[lg policy] book review: The Handbook of Language Contact

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 7 15:31:00 UTC 2012

The Handbook of Language Contact

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-2081.html
EDITOR: Raymond Hickey
TITLE: The Handbook of Language Contact
SERIES TITLE: Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2010

Hugo C. Cardoso, Centro de Estudos de Linguística Geral e Aplicada, Universidade
de Coimbra


Despite its century-long history, contact linguistics has received unprecedented
attention in the past decades, and it is in this context that one must view the
publication of ''The handbook of contact linguistics'' (henceforth
HLC), edited by
Raymond Hickey for the Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics series. While a
handbook is essentially a reference work aimed at introducing particular
concepts for a given discipline, it is also, by its encompassing nature, an
opportunity to capture the current state of that discipline and the directions
in which it is moving. HLC first and foremost testifies to the pervasiveness of
contact in modern linguistic thinking. It clarifies the extent to which contact
linguistics has made, and continues to make, inroads into various subfields of
linguistics, and the diversity of linguistic and geographical settings to which
it has been applied.

This rather large volume opens with a list of contents, a brief biographical
sketch of the 42 contributors, and a short preface. The editor's introductory
chapter, 'Language contact: reconsideration and reassessment', begins with a
short summary of the development of contact linguistics and its integration into
mainstream (Anglophone) linguistics, surveys significant recent contributions to
the articulation of contact linguistics with other areas of linguistic research,
and identifies a number of recurrent or pending questions in the literature,
many of which are addressed in later chapters.

The remainder of the book is divided into 4 different parts. The 6 chapters in
Part I, entitled 'Contact and Linguistics', explore the interaction of language
contact with several domains of linguistic enquiry. 'Contact explanations in
linguistics', by Sarah Thomason, essentially deals with the dichotomy between
internal and external explanations for linguistic change, appealing to the
notion of multiple causation. The author proposes a set of conditions under
which a contact explanation may be considered valid, and goes on to list a set
of broad social and linguistic predictors, interpreted as variables whose
interaction may help explain certain types of change. In 'Genetic classification
and language contact', Michael Noonan sketches the rationale and parameters
behind genetic taxonomies of languages, noting how such contact phenomena as
creolisation, koineisation or the formation of mixed languages have fuelled the
emergence of alternatives to the traditional family tree model. Yaron Matras's
'Contact, convergence and typology' explores both convergence and borrowing
(respectively, the replication of pattern and of matter). The phenomenon of
convergence, a potential source of typological change, is articulated with
grammaticalisation theory and the formation of linguistic areas. The last
sections of the chapter are dedicated to matter replication, exploring various
structural, semantic-pragmatic and socio-cultural inhibitors or facilitators of
borrowing. Bernd Heine and Tania Kuteva's chapter, 'Contact and
grammaticalization', argues that contact may either propel or accelerate
grammaticalisation processes -- potentially resulting in 'grammaticalisation
areas' or metatypy (i.e. wholesale contact-induced change) -- and that,
inversely, universals of human conceptualisation (manifested in well-established
grammaticalisation clines) constrain the effects of language contact with
respect to grammatical replication. In 'Language contact and grammatical
theory', Karen Corrigan notes that insights gauged from studies of contact often
do not impact mainstream linguistic theory because contact languages are
disregarded as exceptional or deviant. Corrigan's arguments are articulated from
the perspective of generative theory, with two case studies exploring important
topics of generative syntactic research (pro-drop, wh-movement and preposition
stranding). Finally, April McMahon's chapter, 'Computational models and language
contact', explains how language contact has presented considerable challenges to
such endeavours as linguistic taxonomy or the reconstitution of proto-languages,
and what solutions have been implemented in recent computational models to tease
apart the effects of inheritance and of contact.

