Book notice: Dialects across borders

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Aug 5 16:42:57 UTC 2006

Forwarded from Linguist-List:

Dialects Across Borders
SUBTITLE: Selected papers from the 11th International Conference on
Methods in Dialectology (Methods XI), Joensuu, August 2002
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 273
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005
ISBN: 9027247870

Benjamin Barnett, University of Texas at Tyler

INTRODUCTION pp. vii-xii

Nonstandard varieties of languages have recently become an object of new
interest in scholarly research. This is very much due to the advances in
the methods used in data collection and analysis, as well as the emergence
of new language-theoretical frameworks. The articles in this volume stem
from the 11th International Conference on Methods in Dialectology (Methods
XI, August 2002, Joensuu). The theme for this conference was ''Dialects
across borders''. The selection of contributions included in this volume
demonstrates how various kinds of borders exert major influence on
linguistic behaviour all over the world. The articles have been grouped
according to whether they deal primarily with the linguistic outcomes of
political and historical borders between states (Part I); various kinds of
social and regional boundaries, including borders in a metaphorical sense,
i.e. social barriers and mental or cognitive boundaries (Part II); and
finally, boundaries between languages (Part III). The introduction
provides very good summaries (approximately 1/3 page in length) of each

PART I: Dialects across political and historical borders

''The construction of linguistic borders and the linguistic construction
of borders'' pp. 3-30, by Peter Auer.

Using the German language area as his example, Auer discusses the complex
links between the nation-state and geographical space and the relationship
between these two and dialectal variation. An important aspect of
geographical space is that it is not merely a physical phenomenon, but a
mental one. This idea, which Auer adopts from the early twentieth-century
sociologist Georg Simmel, explains why lay persons' 'ethnodialectological'
perceptions about dialect boundaries may be adjusted by the existence of
present or past political borders. As an example, Auer cites the dialect
differences between Swabian and Low Alemannic; southwest German informants
treat these as different dialects because of their past political
separation, although this is not supported by dialectological facts. The
former political border between East and West Germany had led to similar
'cognitive adjustments' in the minds of West German informants. At a more
general level, the state borders between Germany, the Netherlands,
Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, etc. influence people's 'cognitive maps'
and lead to the construction of dialect or language boundaries on the
basis of political borders. ''Static spatial relations in German and
Romance: Towards a cognitive dialectology of posture verbs and locative
adverbials'' pp. 31-50, by Raphael Berthele.

Berthele's article combines in an interesting way methods used in
dialectology and language contact studies with a cognitive-linguistic
theoretical framework. Focusing on spatial expressions, he examines the
mapping of spatial relational concepts onto syntactic structures in
different varieties of German across the German-Swiss border and in the
neighboring Romance languages, including French, Italian, and Romansh. The
results suggest that, in the expression of spatial relations, Swiss German
and Romansh favor verb phrase constructions consisting of a verb followed
by locative prepositional phrase + adverb where the adverb can be said to
be semantically redundant. By contrast, in Standard High German, Standard
Italian and Standard French, this PP+ADV pattern is either rare or
non-existent. Instead, these languages use the 'simple' prepositional
phrase construction. Berthele's explanation for the distinctive behavior
of Swiss German and Romansh is the adstratal influences between these
languages within the complex contact situation in Switzerland.

''Ingressive particles across borders: Gender and discourse parallels
across the North Atlantic'' pp. 51-72, by Sandra Clarke and Gunnel

This article is an interesting survey of a seldom discussed linguistic
feature: pulmonic ingressive articulation. Focusing on ingressive
discourse particles, the authors argue that the use of this feature is an
areal feature that stretches from the eastern Baltic to the Atlantic
seaboard of the United States. Clarke and Melchers suggest that the use of
pulmonic ingressive discourse particles has diffused via language contact
over this geographical area, and as such provides evidence for
cross-linguistic transmission of socially and pragmatically determined
features, a phenomenon seldom discussed in the dialectological or
contact-linguistic literature.

