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1 - Language Contact in Population Structure

from Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 June 2022

Salikoko Mufwene
University of Chicago
Anna Maria Escobar
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


This chapter situates plurilingualism (at the individual level) and multilingualism (at the societal level), depending on the researcher’s approach to language contact, as enablers of various consequences of language contact. The relevant phenomena include language endangerment and loss (through language shift), codemixing and codeswitching (or translanguaging), the emergence of creoles, other mixed language varieties (including urban youth “stylects”), colonial varieties of European languages (such as Spanish), super-diversity, as well as structural change, borrowing, and the emergence of lingua francas. Concepts such as foreign workers’ interlanguages are contrasted with creoles and pidgins. Differences in their emergence are grounded in second language learning, degree and type of exposure to the hegemonic language, language shift, and the emergence of communal norms. The presentation in the chapter is generally grounded in population movements and changing population structures, therefore in speakers'/signers’ social history. It is also diachronic, explaining how domains of interest have evolved and expanded in language contact as a research area since the late nineteenth century, focusing on phenomena not elaborated in the chapters of Volume 1.

The Cambridge Handbook of Language Contact
Volume 2: Multilingualism in Population Structure
, pp. 3 - 26
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

1. General Background

This introduction will overlap in some ways with that of The Cambridge handbook of language contact, Volume 1: Population movement and language change, henceforth Volume 1. However, the two essays differ in what they focus on, especially regarding the synopsis of language contact as a research area (aka contact linguistics), which this introduction does not include. On the other hand, we concentrate here more on theoretical topics and issues that are related to the contents of the chapters, with occasional references to the introduction chapter in Volume 1.

The term population structure has had wider currency in population studies than in linguistics. It is relevant to this Handbook – like in much of the evolutionary linguistics work by Salikoko Mufwene – because it invokes a wider range of ecological factors that directly or indirectly affect languages than do the more familiar labels social organization and social structure. We think of languages as practices and as systems, as well as regarding their vitality, with which this volume is also concerned. Population structure subsumes factors commonly invoked in sociolinguistics and ethnography, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age group, level of education, occupation, and religion, but also others such as economic and political systems, which generate specific social structures in which one can situate interaction networks, solidarity, power and status relations. These factors influence speakers’ and signers’ linguistic behaviors and how the latter evolve, especially as they are themselves influenced by population movements. We also find the latter term broader and more useful than migrations, which is too narrowly associated with geography. The movements that bear on language contact can be social, such as in a political organization or socioeconomic class, which influence patterns of socialization and some of the ways in which individuals conceive of their social identities and the corresponding linguistic choices they make in their linguistic behaviors. Spatial structure of residence, whether or not a population that is racially or ethnically heterogeneous is segregated, is also subsumed by population structure, influencing, for instance, what particular language (variety) one is most exposed to in a multilingual or multilectal population. So is the opposition between the rural and urban environments, which is a natural form of segregation as a matter of fact.

Though not formally defined even in population studies, population structure has been used in reference to the typically nonuniform way in which populations are organized. The concept helps address the question of whether members of a given population can interact freely or regularly with each other. This depends on whether they are distributed randomly, according to no particular segregation pattern, or are dispersed spatially or socially according to factors such as nation or place of origin, race or ethnicity, or socioeconomic class. These factors can foster asymmetrical power relations, which govern who accommodates whom or who dictates the norms of conduct and patterns of socialization. They can account for the nonuniform way in which a language or culture has evolved, including who maintains or gives up their language.

Literally, as well explained by Weinreich (Reference Weinreich1953) and Cohen (Reference Cohen1956), language contact is used in reference to the coexistence of languages in the mind of a speaker/signer and/or to their coexistence in a social or geographical space. To be sure, no contact really takes place in the latter cases if segregation is so rigid that nobody in the coexistent populations of speakers and/or signers learns the other ethnolinguistic group’s language. This observation applies also to the cohabitation of signers with speakers, where the former are typically a very small minority with whom most members of the speaking population do not interact.

In reality, from a macroecological perspective, language contact at the population level obtains when there is at least one individual that learns the other group’s language and can spread its features in his/her group. Usually more than one “dispersing individual” are involved. What is relevant is that language contact at the population level presupposes contact at the level of at least some individuals. There are numerous population structures in which, owing to differences in economic and/or political powers between the coexistent ethnolinguistic groups, at least some members of one or both groups are expected to learn the other community’s language, such as in European colonies during the last few centuries – for instance, those who worked as go-betweens, middlemen, intermediaries, interpreters, or colonial auxiliaries (see Samarin Reference Samarin1989, Lawrence, Osborn, & Roberts Reference Lawrence, Osborn and Roberts2006, Mufwene Reference Mufwene2008, Reference Mufwene, Adamou and Matras2020a, Van den Avenne Reference Van den Avenne2017).Footnote 1

Contact linguistics is about various facets and consequences of the coexistence of languages in individual speakers’ minds and in particular populations. Instances of these include language shift at the level of either the individual or a population. A consequence of this may be language endangerment and loss (LEL), if most or all the members of the relevant population speaking a particular heritage language stop using it, and thus converge in shifting to one that they either consider more advantageous to them, or are forced by various ecological pressures to speak more often (e.g., Fishman Reference Fishman1971, Reference Fishman1991, Mufwene Reference Mufwene and Stanlaw2020b). The outcome of this convergence of behaviors can be compared to the emergence of new norms in a particular language, when indeed speakers converge in selecting variants (forms or structures) that come from another language they or some of them also use.

New norms can also emerge when the population is redistributed to generate novel, mixed communities in which speakers of different dialectal or sociolectal backgrounds have to renegotiate the balance of power between the variants they brought into contact, such as in an urban setting. This accounts for the emergence of, for instance, urban varieties of African languages, such as Urban Lingala and Urban Wolof. Language shift, LEL, and the emergence of new norms associated with language speciation all occurred in the emergence of creoles, discussed in Chapter 10 by Enoch Aboh & Michel DeGraff.

