Sociolinguistic Studies, Estudios de Sociolingüística 1.1 2000

On the unpredictability of contact effects

Sarah G. Thomason
Issued Date: 5 Mar 2007


Historical linguists know that any search for deterministic predictions on language change is bound to fail. But the urge to explain linguistic change is strong, and many linguists have proposed generalizations that make limited predictions about what can and what cannot happen in language history. In language contact situations, the major predictors of possible linguistic results are social rather than linguistic. But, specifying the crucial social factors turns out to be difficult. Only one social factor appears to yield a reliable constraint on the linguistic effects of contact: the presence or absence of full bilingualism among the speakers who introduce interference into a language. On the other hand, trying to find a reliable correlation, across a wide range of contact situations, between any specific attitudinal factors and specific linguistic results is probably doomed. Therefore, the goal of this paper is not to offer predictive generalizations about ways in which attitudes determine the linguistic results of contact, but rather to show why it is so difficult to find any.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v1i1.173


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