''On the development of the consonant system in Mennonite Low German
(Plautdietsch)'' pp. 73-86, by Larissa Naiditch.

In her study, Larissa Naiditch investigates the details behind the
development of the consonant system of Mennonite Low German, or
Plaudietch, which is an insular dialect of German spoken by the religious
minority of Mennonites. The speakers of this dialect can at present be
found in various parts of Siberia, Kazakhstan, the USA, Mexico and
Germany. The migrant past of the Mennonite community comes out in the
richness of their dialect, since its consonant system has traces from a
number of dialects spoken in the areas where this minority has resided in
the course of history.

''English dialects in the British Isles in cross-variety perspective: A
base-line for future research'' pp. 87-117, by Sali A. Tagliamonte,
Jennifer Smith and Helen Lawrence.

This article compares evidence from six corpora representing relic areas
in the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Its aim is to find
suitable diagnostic features for establishing historical relationships
between New and Old World varieties of English. The authors argue that
while verbal 's' seems to be a suitable diagnostic feature, NEG/AUX
contraction, 'for to' infinitives, and 'zero' adverbs are more problematic
for testing similarities and differences in the Old and New World
varieties of English. Furthermore, they suggest that examining the
variable constraints on linguistic features that are shared across all
varieties offers a fruitful way forward for tracking trans-Atlantic
connections between varieties of English.

''Dialects across internal frontiers: Some cognitive boundaries'' pp.
121-155, by Dennis R. Preston.

In this article, Dennis R. Preston discusses some of the ongoing vowel
changes in the urban dialects of the northern cities of the U.S.A. Also
known as the Northern Cities Chain Shift (NCCS), these changes have been
investigated by Preston and his research team from the points of view of
dialectology, sociolinguistics, and 'folk linguistics' (this last one
being inspired by social psychology). Preston uses the term
'sociophonetics' to describe this kind of combination of different
methods. His research focuses on the productive aspect of speech and on
what individual factors are behind the NCCS: how adoption of this group of
changes correlates with age, commitment to residence in a given locality,
and how the ethnic background and social network relationships of the
immigrant speaker affect his linguistic accommodation process. Also
interesting from the folk-linguistic point of view are his findings on how
capable an individual is in imitating a dialect which has a sound system
different from his own, and on what impact an adoption of a sound change
has on his perceiving of the same change in the speech of others. The
effect of gender on speakers' perception of their own dialect area is yet
another variable studied by Preston.

''On 'dative sickness' and other linguistic diseases in modern Icelandic''
pp. 157-171, by Finnur Fririksson.

In this article, Finnur Fririksson writes on a number of changes in the
use of some case-inflections (most notably, the dative, accusative and
genitive when in subject position) in certain regional and social dialects
of Icelandic which have been interpreted by some researchers as a threat
to the very stability of the case-inflectional system of the language.
Drawing on his own data representing the relevant regional dialects and
social groups he, however, seeks to demonstrate that this threat is
premature, as the features turn out to be so infrequent that they hardly
undermine the stability of the grammatical system of Modern Icelandic.
Rather, he sees the whole debate about their alleged spread as something
which has originated in the educational system and in the efforts of
school teachers to eradicate usages which deviate from the standard.

''Can we find more variety in variation?'' pp. 173-184, by Ronald K.S.

Ronald Macaulay, in this article, explores ways in which the influence of
language-external factors upon linguistic variation could be investigated
in greater detail than has formerly been the case in sociolinguistic
research. His article is based on data collected from Glasgow English.
According to Macaulay, the method of data collection is crucial; special
care is needed to ensure that the participants in the communicative
situation are on an equal footing; there is no need for an interviewer.
Traditional external factors, such as age, gender and social class, should
be studied in connection with each other, not as separate factors.
Statistical analysis can then be used to discover gender differences
within social groups that otherwise do not display significant
differences.  Furthermore, sociolinguists should look for 'hidden'
linguistic variables that have not been considered in previous works, such
as various discourse features.