In some particular ecologies, speakers of a language that survives the contact simply adopt features from the other language, especially from its vocabulary. When a dialect comes in contact with another variety, one may also notice changes in the pronunciation of words and in the morphosyntax, after a phase of variation. As noted by Kretzschmar & Tamasi (Reference Kretzschmar and Tamasi2003), Shackleton (Reference Shackleton2005), and Fagyal et al. (Reference Fagyal2010), the variation may not even disappear completely. Some of the features that distinguish American English from British English (although these labels are sweeping generalizations) involve the selection of one variant, such as rhoticity, over another as a dominant feature. To be sure, this is more a matter of selecting particular variants from a contact feature pool; and the accumulation of particular selections can result in speciation, with the emergence of a new language variety. In cases where the old dialect or language survives and does not undergo speciation, such feature adoptions have generally been referred to as transfers or borrowings, depending on the scholar’s perspective (see Yaron MatrasChapter 22, Anna María Escobar’s Chapter 23, and Mari C. Jones’ Chapter 24, this volume).

Otherwise, convergences between individual speakers’ linguistic behaviors produce norms even in monolingual populations, out of the contacts of different idiolects, as interlocutors negotiate tacitly about features of their respective idiolects. The negotiations happen regardless of whether or not the interlocutors’ idiolects belong in the same dialect or sociolect. Thus, it can be concluded that language contact – including dialect contact – is enabled by interacting individuals, at the level of idiolects, native or non-native (Mufwene Reference Mufwene2001). Overall, as speakers/signers accommodate or copy from each other, communal norms arise that sometimes produce evolution, especially when the population structure changes, as in the case of what Kerswill & Williams (Reference Kerswill and Williams2000) identify as “a new town koiné” in Milton Keynes, England. This is basically how change occurs, with some individuals innovating or introducing (different features of course) and others copying and spreading them (Croft Reference Croft2000, Mufwene Reference Mufwene2008, Fagyal et al. Reference Fagyal2010).

This approach can also help us explain why some language varieties are less, or more, “focused” than others (using LePage & Tabouret-Keller’s Reference LePage and Tabouret-Keller1985 terminology), when speakers do not mind the variation, such as in mesolectal varieties of creole continua. In the end, in stable situations, the focusing may be more a construct of convenience than reality; it does not preclude some variation, as between the relative clauses introduced by a relative pronoun, the complementizer that, or the null complementizer; and with Pied-Piping or preposition stranding in standard English. The counterparts of the creole mesolects are the colloquial varieties of their lexifiers, situated between the nonstandard/basilectal varieties and their standard/acrolectal counterparts.

Where one can speak of true absence of focusing is the case of foreign-workers’ interlanguages, which differ from pidgins, at least the expanded ones that we know today, because they lack communal norms, although the speakers produce some of the same features in their interlanguages (Perdue & Klein Reference Perdue and Klein1992, Perdue Reference Perdue1995). The reason for this absence of focusing is that (allowing some over-simplification) several migrant workers live in segregated groups in which they socialize in the languages of their countries of origin (Pfaff Reference Pfaff1981), while their children acculturate to the local linguistic practices through their Native peers, with whom they interact especially at school.

Interlanguages remain individual-speaker phenomena, which the migrant workers (adults) produce only when they interact with people that do not speak the language(s) they are more competent in. By contrast, pidgins are, according to the received doctrine, communal varieties arising primarily from the regular interactions of non-native speakers with their trading partners and among themselves in the trade language to which they have had limited exposure.

Pidgins have emerged where the alloglots interact with each other in a nonstandard variety of a target language (let’s say a European one) and the speakers influence each other, accommodating each other on different features. The mutual accommodations result in the convergence of their linguistic practices toward some group or communal norms, notwithstanding some natural variation in the emergent system. By contrast, the ecologies in which the migrant workers’ interlanguages emerge are not conducive to communal norms, as they do not form a community with their changing interlocutors. The occasional accommodations made by fluent speakers to their deviations from the target language, at the workplace, may reinforce the deviations at the individual level but not at some communal level, simply because the learners socialize more frequently among themselves and in their respective national or heritage languages. Communal norms emerge and can give rise to new varieties in contact ecologies in which the speakers interact or socialize frequently with speakers of other national or heritage languages.

As much as some literature on (naturalistic) L2 acquisition has focused on interlanguages, Mufwene (Reference Mufwene2010) concluded that this scholarship can only make a limited contribution to research on the emergence of creoles, because it is focused on individuals, whereas genetic creolistics deals with communal norms as the outcome of convergence. The same can be said of contact dialects such as the “koiné” discussed by Kerswill & Williams (Reference Kerswill and Williams2000) regarding the selection of particular idiolectal features into the new communal norms. To be sure, one can learn about transfer and substrate influence (such as about possible trajectories of linguistic influence) but not about howFootnote 2 some substrate elements attested in some interlanguages have converged into substrate influence in a creole, while some others have been selected out.

The study of language contact at the population level entails an additional level of complexity that has usually been overlooked in the literature, which we all should be aware of, although this dimension is also missing from this Handbook. The omission appears to be a legacy of the beginnings of linguistics, with historical and genetic linguistics, in which languages were conceived of as organisms, with internal, inter-idiolectal variation often ignored for the convenience of generalizations. It is also a consequence of the coexistence of the research area with theoretical linguistics, so central to today’s linguistics, where it is generally assumed (in fact since de Saussure Reference Saussure1916) that communal features are shared by most, if not all, individual speakers. We have generally not compared idiolectal grammars with their communal counterparts, which are typically constructs of convenience, for example, to determine whether variation in one system is isomorphic with that in the other. Isomorphism would be contrary to what the study of interlanguages suggests and inconsistent with the very notion of idiolect. What is the status of features that remain idiolectal and are not shared by (most members of) the community of speakers?