In Part II, entitled 'Contact and change', 6 chapters focus on different
outcomes of language contact. Raymond Hickey's chapter, 'Contact and language
shift', explores the motivation, process and possible effects of language shift.
This is amply illustrated with examples from the encounter of English and Irish,
not only in terms of their respective roles in the emergence of Irish English,
but also with regard to ongoing changes in modern Irish motivated by pressure
from English. In 'Contact and borrowing', Donald Winford proposes a conceptual
split between 'borrowing' and 'imposition' based on whether the speaker's
dominant language is the source or the recipient language. The chapter
exemplifies the effect of both social and linguistic constraints on borrowing,
and surveys the debate on the borrowability of patterns, before establishing a
contrast between borrowing and such contact phenomena as relexification,
mixed-language formation and classic code-switching. The latter is readdressed
in the following chapter, Penelope Gardner-Chloros's 'Contact and
code-switching', which highlights the difficulty of distinguishing code-switches
from loans and the diachronic link with mixed-language formation. The author
focuses to a large extent on the social significance of code-switching and
claims that, depending on concrete social circumstances, it may signal either
the decline of one of the contributing languages or the vitality of both. David
Britains's chapter, 'Contact and dialectology', goes on to describe how routine
dialect contact related to day-to-day mobility may trigger isolated acts of
linguistic accommodation and, in turn, form the basis for community-level
processes of change. The constrained definition of his topic of enquiry leaves
out more radical and extreme forms of contact such as those brought about by
mass population displacement, which are said to differ, not so much in terms of
the nature of resulting changes as in their degree, and constitute the object of
Paul Kerswill's chapter, 'Contact and new varieties'. Here, the formation of new
dialects of a transplanted language is discussed from a developmental
perspective and articulated with the current debate on the extent to which it
may be dependent on social variables. John Holm's 'Contact and change: pidgins
and creoles' then describes processes of contact-induced change which go one
step further, leading to the creation of new languages. Holm briefly summarises
the history of research on pidgins and creoles, the principal theoretical
approaches to their formation, and some of the major links between this field of
research and the wider field of language contact.

Part III, 'Contact and society', opens with Pieter Muysken's 'Scenarios for
language contact'. In this chapter, Muysken defines a number of scenarios (i.e.
patterns of community-level responses to multilingualism/contact, such as
borrowing, convergence or attrition) in terms of their frequency of occurrence,
the social valuation of the languages involved, and potential structural
constraints. In 'Ethnic identity and linguistic contact', Carmen Fought looks at
instances of language or dialect contact which take place across ethnic
boundaries. Through a survey of relevant studies (with particular reference to
the U.S.A.), the author notes that significant convergence may result, which is
subject to variables such as social relations, nature and depth of contact, or
ideology. Peter Trudgill's 'Contact and sociolinguistic typology' assumes
contact (or lack thereof) as one of the relevant parameters in the hypothetical
correlation between certain linguistic types and certain types of society. The
main issue addressed here is the effect of contact on linguistic complexity.
Having observed that there is ample evidence of both contact-induced
complexification and simplification, Trudgill proposes that the former is often
associated with child bilingual acquisition and the latter with adult
second-language acquisition. Suzanne Romaine's 'Contact and language death'
reminds us that contact may trigger language shift, and that shift is usually at
the root of language endangerment and death. The chapter is amply illustrated
with examples from around the world, highlighting not only well-established
regularities in language attrition, but also some differences and the relative
unpredictability of death-by-shift scenarios. The last chapter in this section
is Claire Bowern's 'Fieldwork in contact situations', which interprets language
contact as both an opportunity and a challenge for fieldwork-based language
description. According to the author, linguists engaging with contact settings
should be aware of the history of contact and social dynamics at play, devise
methods to diagnose shift in progress, and ensure that samples are both
representative of the community and socially informed.

All of the remaining chapters constitute Part IV, entitled 'Case studies of
contact'. The first of these is 'Macrofamilies, macroareas, and contact', in
which Johanna Nichols revisits proposed macrofamilies in an attempt at
disentangling the role of inheritance and/or areal diffusion in their formation.
Theo Vennemann's 'Contact and prehistory: the Indo-European Northwest' argues
for the substratal influence of Vasconic languages on incoming Indo-European
languages as the source of such features as vigesimal numeral systems or the use
of two copulas. Paul Roberge's 'Contact and the history of Germanic languages'
encompasses various historical periods, describing contact between Germanic and
Finno-Ugric languages, Germanic and other Indo-European languages, as well as
contact within the subfamily.

The case-study section proceeds with a cluster of chapters dedicated to English
in contact. Markku Filppula's 'Contact and the early history of English' focuses
specifically on the medieval period, surveying the arguments put forth in
support of contact scenarios for the development of the English progressive,
cleft constructions and relative clause structures. In 'Contact and the
development of American English', Joseph Salmons and Thomas Purnell describe the
process by which native or immigrant languages have impacted some monolingual
varieties of American English. The topic is exemplified with an analysis of
certain characteristics of the Upper Midwest dialect. Edgar Schneider's 'Contact
Englishes and Creoles in the Caribbean' describes British colonial involvement
with the region, with particular emphasis on socio-demographic factors, to
explain the formation of its English-lexified Creoles, pointing out the extent
to which studies of language contact in the Caribbean have shaped current
theories of creolisation. Highlighting the sociolinguistic heterogeneity of the
Asian settings of English use, Umberto Ansaldo selects Singapore as an
illustration for his chapter 'Contact and Asian varieties of English'. Ansaldo
approaches the development of Singlish from an evolutionary perspective of
language change, and makes the particular claim that typological congruence
impacts the outcome of language contact. Rajend Mesthrie then zooms in on Africa
in 'Contact and African Englishes'. After a brief survey of the chronology of
English contacts in Africa and the formation of pidgins and creoles around the
continent, Mesthrie describes some features of modern-day Sub-Saharan varieties
of English (especially from the Bantu sphere) potentially motivated by
substratal transfer. The author clarifies that, in addition to more classical
contact processes, modern varieties also show the hallmarks of mass tutored
second-language acquisition.