''Pronunciation of /?i/ in avant-garde Dutch: A cross-sex acoustic study''
pp. 185-210, by Vincent J. van Heuven, Rene van Bezooijen and Loulou

In this article, the authors present an acoustic analysis of 32
Dutch-speaking guests appearing in a television talk show. They focus on
the analysis of the diphthong /?i/ in the speech of the speakers
representing an emerging 'avant-garde' variety of standard Dutch, also
known as Polder Dutch. The authors argue that with the help of acoustic
measurement procedures they can observe a sound change in progress
non-impressionistically and in much more detail than using other methods.
>>From the sociolinguistic point of view, they claim, this new variety of
standard Dutch represents yet another instance of the widespread
phenomenon of women initiating and leading a linguistic change.

''A tale of two dialects: Relativization in Newcastle and Sheffield'' pp.
211-229, by Joan C. Beal and Karen P. Corrigan.

In this article, the authors discuss regional variation of English in a
paper which is part of an ongoing, extensive project on northern English
dialects. They concentrate on analyzing the urban dialects of Tyneside and
Sheffield from a morphosyntactic perspective. Their tentative conclusions
suggest more fine-grained distinctions between northern dialects than have
been found in some previous studies, which are based on only phonological

''Crossing grammatical borders: Tracing the path of contact-induced
linguistic change'' pp. 233-251, by Ruth King.

In her article on grammatical borders, Ruth King addresses the question of
linguistic constraints on borrowability in a bilingual setting. Using
Preposition Stranding data from Prince Edward Island French, King argues
against direct syntactic borrowing from English. Instead, she suggests
that her Prince Edward Island data support the primacy of lexical
borrowing as the source of syntactic effects in the recipient language.

''The after-perfect in Irish English'' pp. 253-270, by Patricia Ronan.

Patricia Ronan focuses on the well-known Irish English 'after'-perfect
construction. Ronan examines data based on participant observation and on
a corpus of Dublin oral history material compiled by the American
sociologist K. Kearns. She presents evidence to support the view that the
HE 'after'-perfect is not a unified category; for some speakers the
'after'-perfect has grammaticalized to denote 'hot news' events, while for
others it presents a more general alternative strategy for perfect

''Dialect history in black and white: Are two colors enough?'' pp.
271-285, by J.L. Dillard.

This article presents a critical comment on some recent views on the
origins of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) with his question,
''Are two colors enough?'' Calling into questions the substrate account
defended by many linguists, Dillard emphasizes the significance of
plurilingualism in the historical circumstances surrounding the growth of
AAVE. He argues that the West-African slaves of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries interacted more with indigenous Americans than with
the Europeans. Consequently, English was not the only influential language
in the contact setting; besides indigenous American languages, the
Africans got into contact with settlers representing different
Indo-European languages, e.g. in the West Indian Islands. The plurilingual
nature of the contact setting should according to Dillard be taken into
account when writing the history of AAVE.


This volume is well-organized and contains good summaries of the articles
in the introduction to the volume (vii-xii). Also helpful were the
explanations for the categorizations of the articles contained in the
introduction. Perhaps the only negative is that this volume was published
three years after the conference was held, withholding substantial
knowledge from the intellectual community for an unduly long period of
time, especially given that not many of the articles could be easily
located electronically. Given the amount of articles written by non-native
speakers of English, I would commend the editors and authors for their
conscientious editing of English mechanics. All of the articles use many
examples to support their research; in particular, those authors in part I
(Auer, Berthele, Clarke and Melchers, Naiditch, and Tagliamonte, et al.)
use many graphic representations, as their research deals more
specifically with geographical borders than the rest. Overall, this volume
is an interesting collection of articles on dialectology in a variety of
linguistic subfields and geographical locations; I would recommend it to
the advanced undergraduate linguist up to those more advanced for further
ideas and study.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Benjamin Barnett is a graduate student at the
University of Texas at Tyler in the Department of Languages and
Literature. Research interests include language acquisition, creoles, and
dialects, in particular as relates to postcolonial literature. He is also
a bilingual teacher (Spanish/English) for a local school district.

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