Despite progress in the scholarship on L2 acquisition, studies of naturalistic bilingualism and multilingualism, involving no teaching or schooling, are dominated by those focused on the population level.Footnote 3 Perhaps because urban youth “stylects” have been treated as discourse phenomena (from the perspective of performance), the discussion of the relation between variation at the idiolectal level and variation at the communal level has not been tackled in these varieties. Thus, the challenge has been to articulate the extent to which contact dynamics determined by the relevant population structure (dis)favor the emergence of new communal norms. These apply to the emergence of contact varieties – including creoles, pidgins, other mixed varieties, new ethnolects, and interlanguages – and evidently also to convergence and divergence between languages. The social histories of populations in contact, including the roles that multilingual speakers play in their respective ecologies, draw attention to the complexity of language change and of the social aspects of linguistic behavior.

In the mid-twentieth century, John Gumperz (Reference Gumperz and Lunt1964) pioneered the study of “code-switching,” which he distinguished from “code-mixing.” Since the 1980s, this contrast has generally been ignored in the literature, as “codeswitching” has become the default umbrella term for both. Likewise, his attempt to show that creoles are particular outcomes of language-mixing has rarely been referred to, at least in creolistics, although, based on the ideology of language purity, creoles have been assumed to be mixed languages since the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, Meakins & Stuart (this volume) exclude them from this category.

However, Gumperz has been more influential with his argument that code-switching and, more generally, language mixing among plurilinguals are normal and principled or rule-governed behavior. A speaker can alternate deliberately between languages for all sorts of reasons, including identifying interlocutors in their narrative, quoting particular characters, or highlighting particular attitudes (e.g., sarcasm, comical effect, attitude toward the interlocutor). Gumperz did not, of course, exclude the possibility that a speaker may have to use as the “matrix language” (in Myers-Scotton’s Reference Myers-Scotton1993 terminology) one in which he/she has less competence than another or has less ease in discussing a particular topic, such as when he/she is conversing with interlocutors not familiar with the language that he/she is more competent in. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the ideology of language purity is hardly embraced, this accounts for the mixed-code nature of utterances of speakers who are more competent in the European official language of their country than in an indigenous lingua franca spoken in some region of the same polity (Kamwangamalu Reference Kamwangamalu2000).Footnote 4 It is also common when such a speaker has acquired a particular knowledge through formal education in the European colonial language but must convey relevant information in an indigenous vernacular not associated with the domain.

Gumperz also initiated the search for constraints in code-switching, which Myers-Scotton, in collaboration with especially Jake (e.g., Myers-Scotton & Jake Reference Myers-Scotton and Jake2016), and Poplack (Reference Poplack1980, Reference Poplack2017) have elaborated in several publications to date. Auer (Reference Auer1999) presents a more nuanced conception of what code-switching involves, especially regarding whether the grammars used in code-switched utterances are the same as the juxtaposition of those of monolingual speakers of the relevant languages. Anthologies such as Stell & Yakpo (2015) enrich the scholarship with diverse perspectives, including psychological and social ones.

Gumperz certainly deserves more credit for underscoring the social and contextual functions of code-switching (see also Eerdmans, Prevignano, & Thibault Reference Eerdmans, Prevignano and Thibault2003). This is apparently one of the aspects of code-switching on which the now growing scholarship on translanguaging (e.g., Williams Reference Williams2002, Garcia & Li Reference Garcia and Li2014, Reference Garcia, Li and Chapelle2018, Lewis, Jones, & Baker Reference Lewis, Jones and Baker2012) has capitalized, regarding its practice especially in the classroom. Arguing from a generative linguistics perspective, Jeff MacSwan (this volume) invites the reader that is interested in this subject matter to reflect on what the difference is between the traditional research area and the current one.

The scholarship on code-switching has also evolved into the study of urban youth language varieties, on which Heike Wiese (this volume) provides a historical perspective, directing the reader’s attention to immigrants in urban Europe, although much of the literature is now on African cities. Based on the grammar of a particular indigenous urban vernacular, such as Nairobi Swahili, Kinshasa Lingala, or Cameroon Pidgin English, the youth varieties have been characterized as audience-driven and context-dependent “stylects” (to display the speaker’s/performer’s “authenticity” rather than command of a particular communal norm). According to Mesthrie et al. (2021), they should not be confused with traditional code-switched discourse. They are typically produced at the street corner where the relevant youth socialize, rather than in private spaces, especially those including non-group members.

Students of youth language varieties (also identified as “youthspeak”) – which are not recognized as separate languages or dialects – argue that the mixed varieties have an indexical role. Their speakers, who are otherwise disenfranchised economically from the elite and affluent white-collar speakers of European colonial languages, claim their speech indexes modern urban culture – by contrast with traditional ways of speaking the relevant indigenous languages (Mesthrie et al. 2021). Commenting on Sheng, Githiora (Reference Githiora2018: 1) states that “The speech code exists on a continuum of ways of speaking Swahili within a complex and stratified multilingual society in search of a modern identity.” Authenticity in the singularity of one’s utterances seems to carry more weight than the use of some stable norm, as their producers keep innovating with competing lexical synonyms. These performances appear to be consistent with Peter Auer’s (Reference Auer1999) interpretation of language mixing as associated sometimes with group identity.

While such varieties have been studied especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in Europe, one is prompted to also consider varieties such as Spanglish, Heblish, and Media Lengua, although the latter has disputably been associated with relexification since Muysken (Reference Muysken, Highfield and Valdman1981). For instance, according to Shappeck (Reference Shappeck2011: ii), “the only characteristic that distinguishes Media Lengua from other language contact varieties in central Ecuador is the quantity of the overall Spanish borrowings and not the type of processes that might have been employed by Quichua speakers during the genesis of Media Lengua.” Are the latter varieties also performance phenomena rather than separate language varieties? Or are the African varieties also new urban ways of speaking African languages, as claimed by Githiora (Reference Githiora2018) – assuming their norms are not as focused as traditionally assumed since LePage & Tabouret-Keller (Reference LePage and Tabouret-Keller1985).

The notion of mixing has survived in creolistics, animating debates about whether the grammars of creoles are essentially retentions with slight modifications of structures inherited from their lexifiers, as claimed by superstratists such as Jules Faine (Reference Faine1937), Robert Hall, Jr. (Reference Hall1958), and Robert Chaudenson (Reference Chaudenson1992, Reference Chaudenson2001). Otherwise, do they reflect significant influence from the grammatical systems of their substrate languages, as claimed by substratists such as Suzanne Sylvain (Reference Sylvain1936, in the last sentence of the book!), Mervyn Alleyne (Reference Alleyne1980), Claire Lefebvre (Reference Lefebvre2006, Reference Lefebvre2004), Thomason & Kaufman (Reference Thomason and Kaufman1988), John Holm (Reference Holm1988), and Roger Keesing (Reference Keesing1988).Footnote 5 According to Mufwene (Reference Mufwene2001, Reference Mufwene2008), DeGraff (Reference DeGraff2003, Reference DeGraff2005), Aboh (Reference Aboh2015), and Aboh & DeGraff (Reference Aboh, DeGraff and Roberts2017, this volume), creoles have mixed systems, the outcomes of competition and selection from the contact feature pool. The title of Aboh (Reference Aboh2015), The emergence of hybrid grammars, is particularly telling.Footnote 6 Following in the footsteps of Thomason & Kaufman (Reference Thomason and Kaufman1988), Felicity Meakins & Jesse Stewart (this volume) present a survey of different kinds of mixed languages but exclude creoles, as noted above. This is an opportunity for the reader to take a step back and reassess Hjelmslev’s (Reference Hjelmslev1937) position that all languages are mixed to some extent.

Research on language contact in population structure has been marked, especially since the 1990s and early 2000s, by the renewed interest in the endangerment and loss of “Indigenous languages” – to be interpreted narrowly and accurately as those native to former European settlement colonies but more broadly as ‘non-European’, reflecting a legacy of colonization. The concern about the displacement of Native American languages by those of the European settlers was one of the drivers of American descriptive linguistics during the first half of the twentieth century, which engaged its practitioners in what is now called “language documentation.” However, one must also take into account the fact that the late wave of the Indo-European expansion over the past half-millennium was not exactly in the same style as the Sinitic imperial expansion in today’s China, which has likewise minoritized and endangered non-Sinitic languages. These similar outcomes suggest that the evolutionary processes of LEL are generally the outcomes of population movements and language contact in ecologies in which one economically (and politically) powerful population subjugates the other(s), leading the latter to acculturate even linguistically to the new world order of the conqueror or dominant group.

However, unlike in the early twentieth century, when the interest was in describing the dying Native American languages, this time the focus has been on sensitizing linguists to what has been claimed to be a disaster for humanity in the form of loss of linguistic and cultural diversity, like in the case of endangered species.Footnote 7 The advocates initially laid the blame on “killer languages,” apparently ignoring everything that Einar Haugen and Uriel Weinreich had said in the mid-twentieth century about the causes of LEL. It is also bizarre that the relevant early literature attributed more agency to languages, with some even speaking of “language wars,” than to the speakers, including those who give up their languages. Publications such as Nettle & Romaine (Reference Nettle and Romaine2000) and Crystal (Reference Crystal2000) just focused especially on the powerlessness of “Indigenous” people in the face of the bulldozing effect of European colonial languages, especially English.

As often pointed out by Mufwene (e.g., Reference Mufwene, Filipovic and Pütz2016, Reference Mufwene2017), linguists working on LEL have not contributed enough to understanding how language contact can erode the vitality of some coexistent languages and under what specific conditions. Books such as Bradley & Bradley (Reference Bradley and Bradley2019) and Moseley (Reference Moseley2007) are among a minority of (more) informative publications, the latter especially in providing a great deal of historical information about different places around the world. The shortage of comparisons of the loss of “Indigenous languages” with that of some European languages to the same competitors in the settlement colonies (for instance to English in Anglophone North America and to Portuguese in Brazil), precisely what Einar Haugen (Reference Haugen1953) has focused on in The Norwegian language in America, is striking. It reflects the apparent myopic vision of scholars, most of them of European descent, who have framed the relevant topics as specific to Indigenous populations, former European colonies, and non-Sinitic people in China. It is also embarrassing that colonization itself has been invoked as a uniform process when it is obvious that LEL has not proceeded identically in European settlement and former exploitation colonies.

In any case, we are happy to include in this volume chapters by David Bradley, Lenore Grenoble, and Mel Engman & Kendall King that are refreshing in their approaches, as they explain the dynamics of the contacts that produced LEL. Grenoble focuses on the Arctic, while Engman & King also discuss the experiences of recent immigrants to the US with their heritage languages. This brings up the topic of the conditions under which some languages survive the domination of major ones. It is noteworthy that Native American languages and non-Sinitic languages are not all dead yet; nor are the surviving ones endangered to the same extent even when the pressure to acculturate to the colonizer’s ways appears to be the same. More population-structure oriented scholarship will shed light on this differential evolution.

The three chapters are complemented by Surendra Gambhir’s on the differential evolution of the vitality of India’s languages in the Indian diaspora and by César Itier’s on the spread of Quechua in the Andean region during the Inca and Spanish Empires (see also Pieter Muysken, this volume). Interestingly, Muysken shows that any threats to Quechua have originated in the post-colonial political leaders’ (rather than the colonizers’) promotion of Spanish as the national and regional language.Footnote 8

Other developments have also marked the expansion of the scholarship on language contact since the second half of the 2000s, including the study of “super-diversity.” In 2007, Steven Vertovec published an issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies titled “Super-diversity and its implications.” He discussed the situation brought about in British (and other Western European) cities by “an increased number of new, small and scattered, multiple-origin, transnationally connected, socio-economically differentiated and legally stratified immigrants who have arrived over the last decade” (p. 1024).Footnote 9

Several papers, led especially by linguistic ethnographers Blommaert & Rampton (Reference Blommaert and Rampton2011), have been published that underscore the unprecedented multilingualism that has arisen in Western European urban centers as a consequence of foreign immigrations. As shown in the chapter by Salikoko Mufwene, “Multilingualism and Super-Diversity,” the interest in this aspect of language contact generally lacks a historical perspective. The relevant scholars have generally overlooked ways in which European colonization has already also changed the linguascapes of the conquered territories not only by introducing European languages but also with the addition of languages spoken by foreign contract laborers brought to colonies, such as in Fiji, Tanzania, and South Africa, without overlooking creole-speaking colonies (transformed earlier ethnolinguistically), such as Mauritius, Guyana, and Trinidad. It also changed the colonies with the emergence of new urban centers where, in exploitation colonies, even indigenous people from diverse ethnolinguistic backgrounds came to coexist with one another. This change of population structures fostered the development of indigenous urban vernaculars and regional lingua francas. The chapter by Hildo do Couto, “Colonization and the Emergence and Spread of Indigenous Lingua Francas in Africa, the Americas, and Asia,” sheds some light on the subject matter.

The scholarship on super-diversity in Western European cities can be grounded in the larger context of multilingualism and immigration. Heike Wiese (this volume) discusses, among other things, the way immigrants’ children speak the host populations’ languages. French scholars have identified the French varieties of these allochthonous speakers as “les parlers/accents des banlieues” (‘suburban language varieties’, see, e.g., Fagyal Reference Fagyal2010), alluding to the economically destitute neighborhoods, where large proportions of non-affluent immigrants live and learn stigmatized nonstandard features of the traditional autochthonous residents. Among the latter, those who became more affluent and moved out of the now ethnically mixed neighborhoods left their linguistic features behind. On the lexical level, the newcomers mixed them with some words and translations of idioms from the languages of their homelands. This is part of what one learns from Jenny Cheshire & Penelope Gardner-Chloros (Reference Cheshire and Gardner-Chloros2018). In both London and Paris, the immigrant youth varieties reveal a great deal about the significance of population structure and economic affluence as determinants of the varieties targeted by the immigrants. Basically, the allochthonous speakers acquire – with some modification – the varieties of the neighborhoods in which they have inserted themselves.

2. The Chapters

We must start this section in about the same way we did in Volume 1. The large number of contributions makes it less practical to attempt to summarize each of them to the same extent. We thought the user may find it more useful to read selected highlights that connect the chapters to the broad background provided in the above section and make more evident some aspects of the state of the art. Some of these simply cover more diverse issues and topics than others that happen to be easier for the reader to infer what their authors must discuss. Some chapters also need (more) cross-references that we thought would be helpful to the user. In addition, we thought it useful to organize the comments in a way that makes more or less obvious why we have settled on the present table of contents, while alternative groupings of the chapters would be equally acceptable.

Language contact has often produced varieties apparently so different from what they have evolved from that linguists have frequently stipulated that they are separate languages, regardless of what their current speakers think. This is the case for creoles, discussed by Enoch Aboh & Michel DeGraff; Mobilian Jargon and Maritime Polynesian Pidgin, discussed by Emanuel Drechsel; and those that Felicity Meakins & Jesse Stewart discuss under the label of “mixed languages.” Related to them are Spanish varieties in Latin America, discussed by Ricardo Otheguy, Naomi Shin, & Daniel Erker and by Anna María Escobar, although they are still considered as dialects of their respective lexifiers, and the various languages that Pieter Muysken compares to creoles.

Almost every aspect of language contact discussed so far presupposes multilingualism. The eight chapters on the subject matter in Part One complement each other in very revealing ways. John Edwards’s “Societal Multilingualism” surveys the topic from local and regional perspectives and from an international one too. He ponders on various ecological factors that influence the structures and vitality of coexistent and sometimes competing languages, including colonialism and imperial expansions, which account significantly for the spread or contraction of some languages. In “Individual Bilingualism,” Annick de Houwer focuses on numerous topics that the label covers, including the particular ecological factors that either lead to attrition or sustain a speaker’s competence – which is sometimes only domain-specific – in the languages that he/she knows. Based on specific historical figures, the author highlights the significance of population structure, economic affluence (or lack thereof), and the kinds of social interactions one engages in that influence a speaker’s bilingual or multilingual repertoire, beyond their learning skills and communicative needs. The critical reader will undoubtedly ask whether the same ecological factors play the same role at the individual and societal multilingualism levels, or whether one must also factor in the inter-individual dynamics that can produce at the population level something different from what one may observe at the individual level.

De Houwer’s chapter intersects with Jeff MacSwan’s on “Codeswitching and Translanguaging,” in which the reader cannot help asking what the real, non-terminological difference is between the two conjuncts in the title. While it is true that languages as linguists talk about them are constructs that do not really exist (see also Mufwene Reference Mufwene2001, Pennycook & Makoni Reference Pennycook and Makoni2019), can things be pushed as far as claiming that the bilingual speaker identifies resources from the different “languages” in the same way as from different dialects or registers of the same language? In the first place, do these concepts have more reality than that of an individuated “language” such as Swahili or Navaho? How are we to conceive of language in the concept trans-languag-ing? Does the boundary indeterminacy between neighboring languages justify dismissing “codeswitching” in favor of “translanguaging”? These are some of the issues MacSwan invites the reader to think over in his chapter. Both MacSwan’s and de Houwer’s contributions also invite the reader to revisit Weinreich’s (Reference Weinreich1953) distinction between coordinate and compound bilingualisms. The reader will be equally interested in reading Yaron Matras’ discussion of codeswitching, although the chapter is in another group, for different reasons.

With “Urban Contact Dialects,” Heike Wiese joins the preceding three chapters in directing attention to another facet of multilingualism, viz., the emergence of urban youth languages. As noted in Section 1, some experts do not even consider them to be dialects of the languages that provide their grammars, considering them instead as performance styles. While one may be tempted to think, based on recent publications, that this phenomenon of urban “youthspeak” is particularly African, note that the earliest publication, as Heike points out, was about youth linguistic behavior in Sweden. It appears to be a widespread trend in youth communicative behavior, also associated by some experts (but disputed by some others) with code-switching or translanguaging, borrowing, and the like, but likewise intersecting with migrations (including intra-national ones) and self-identification.

From a perspective that some may claim to be decolonizing, Salikoko Mufwene, exposes in his chapter, on “Multilingualism and Super-Diversity,” a political and Eurocentric bias in how the literature has discussed the way in which non-European immigrants have contributed to the societal multilingualism of Western European cities. He offers historical perspectives from the Global South that show the extent to which history repeats itself, even when the direction of migrations is reversed. His perspective sheds light on the power of socioeconomic factors and technology of mobility and of telecommunication in influencing whether an immigrant maintains their heritage language and what variety of the host country’s language they learn.

David Quinto-Pozos & Robert Adam’s chapter, “Multilingualism and Language Contact in Signing Communities,” reveals yet another facet of multilingualism for languages that use a different modality from those they are in contact with. The majority of users of sign languages are speakers, who interact in them with the Deaf in their communities and sometimes among themselves, or become teachers in communities that are developing their own sign languages. They can influence the articulation and syntax of some emergent signs; and even native signers can borrow from these bilinguals and codify into signs some of the gestures the bilinguals produce to represent things or activities. These may include some non-manual signs, such as mouthing styles.

In other words, all interlocutors, regardless of whether they are native or non-native signers, can contribute to the evolution of sign languages in particular communities. This is perhaps more obvious where speakers are much more numerous than the Deaf. And when users of different sign languages are in contact, their signing systems can be influenced by each other, in more or less the same ways as spoken languages that come in contact. These observations are consistent with Michel DeGraff’s (Reference DeGraff and DeGraff1999) argument, in the case of creoles, that both native and non-native speakers – i.e., locally born, Creole children and adults born outside the plantation settlement colonies – contributed to the emergence of communal norms. Mufwene (Reference Mufwene2001) characterizes children in such contact ecologies as agents of selection from the feature pool (especially regarding substrate features), although, to be sure, everybody that participates in verbal interactions contributes to the selection of features and the emergence of their communal norms. Children eliminate many of their parents’ substrate features from the evolving feature pool as they select them out and these die with the parents. But the latter do indeed leave their marks on the language retained by the children.

In his chapter “Multilingualism in India, Southeast Asia, and China,” Tej Bhatia explains how the Indian subcontinent has sustained multilingualism over millennia, particularly because the successive empires were not culturally assimilationist and tolerated the local languages. He also explains the rise of Sanskrit as a “link language,” thanks largely to having a rich written literature and being used in education and in a major and influential religion: Buddhism. British colonization introduced some administrative hierarchy in “superposing” (see Mufwene, this volume) English as the central language of administration and of (post-primary) education. This is, according to Mufwene, a reason why the indigenous languages have not been endangered by the colonial one. The division of labor has precluded competition between English and them, although its powerful status and ethnolinguistic diversity in the nation have favored it as the dominant official language.

On the subject matter of how emigration has also spread some Indian languages, especially Hindi, Surendra Gambhir elaborates, in his chapter, on how their vitality in the diaspora has depended very much on the socioeconomic structure in which the migrants have been inserted. The more socially integrated the emigrants feel they can be, the more likely they experience the pressure for cultural assimilation and the less long they maintain their heritage languages, especially if they also feel that (fluency in) the host country’s language will ease competition in its labor market (see also Vigouroux Reference Vigouroux and Canagarajah2017 on the latter factor). What variety they acquire depends on what they have been exposed to and/or need the most, as noted above regarding “les accents de banlieue.” Very relevant to this observation is the fact that “East Indian” contract laborers in Guyana and Trinidad shifted to the local creole as their vernacular, rather than to English, just like their counterparts in Mauritius shifted to Mauritian Creole rather than to French or English, the competing prestigious languages.

In “Monolingualism vs. Multilingualism in Western Europe,” Zsuzsanna Fagyal discusses ways in which political or administrative institutions manage societal multilingualism either in favoring one particular language to the point of leading their polities to monolingualism or in tolerating multilingualism and sustaining it but in different ways. Capitalizing on Amy Liu’s (Reference Liu2015) typology of multilingual regimes (for instance, opposing Canada to Switzerland), she explains how differentially language regimes have evolved in Western European countries. She shows how even the roles of formal education and standardization may not be as straightforward as assumed by many experts. The non-unilinear and non-rectilinear histories that she summarizes are informative regarding the role of political ideologies and other ecological factors in favoring and shaping some languages, while also disadvantaging (some) others. The current language regimes in Western Europe largely reflect the differing histories of their political power-sharing arrangements within ethnolinguistic diversities.