The remaining chapters revolve around non-Germanic languages. Joseph Eska's
'Contact and the Celtic languages' explains that, despite the evidence of
contact in the pre-history of Celtic both in continental Europe and the British
Isles, contact explanations have been most often invoked in reference to certain
non-Indo-European features of Insular Celtic. As an illustration, Eska describes
the classical debate on whether the substratum of Insular Celtic may have been
Afro-Asiatic. In 'Spanish and Portuguese in contact', John Lipski surveys the
geographical dispersion of Castilian Spanish and of Portuguese around the world,
and proceeds with an analysis of a few contact-induced linguistic features in
different varieties of the two languages. Examples for Spanish are selected from
diverse ecologies in diverse parts of the world (e.g. the Andes, North America,
Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Gibraltar, Equatorial Guinea), but the only varieties
of Portuguese mentioned involve contact with Spanish across the Brazilian
border. 'Contact and the development of the Slavic languages', by Lenore
Grenoble, clarifies the extent and diversity of contact undergone by the Slavic
languages in different moments of their history, and the role of contact in
their diachronic individuation. Various concrete cases are discussed, involving
contact not only with non-Slavic languages, but also within the subfamily.
Grenoble mentions the hypothesis of Finno-Ugric substratal transfer in the
formation of Russian, which is then readdressed in Johanna Laakso's 'Contact and
the Finno-Ugric languages', alongside other instances of contact involving these
languages. It should be clarified that, in this chapter, Laakso applies the
'Finno-Ugric' label not only to the subfamily of languages commonly subsumed
under this designation, but to the entire Uralic family. The author notes that
most Finno-Ugric languages are presently minority languages in their respective
locations, a situation which has led to convergence as well as obsolescence.
Brian Joseph's 'Language contact in the Balkans' introduces the Balkan
Sprachbund, its major participants, and typological commonalities. Based on the
distribution of Balkanisms across the region and socio-historical evidence of
multilingualism, Joseph then debates the mechanisms of contact involved in the
formation of this particular linguistic area. In 'Contact and the development of
Arabic', Kees Versteegh explores the role of contact in the evolution of Arabic
in the Arabian Peninsula and, especially, in the individuation of Arabic spoken
vernaculars in the wake of its expansion. Versteegh also dedicates some
attention to the role of Arabic as a lingua franca and the formation of
Arabic-lexified contact varieties (viz. Ki-Nubi and Bongor Arabic), as well as
patterns of change in diasporic Arabic-speaking communities. Lars Johanson's
'Turkic language contacts' describes intra- and extra-family contact settings
across the length and breadth of the Turkic-speaking world, from the Balkans to
Siberia, and also in the diaspora. Case studies revolve mostly around loanwords
and their phonological/morphosyntactic adaptation to the recipient language.
Marianne Mithun's 'Contact and North American languages' covers a genetically
diverse group of languages and a region with several well-established linguistic
areas. Mithun invokes diffusion to explain the prevalence of certain
typologically-rare morphological features among these languages. Another
genetically diverse region within which specific Sprachbünde have been
identified is Africa, which constitutes the topic of G. Tucker Childs's
'Language contact in Africa: a selected review'. The author illustrates the
extent of language contact in the continent with particular reference to the
encounter and competition of the Atlantic and Mande branches of Niger-Congo in
coastal areas between Senegal and Liberia, with the formation of pidgins and
creoles, and the emergence of urban varieties in South Africa and Guinea.
Brigitte Pakendorf's 'Contact and Siberian languages' describes instances of
contact in this vast region. The discussion covers contact between Siberian
languages (with particular focus on Evenki) in the pre-colonial and colonial
periods, their interaction with Russian, and the formation of contact varieties.
As one of the classical Sprachbünde and the object of pioneering studies of
language contact, South Asia finds its rightful place in this volume through
Harold Schiffman's chapter 'Language contact in South Asia', which places great
emphasis not only on processes of convergence, pidginisation and creolisation,
but also on areal patterns of (contact-induced) grammaticalisation. In 'Language
contact and Chinese', Stephen Matthews starts by exploring the role of contact
and substratal transfer in the individuation of modern Chinese varieties, and
their ongoing interactions. Matthews also describes the role of Chinese in the
formation of contact varieties in China and elsewhere (e.g. Chinese Pidgin
English, Macanese Creole, Hawaiian Pidgin English), in code-mixing, and as a
lexical donor to various languages. Patrick McConvell's 'Contact and indigenous
languages in Australia' describes pre-colonial Australia as a region of many
languages spoken by relatively small populations and how resulting structural
and lexical diffusion poses a difficulty for the genetic classification of
Australian languages. McConvell also discusses the formation of pidgins and
creoles, as well as the development of indigenous Australian varieties of
English and contemporary contact phenomena. William Foley's chapter focuses on
'Language contact in the New Guinea region', an area defined here as the
non-Austronesian-speaking Pacific Northwest. This being a region where
multilingualism has traditionally been valued as an accomplishment, it is also a
zone of intense contact among 'Papuan' languages with languages of a different
extraction (such as Austronesian). Foley discusses several products of contact
in the region -- including borrowing, metatypy and pidginisation -- and
highlights the urgency of conducting research in this linguistically rich and
volatile part of the world. Lastly, Jeff Siegel's 'Contact languages of the
Pacific' describes the rich history of contact in this highly diverse region,
focusing particularly on the contact-induced development of new languages and
dialects. Various case studies exemplify contact among the region's indigenous
languages, and also between Pacific languages and relevant colonial and/or
immigrant languages, from New Guinea to Hawai'i.

An Author Index and a Subject Index round off the volume.


HLC congregates many of the leading specialists in the study of language
contact, scholars who, on account of their active research agendas, are uniquely
poised to comment on recent developments in their respective areas of enquiry.
As most other handbooks, this one is likely to be consulted not only by
specialists, but also by non-specialists expecting a review of the
state-of-the-art in a format that privileges scope and approachability over
detail. In general, HLC will not disappoint, even if there is some variation in
the tone and depth of the various chapters: while some are rather theoretical in
nature, others are essentially descriptive; while some authors opt for a
balanced review of different theoretical proposals or contact settings, others
select one or a few to explore in more detail by way of illustration. The volume
is well edited and produced, with remarkably few typos and an attractive layout.
Chapters are designed as self-contained units, with a list of references at the
end of each one. However, very few include a list of abbreviations, and there is
also no general list for the entire volume, which at times may obscure the
interpretation of glosses. Considering the amount of languages and toponyms
mentioned, I find that the book would also have profited from the inclusion of
more maps. The final indices are comprehensive and accurate, allowing the reader
to easily locate references to particular concepts, languages and authors.

The publication of HLC adds to the rapidly expanding literature on language
contact. Because of its nature, there is no unified 'thesis' or 'proposal' to be
assessed. What becomes clear from reading it is that language contact is firmly
established as a central aspect of linguistic research, with ramifications into
a growing number of sub-disciplines. It is striking that, in addition to the
study of languages on which the hallmark of contact is especially conspicuous
(such as pidgins, creoles, or new varieties of colonial languages), contact
linguistics now accommodates more nuanced analyses pertaining, for instance, to
dialect contact or bilingual first-language acquisition.

