[lg policy] call: Dialects in Contact: Changes in Transitional Zones

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Nov 12 16:55:08 UTC 2011

Dialects in Contact: Changes in Transitional Zones

Date: 16-Dec-2011 - 16-Dec-2011
Location: Ghent, Belgium
Contact: Ben Hermans
Contact Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics

Meeting Description:

Dialects in Contact: Changes in Transitional Zones
A colloquium organized by the journal Taal & Tongval


Anne Breitbarth, University of Ghent
Ben Hermans, Meertens Institute

Often, one finds transitional zones between two neighbouring dialects.
Typically, linguistic forms coexist in these zones that are
representative of both dialects. These transitional zones are liable
to change, in the sense that often, the variation created by the
rivaling forms is eliminated in favor of a single form. It has always
been one of the central questions in dialectology what changes are
attested in transitional zones, how they progress, and why they
progress the way they do.

In recent years, a lot of work has been done that continues this long
tradition in dialectology. This work has focused on the diachronic as
well as the synchronic dimensions of these questions, both from an
empirical and a theoretical angle. It is the goal of this colloquium
to present an overview of this recent work on changes in transitional
zones. We therefore welcome presentations of an empirical or a
theoretical nature, addressing historical or synchronic aspects of
phonological, syntactic or morphological changes in transitional

An example of an empirical study of the type we envisage is Peters and
Fischer (2007). On the basis of an extensive database of 14th and 15th
century documents, they show that in some regions of the Middle Low
German area, the variation in transitional zones dramatically
decreases, in favor of a gradually expanding dialect area, leading to
regional standardization. Examples of synchronic studies of changes in
progress are amply supplied in Labov (1994).

Not only does the colloquium have an empirical dimension (addressing
the question what changes have occurred in the past and are occurring
in the present), it also addresses the question why certain changes
apply in transitional zones. Here are some questions we think are

Labov (2007) makes an important distinction between transmission and
diffusion. Transmission is a type of change that is induced by the
language learning child. It is ‘change from below’, and presumably it
is therefore without exceptions. Changes of this type are generated by
the process of incrementation, in which successive cohorts and
generations of children advance the change in the same direction over
many generations. Diffusion is a consequence of dialect contact, a
situation in which adults attempt to learn a neighboring dialect. This
is ‘change from above’, which, therefore, can have exceptions. In this
type of change, morphosyntactic structures tend not to be transferred
from one dialect to another. Related theoretical questions concern the
properties of adult dialect contact, semi-communication (cf. e.g.
Braunmüller 2007), and the direction of agentivity in the specific
change, applying e.g. Van Coetsem’s (2000) theory of language contact
and Winford’s (2005) interpretation of it to dialect contact.

Another theoretical question we are interested in is the role of
grammar in linguistic change. Andersen (1988) argues that the role of
grammar is often decisive. In this way he explains, among other
things, why over the centuries, in the Polish language area a
palatalized consonant is changed into a non-palatalized one, rather
than the other way around. In his view the unidirectionality of this
change follows from the fact that a more complex grammar tends to be
changed into a less complex one, rather than the other way around. On
the contrary, the role of formal grammar in language change is
explicitly denied in Hale (2007), who believes that change is rather a
matter of ‘misanalysis’, caused by perceptional factors.

We are happy to announce the programme of this year's Taal & Tongval
colloquium ''Dialects in contact: changes in transitional zones'',
which will take place on 16 December 2011 in the building of the Royal
Academy for Dutch Language and Literature (Koninklijke Academie voor
Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde (KANTL)), Koningstraat 18 in Gent,


A. Breitbarth (UGent) & B. Hermans (Meertens): Opening

Elvira Glaser (UZürich): Grammatical change and variation in Swiss
German dialects

David Britain (UBern): A peaceful, stable transition? Dialect contact,
variation and change in the English Fenland.

Coffee break

Gunther de Vogelaer (UMünster): A dialect continuum in child language?

Nynke de Haas (UNijmegen): Transmission and diffusion of conditions on
verbal morphosyntax: the Northern Subject Rule in Middle English and
Lunch break

Arjen Versloot (Frisian Academy/UAmsterdam): Frisian Varieties --
Isolation and contact

Christian Schwarz (UBolzano): Phonological dialect change and the
formation of transitional zones in Southwest Germany.

Tea break

Thomas Strobel (UFrankfurt): Coexisting strategies of
partitive-anaphoric reference in German dialects: Transitions and
changes in progress.

Paul de Lacy (URutgers): The limited role of the grammar in language
change: Frequency, phonotactics, and alternations



Ben Hermans: The role of grammar in dialect contact


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