This is a convenient juncture to come back to the chapters on language varieties that have emerged from population movements and language contact in the context of colonization and have usually been acknowledged as separate languages. The chapters by Enoch Aboh & Michel DeGraff and by Emanuel Drechsel show that creoles and pidgins did not emerge in the same kinds of contact ecologies (Mufwene Reference Mufwene2001, Reference Mufwene2008, Reference Mufwene, Adamou and Matras2020a). Incidentally, the primary lexifiers of the pidgins discussed by Drechsel are not European. Also, both Mobilian Jargon (with Jargon used in the colonial sense of language variety unintelligible to those reporting about it) and Maritime Polynesian Pidgin started before the contacts with European traders. We thought that, regarding how to distinguish the two types of languages from each other, these facts will help direct the attention more to the differing contact ecologies in which they emerged, away from the traditional questionable assumption that creoles evolved from antecedent pidgins.

Pidgins emerged in settings where the contacts with the native or fluent speakers of the lexifiers were not regular, whereas creoles did in those where, from day one, speakers of non-European languages were in regular contact with speakers of the colonial European lexifier and served as the new, mixed populations’ vernaculars (Mufwene Reference Mufwene, Adamou and Matras2020a). Notwithstanding the unavoidable interlanguage phase at the individual L2-learner level, there is no evidence of a break in the transmission of the lexifier, albeit with modification, in the emergence of both language varieties, viz., creoles and pidgins. As explained in Chapter 1 of volume 1 regarding creole continua, variation was unavoidable, not only regarding how individual idiolects differ from each other but also relative to features that can be associated with the learners’ respective mother tongues or other languages previously spoken. As noted in Section 1 regarding other kinds of languages, communal norms emerged gradually, without of course eliminating all variation beyond the idiolectal level. Let the reader be the judge from the chapters themselves, even, for those working on creoles and pidgins, regarding whether there is universal index of pidginization.

In this vein, the reader should also look into the languages that Felicity Meakins & Jesse Stewart accept as mixed languages. They present an overview and typological classification of the known ones, with useful structural data that critical readers can use to verify their claims. Most of the mixed languages fall in the category of “intertwined languages,” though one will also find Papiamentu (traditionally considered a creole!) in the lot, contrary to their position not to count creoles among mixed languages. The discussion of the structural processes, including phonological ones, that are associated with language mixing will certainly interest some readers, as this clashes with the view that creoles and pidgins cannot be defined by their structural features (Mufwene Reference Mufwene, Neumann-Holzschuh and Schneider2000). To be sure, the authors provide a brief discussion of the social conditions under which the mixed languages emerged and the motivation behind their emergence, which, they argue, has nothing to do with solving a communication problem (unlike in the case of creoles and pidgins).

In a related vein, Pieter Muysken discusses the study of Native American languages in contrast to that of creoles, with the former focused on reconstructing language families while the latter has traditionally debated the extent to which creoles have diverged from their lexifiers and by which mechanisms. Creolists have also discussed whether there was a break in the transmission of the lexifiers (as noted above) and creoles have lost genealogical ties with them, as claimed by, e.g., Thomason & Kaufman (Reference Thomason and Kaufman1988), Bakker et al. (Reference Bakker, Borchsenius, Levisen and Sippola2017), and McWhorter (Reference McWhorter2018). Another important difference highlighted by Muysken is that creoles are the outcomes of imperial expansion, whereas the Native American languages he discusses represent vernacular expansion. The expansion of Quechua (also discussed by César Itier) involves much more time depth, under successive contact-induced restructuring, than that of European languages that evolved into creoles about three centuries ago. Nonetheless, one learns ways in which the kind of comparison undertaken by Muysken can be mutually enriching to both research areas, as there are no typical restructuring processes even among the Native American languages, just like among creoles.

Very much related to these chapters are those dealing with the emergence of lingua francas, intended to foster communication between ethnolinguistic groups that do not share a language other than what spreads among them, owing to a variety of ecological factors. This can be the vernacular of one of the populations in contact, when the language is favored by, for instance, its economic and/or political power structure. However, for many people around the world the lingua franca is not the vernacular of any of the indigenous or colonized ethnolinguistic groups in contact, and very few may speak it as a mother tongue. This is the case for European languages spoken by the elite in especially most former English and British exploitation colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The chapters by Nicholas Ostler and Hildo do Couto are informative, with the first focused on how some languages evolved to assume their bridge function, while the latter provides an account of some non-European lingua francas in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Ostler documents some such languages in human history since Antiquity and in different parts of the world. Do Couto, on the other hand, approaches the subject matter from the point of “systemic ecolinguistics,” in which languages are treated as interactions among their practitioners or ways in which the community members communicate, rather than as systems.

In a different but related vein, lingua francas can become so dominant that they endanger the vitality of the languages that they bridge. In his chapter “Language Endangerment, Loss, and Reclamation Today,” David Bradley explains the ways in which Tujia in Central China and Gong in Thailand have experienced LEL, under economic, political, and natural ecological pressures on their speakers to assimilate to the dominant population. He likewise explains the conditions under which minority populations at the Tibetan/Chinese border shifted to Tibetan. Although these cases of LEL are presented as gradual processes, Bradley also discusses cases of abrupt changes such as when, under the Indonesian invasion of Timor, the Maku’a people were forced to relocate or were killed, and the survivors had to shift to the languages of the areas where they migrated. He generally shows that the factors producing LEL vary from one ecology to another. Overall, the forces that drive LEL are not as global as the earlier literature in the 1990s and early 2000s has led us to believe.

Lenore Grenoble explains the role of Western style urbanization – which fosters one dominant language for politics, administration, and the economy – in generating competition among the languages it brought in contact. This typically results in language shifts, the immediate cause, or maybe simply a concomitant, of language loss. She focuses on the Arctic, where over half of its small total population now lives in the city. She presents histories of the colonization of the different regions that accounts for shifts from the Indigenous to the colonizers’ languages in Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, among other places. Changes in economic practices, which have triggered lifestyle shifts (some caused by climatic changes), are the central actuators of language loss. Low population density has also made the Indigenous people less resistant to the massive immigration of the colonists, even in rural areas. Rural exodus not only to the city but also to outside the Arctic has eroded the critical mass of the populations needed to sustain the vitality of Indigenous languages. Much more is to be learned in the chapter. More can also be learned about LEL from the chapters by Tej Bhatia, Surendra Gambhir, and Mel Engman & Kendall King, to which we need not return here.

