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English Language : Linguistics : Syntax :

Convergence in the Balkans

المؤلف:  David Hornsby

المصدر:  Linguistics A complete introduction

الجزء والصفحة:  277-13

2024-01-04

644

Convergence in the Balkans

In the Balkans, what is known as a Sprachbund (from German: ‘language union’) has emerged between a number of superficially unrelated languages, whose grammars have converged in quite surprising ways. Albanian, Rumanian and Bulgarian (but not Greek) have acquired suffixal definite articles (e.g. Albanian mik-u ‘friend-the’; Bulgarian trup-at ‘body-the’, Romanian om-ul ‘man-the’: data from Bynon 1990: 246–7), while all four languages use constructions involving a conjunction and a subjunctive verb form rather than an infinitive, as in most European languages outside the Sprachbund. The sentence ‘give me (something) to drink’, for example, would be rendered ‘give me that I drink’:

Romanian da-mi sa beau

Bulgarian daj mi da pija

Albanian a-më të pi

Greek dos mou na pio

 

Particular attention has been paid in recent years, however, to exploring the outcomes of contact between speakers of different varieties of the same language. This interest has been fuelled in part by increasing urbanization, which brings together speakers of different varieties in new and unfamiliar settings (the world’s officially urban population crossed the 50 per cent threshold for the first time in 2009). In his groundbreaking work Dialects in Contact, Peter Trudgill observes that, where contact occurs between speakers of different varieties who are fairly well disposed towards one another, a likely outcome is accommodation, i.e. speakers will unconsciously begin to converge their speech in a variety of ways. The most obvious of these is accent convergence: one notices, for example, that many Britons living and working in the United States begin to replace their intervocalic [t] in words like better, matter with a flapped . Over time, accommodation can lead to long-term changes in linguistic behavior. Of particular interest in this context are settlements which have seen rapid and extensive migration (for example, so-called ‘new towns’ such as Basildon, Bracknell or Milton Keynes in the UK). What happens to the ensuing dialect mix as immigrants settle into their new environment, and how do their children negotiate the linguistically complex and heterogeneous world in which they find themselves?

 

Trudgill argues that, in such contact situations, reduction is likely to occur, i.e. many of the competing lexical, phonological and morphological variants will be lost. Eventually a new, focused compromise dialect or koiné may emerge, containing some forms from the input dialects, and some new forms which were present in none of them. Reduction is driven primarily by two processes – both of which, in their different ways, reflect the difficulties encountered by post-adolescent learners in acquiring new varieties.

 

The first process, levelling, involves the selection of forms with the widest currency in the new setting. Where several forms are in competition, the one used by a majority of speakers or that occurs in most of the input dialects is more likely to prevail than one used by very few speakers. In the northern Swedish town of Burträsk, speakers have used both standard Swedish and a local dialect, burträskmål, for many years. As the town became integrated with its surrounding area for administrative purposes, however, contact with the wider region increased and a new compromise variety or Regional Standard emerged. Research by Mats Thelander revealed that this new variety combined burträskmål and standard forms, but that the local forms which survived in Regional Standard were those which were most widely used in the dialects of northern Sweden.

 

Similarly in Avion, France, most local dialect forms were found by Hornsby (2006) to be obsolescent, but those which were surviving best, for example, alle [al] for the feminine third person pronoun (Standard French elle), were those which were most widely represented among the dialects of northern France where Avion is situated.

 

Simplification, on the other hand, favors forms which are morphosyntactically simple – by virtue for example of having less or more regular inflection – over those which are more complex and therefore present a greater challenge for post-adolescent learners. In the new Norwegian industrial town of Høyanger, contact between speakers of many dialects has led to erosion of irregularities in both standard Norwegian (Nynorsk) and western Norwegian dialects. A good example, reported by Omdal (1977; see also Trudgill 1986: 95–9) is the regularization of noun plural forms. Generally, masculine nouns take an -ar ending and feminines take -er, but there are a number of exceptions: masculine benk (‘bench’) pluralizes as benker, while feminine byr (‘bog’) has the plural byrar. As can be seen below, these anomalies have been removed in Modern Høyanger dialect, with masculines now consistently having the -a and feminines the -e ending, while the final /r/ deletion rule of North Vestland dialects has been retained: