the multilingual character of the shipping community.

Elin Fredsted's "Language Contact and Bilingualism in Flensburg in the
Middle of the 19th Century" addresses the complex history of Schleswig, a
compact region with a linguistic history associated with South Jutish
(oral and written) and Low German (vernaculars) and Danish and High German
(both standard literary languages) by focusing on Flensburg-Danish
correspondence, asserting that the idiolect approximates the regiolect of
Flensburg in the mid-19th century (a mixture of all four languages and

Agnete Nesse's essay, "Written and Spoken Languages in Bergen in the Hansa
Era" concentrates on the regiolect of the coastal Norwegian city of Bergen
during the heyday of the Hansa era (ca. 1350-ca. 1750), which left a
permanent mark on the Norwegian language through the large-scale influence
of German -- mainly Low German. It is noted that the Bergen dialect is
characterized by a greater divergence between urban and rural dialect than
in any other part of the country, along with sociolinguistic leveling of
prestige distinctions in grammatical gender. It is argued that some of
the distinctiveness of the Bergen dialect, in both its formal and social
characteristics, is due to the importance of the city as a Hansa port, as
can be seen in a review of the written record. Hansa Norway may also have
been characterized by a "double diglossia," among Danish, Norwegian, and
Low German. While much of the Low German lexicon has disappeared from the
Bergen dialect, it is argued that grammatical features introduced during
the Hansa period can be traced to Low German influence, such as leveling
of gender distinctions.

Marika Tandefelt's essay, "Vyborg: Free Trade in Four Languages,"
discusses the specifics of what is today a Russian city on the Finnish
border, with, perforce, a lengthy history in Swedish, Finnish, Russian,
and German. The changing historical status of each speech community can
be examined through the written record (although later records, from the
19th and 20th century, are more numerous; some archival material was lost
during WWII); also presented are word and phrase lists from each language
that attest to the multilingual character of the city before WWII. These
lists were elicited through interviews with older inhabitants, along with
older elicitation materials. It is acknowledged that little information
about the ethnic or linguistic makeup of Vyborg after the town received
its charter in 1403. The sketch of Vyborg's linguistic history is patchy
and poorly sourced.

Bjorn Wiemer's "Dialect and Language Contacts on the Territory of the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania From the 15th Century until 1939" offers a very
broad outline of the sociolinguistic situation in the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania, concentrating primarily on Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and
Belarusian (but not Yiddish), and focusing on the region straddling the
contemporary Lithuanian-Belarus border. A lengthy history of the
political situation (changes in official language from Polish to Russian
to Lithuanian or Belarusian in the modern era) gives way to a very brief
summary of fieldwork conducted in northeastern Lithuania (interbellum
Poland) in 2000-2001 revealed a greater usage of Lithuanian than
anticipated, but with little use of Belarusian.

Lars Wollin's "Swedish and Swedish: On the Origin of Diglossia and Social
Variation in the Swedish Language" examines the extent to which register
diglossia in 19th century Swedish (marked primarily lexically, but also
grammatically) is a reflection of prescriptive models for educated
Swedish. Wollin ranges freely over the history of Swedish grammarians,
from Adolf Noreen (at the turn of the last century) back to Sven Hof in
the mid 18th century, the Reformation Bible translation of 1541, back to
the earliest Biblical translations of the 13th and 14th centuries. Wollin
concludes that the confinement of developing literary Swedish to
scriptural translation led to an artificially high register for the
standard language that lasted nearly up to the present.

Diana Chirita's "Did Latin Influence German Word Order?" reviews and
reconsiders the debate over the role of Latin in determining the verb-
final subordinate clause in German. The author admits that the question
is a difficult one, and the historical record is ambiguous. While doing
an admirable job of surveying past research, she does not come to any firm
conclusion on possible influence from Latin on Modern German.

Ana Maria Martins' "From Unity to Diversity in Romance Syntax" discusses
status-linked diglossia (Portuguese and Spanish) in 15th and 16th-century
Portugal and its possible effect on divergent evolution of literary
Portuguese and Spanish in the centuries to follow. Textual analysis shows
that over time syntactic unity in clitic placement gives way to divergence
(near-universal proclisis in Portuguese).

"Sardinian Between Maintenance and Change" by Rosita Rindler Schjerve
examines language shift in the Sardinian speech community, providing a
sketch of Sardinia's political history (Spanish was the de factor official
language of the island until the 19th century); only after Italian
unification was there a concerted attempt to make knowledge of Standard
Italian compulsory, through education and officialdom. In 1998 the
Italian government recognized Sardinian as a minority language, the
largest in the country. The author draws on a corpus of Sardinian (54
conversations), elicited during the recording of informal conversations in
1991-1995, identifying the various points in conversation where
codeswitching occurs, as well as the demographic variables likely to
affect codeswitching between Sardinian and Italian.

Alexandra Vella's contribution, "Language Contact and Maltese Intonation,"
claims to offer a new interpretation of the evolution of Maltese as the
result of language contact, through the underexamined medium of
intonation. The organization of the paper begins with an overview of the
contact linguistic situation for Maltese (between Arabic dialects and
Italian). It is noted that Malta is an officially multilingual country
(Maltese shares official status with English, and Italian is widely used),
and a brief account of the history of the language (Semitic stratum +
Romance superstratum + English adstratum) gives way to a description of
the segmental phonology of the language. Relying heavily on earlier
accounts, Vella briefly discusses consonantal and vowel phonemes in turn,
and then moves on to consider the likely influence from Italian on
antepenultimate stress in Maltese. The core of the paper is a study of
intonation, in which Maltese intonation is subjected to an Autosegmental-
Metrical (AM) analysis.


This volume seems like a collection of papers that have not had to undergo
any sort of peer review process. Some of the contributions rely too
heavily on earlier, more authoritative sources (Trotter, Vella). Some
contributors do use first-hand empirical data but in a manner that is
almost throw-away (cf. Tandefelt and Wiemer): i.e., providing only a brief
description of their methodology and results at the very end of the paper.
However some others, including Schjerve and Martins, are solid, well-
researched, contributions to the field. While I found almost every essay
prima facie interesting, I would like to think that a more rigorous review
process prior to publication would ensure that these papers make a more
significant contribution to the field.


Adam Siegel is a reference librarian at the University of California,
Davis. His research interests include language contact in the Balkans,
translation theory, contact-induced language change, and Slavic languages.

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