In her chapter “The Emergence of Andean Spanish: Against the Odds,” Anna María Escobar shows especially that substrate influence, which largely accounts for the divergence of Andean Spanish from European Spanish (and other Latin American varieties), dates from the post-colonial period. Non-heritage Spanish varieties of the colonial period are closer L2 approximations of those spoken by the colonists than the post-colonial ones, a century later, that can clearly be identified as new dialects with distinctive grammatical features. Interestingly, the post-colonial period is that during which, according to César Itier, Quechua experienced demographic expansion in rural areas, while Spanish was spreading in the region’s urban centers (which attracted large numbers of Indigenous populations) and no longer functioned primarily as an elite language. This evolution of Spanish is also reminiscent of the emergence of creoles by basilectalization, which occurred later rather than earlier during the development of the relevant plantation colonies, as argued by Chaudenson (Reference Chaudenson1992, Reference Chaudenson2001).Footnote 10

Mari Jones’s chapter, “Contact between English and Norman in the Channel Islands,” is a clear example of changes that the languages in contact cause in each other’s systems while no language shift is taking place, which would lead one of them to extinction. English has exerted its influence, essentially non-phonetic, on Norman, while the latter has exerted its share of influence on local English. However, some of the peculiarities of local English have their origins in the United Kingdom’s nonstandard dialects that the heritage speakers brought to the islands. It is also noteworthy that the varieties of both English and Norman spoken on the three islands have not evolved uniformly, showing that evolutionary dynamics are essentially local (made more conspicuous in this case by insular separation), because no contact ecology replicates faithfully that of another (Mufwene Reference Mufwene2014). Interestingly, Norman appears to be endangered more by the exodus of the traditional islanders to the United Kingdom than by migrations of the British to the islands.

Discussing phenomena such as codeswitching and lexical borrowings, Yaron Matras underscores the role of speakers, above that of structural constraints, as the generators of motivation for mixing languages. He also explains the complex interplay between functions and cognitive and social values that limit the borrowability of lexical items. The constraints can be identified in both the borrowing and donor languages. The grounding of borrowings in social interactions involving bilinguals who bring along their sociolinguistic ideologies is especially revealing. These go a long way to explaining grammatical borrowings too.

Overall, the chapters in this Handbook show how far the study of language contact has evolved since the late nineteenth century and how much it has diversified, while enriching our understanding of human linguistic behavior from both diachronic and synchronic perspectives, and often within a dynamic framework. The studies highlight the social and psychological factors that influence or drive the relevant behaviors and show largely how we may not fully understand language change without looking into social change produced by population movements and contacts both within and across particular territories.

As noted above, we are well aware that many other chapters could have been included in this Handbook, on topics such as bilingual child language development, globalization and language, technology and multilingualism, multilingualism and economic development, and the resilience of some “weak” languages. It is only so much that can be included even in such a large two-volume collection. The future will determine whether another volume can be produced.


1 These terms have been used alternatively in colonial history in reference to individuals that interfaced between the colonizers and the Natives. The individuals also functioned as brokers in negotiations between the parties in contact (Berlin Reference Berlin1998), such as between the European merchants and the indigenous rulers. As has become evident in the case of the emergence of pidgins (Mufwene Reference Mufwene, Adamou and Matras2020a), they are the enablers of language contact at the population level.

2 This regards the complex dynamics of competition and selection from a communal feature pool (Mufwene Reference Mufwene2001, Reference Mufwene2002) that the ecologies which generate the migrant workers’ interlanguages do not produce.

3 There is indeed well-established scholarship on child bilingualism, which has also contributed to the important “Talk Bank” called CHILDES. However, as can be noticed from publications such as Yip & Matthews (Reference Yip and Matthews2007) and Silva-Corvalán (Reference Silva-Corvalán2014), the scholarship informs the reader about the development of bilingualism in individual speakers, even siblings in these specific cases, but not about the emergence of bilingual norms in a community.

4 Generally, Africans have been quite tolerant of the xenolectal nature of Europeans’ attempts to speak their languages. Today they hardly raise any issues from the ways in which educated speakers mixed their indigenous languages with the European languages in which they have been schooled. Much of the codeswitching on which the linguistics literature has been developed is based on this performance. Ironically, utterances in European languages that involve codeswitching are typically stigmatized as reflecting inadequate competence in the relevant languages.

5 To be sure, superstratists make some concessions of limited substrate influence, whereas substratists make allowance for some retentions from the lexifiers. In both cases, the concessions are considered as exceptions to the rule, although Chaudenson (Reference Chaudenson2001) has admitted that substrate influence is what distinguishes creoles from their non-creole colonial counterparts spoken by descendants of Europeans.

6 There are alternative hypotheses on the emergence of creoles, but they are irrelevant to our discussion of language mixing here.

7 To be sure, the current engagement in language documentation, as opposed to saving languages, can be considered as a continuation of the legacy of American linguists in the early twentieth century. However, this is not part of our concern with language contact in this volume.

8 One cannot help asking who the post-colonial leaders are and what the proportion of Native Americans is among them. Is that situation so different from that in, say, the United States, if one overlooks the Criollo and Mestizaje phenomenon?

9 To be sure, Milroy & Muysken (Reference Milroy and Muysken1995) had anticipated Vertovec in referring to “the influence of migration from the Third World on language practices in the industrial West,” which they connect to the interlanguages of guest/migrant workers in Western Europe studied in the 1970s by, for instance, Klein & Dittmar (Reference Klein and Dittmar1979).

10 In his work on creoles, Robert Chaudenson also used the term autonomization in reference to the emergence of local norms that became independent of the metropolitan ones.


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