A few earlier handbooks have had a considerable contact component; in the
Blackwell series alone, these include, e.g., Coulmas (1996), Chambers et al.
(2002), Kachru et al. (2006), and Kouwenberg & Singler's (2008) “The handbook of
pidgin and creole studies''. Their scope is, however, either more circumscribed
or considerably different from that of HLC. A few introductory course books such
as Thomason (2001) and Winford (2003) also take a global look at the field,
although these are by necessity shorter and typically privilege the detailed
exploration of select case-studies for the benefit of the students. The only
publication I am aware of which is comparable to HLC in scope and format is the
2-volume, trilingual ''Kontaktlinguistik/Contact Linguistics/Linguistique de
contact: Ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung/An
international handbook of contemporary research/Manuel international des
recherches contemporaines'' (Goebl, Nelde, Starý & Wölck, 1997). While it is by
no means the purpose of this review to compare the two handbooks, one should
note basic similarities and differences in order to assess the pertinence of the
book under review. HLC has, in principle, the advantage of presenting more
recent data and, for readers fluent in English but not in German and/or French,
that of being entirely written in English. Goebl et al. (1997) is a much larger
publication and involves more contributors. It features shorter chapters which
make finer distinctions, especially with regard to the interaction between
language contact and other scientific disciplines, the social significance of
language contact, or the methodology of research in contact settings. While the
chapters of HLC are generally broader, they still introduce new and/or deeper
explorations of certain topics, such as grammaticalisation, typology or dialect
contact. Descriptive chapters in HLC are organised either around a particular
language, a language (sub-)family, or a geographical unit. When it comes to the
selection of case studies, HLC has a slight bias toward contact settings
involving English, which is probably justified by the language in which the book
is written and the intended readership. Some readers may find that other equally
relevant languages (e.g. French or Malay) are underrepresented, and others may
take issue with the absence of specific studies on certain regions (e.g. South
America or Southeast Asia); but this does not detract from the fact that the
editor aimed for wide geographical representation. And here, in my opinion,
resides its most important innovation, given that the case-study volume of Goebl
et al. (1997) is really circumscribed to the European continent. The two
handbooks do differ substantially in certain respects and, therefore, there is
good reason to treat them as complementary sources.

In my view, HLC's greatest achievement is that of presenting an extraordinary
wealth of information -- with particular emphasis on the description of
different contact languages and contact ecologies -- in an approachable and
manageable format. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone seeking a
first approach to specific aspects relating to language contact, and I suspect
teachers and students at universities around the world will find the book
especially useful. In addition, specialists will also find plenty of food for
thought in the pages of this book, including some theoretical tools and
discussions relevant for the general advancement of the field. HLC also provides
researchers with easy access to a host of arguments and case-studies with which
to complement their own studies, as well as the appropriate bibliographical
references to pursue them in more detail.


Chambers, J. K., P. Trudgill & N. Schilling-Estes (eds). 2002. The Handbook of
Language Variation and Change. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Coulmas, F. (ed). 1996. The Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Goebl, H., P. H. Nelde, Z. Starý & W. Wölck (eds). 1997.
Kontaktlinguistik/Contact Linguistics/Linguistique de contact: Ein
internationales Handbuch zeitgenössischer Forschung/An international handbook of
contemporary research/Manuel international des recherches contemporaines, 2
vols. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kachru, B., Y. Kachru & C. L. Nelson (eds). 2006. The Handbook of World
Englishes. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Kouwenberg, S. & J. V. Singler (eds). 2008. The Handbook of Pidgin and Creole
Studies. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Thomason, S.G. 2011. Language contact: An introduction. Washington DC:
Georgetown University Press.

Winford, D. 2003. An introduction to contact linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Hugo Cardoso is a researcher at the CELGA (Centro de Estudos de
Linguística Geral e Aplicada) of the University of Coimbra, Portugal.
His research has concentrated mostly on the documentation and
description of the Portuguese-lexified Creoles of Asia, with
particular focus on India.


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