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Optimization in bilingual language use*

  • RAKESH M. BHATT (a1)


Pieter Muysken's keynote paper, “Language contact outcomes as a result of bilingual optimization strategies”, undertakes an ambitious project to theoretically unify different empirical outcomes of language contact, for instance, SLA, pidgins and Creoles, and code-switching. Muysken has dedicated a life-time to researching, rather successfully, various sub-fields of language contact, so I am very pleased to see him develop a synergistic model that reduces the complexities of different bilingual contact phenomena to four optimization strategies, the specific permutations of which yield the different, linguistically significant, generalizations. Such attempts are necessary, certainly, if the field of language contact has to make progress, theoretically. The success of such a theoretical unification, however, depends to a large extent on (i) the empirical mileage such unification receives; (ii) how well the assumptions underlying the logic of unification are theoretically motivated, to yield precise predictions about the orderliness of bilingual behavior; and (iii) the conceptual clarity required to understand the various links among the outcomes of language contact. On all these counts, Muysken's paper comes close to achieving success, though one notices several areas of fuzziness that need to be addressed for a competent model to fully emerge. In this short essay, I will point out two areas that need theoretical attention so that subsequent revisions of the present version of the model can address them. I will restrict my comments to code-switching, an extremely productive area of language contact, with which I am most familiar.



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My thanks to Agnes Bolonyai and Carmen Silva-Corvalán for helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this essay. The standard disclaimers apply.



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Bhatt, R. M. (1997). Code-switching, constraints, and optimal grammars. Lingua, 102, 233251.
Bhatt, R. M. (2000). Optimal expressions in Indian English. English Language and Linguistics, 4, 6995.
Bhatt, R. M., & Bolonyai, A. (2011). Code-switching and the optimal grammar of bilingual language use. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 522546.
Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Duelling languages: Grammatical structure in codeswitching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Prince, A., & Smolensky, P. (2004). Constraint interaction in generative grammar. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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Optimization in bilingual language use*

  • RAKESH M. BHATT (a1)


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