contact linguistics

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

An Introduction to Contact Linguistics, by Donald Winford (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).


Contact linguistics is the interdisciplinary study of the ways in which languages influence one another when people speaking two or more languages (or dialects) interact.

The term contact linguistics was introduced in 1979 at the First World Congress on Language Contact and Conflict in Brussels.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Observations

  • "Whenever people speaking different languages come into contact, there is a natural tendency for them to seek ways of bypassing the communicative barriers facing them by seeking compromise between their forms of speech.

    "Such contact can have a wide variety of linguistic outcomes. In some cases, it may result in only slight borrowing of vocabulary, while other contact situations may lead to the creation of entirely new languages. Between these two extremes lies a wide range of possible outcomes involving varying degrees of influence by one language on the other. More accurately, of course, it is the people speaking the respective languages who have contact with each other and who resort to varying forms of mixture of elements from the languages involved. The possible results of such contact differ according to two broad categories of factors--internal (linguistic) and external (social and psychological)."
    (Donald Winford, An Introduction to Contact Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell, 2003)

  • Language Conflicts
    "What we speak and why is no accident, but rather a product of power struggles for economic, political and cultural supremacy or resistance. The Soweto uprising in South Africa was sparked by the insistence of the apartheid regime that Afrikaans--the language of the Boer white minority--had to be used for mathematics, arithmetic and social studies in black schools from 7th grade. Desmond Tutu branded Afrikaans the 'language of the oppressor.'

    "During the second world war, German-Americans were arrested in the US for speaking German. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, more than 300 languages were spoken in North America; now there are around only 175, of which 90% are effectively moribund. Today, more than half the world lives in a place where their mother tongue and the official language are not the same. Belgium's linguistic divide mirrors a reversal of economic fortunes whereby the once wealthy, industrial French-speaking Walloonia has now been eclipsed by a far more productive, hi-tech Flanders.

    "Language, then, all too often becomes the most intimate proxy for broader societal conflicts that have little to do with what people actually speak."
    (Gary Younge, "As the Belgian Elections Prove, Language Can Be a Divisive Issue." The Guardian, June 14, 2010)

  • Linguistic Borrowing and Imposition
    "The primary mechanisms by which languages are reshaped when they come into contact with one another are known as borrowing and imposition (Van Coetsem 2000). . . .

    "Linguistic borrowing takes place via the agency of speakers for whom the recipient language is dominant, as when native English speakers use phrases like 'cul-de-sac' or 'a priori' when speaking English. There is a tendency for speakers to 'preserve the more stable components of the language in which they are more proficient' (Winford 2005: 7), and on the whole the stabler components comprise structural features like phonology and grammar, whereas vocabulary is less resistant to change. For this reason, when a person is speaking his dominant language, the material that he borrows from another language consists mostly of imitated vocabulary. . . .

    "Linguistic imposition, in contrast, takes place via the agency of speakers for whom the source language is dominant, as when native German speakers use a phrase like 'I would suggest him to go' (Winford 2005: 10) when speaking English. Because speakers tend to preserve the linguistic structures of their dominant language, imposition tends to affect the grammar of the recipient language rather than just its vocabulary (Winford 2005: 7). . . . Consequently, imposition relies on a great deal more second-language learning than does borrowing. . . .

    "When it is less clear which of a bilingual's language is dominant, both mechanisms of agentivity will be at work."
    (Kate Distin, Cultural Evolution. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011)
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "contact linguistics." ThoughtCo, Jun. 3, 2016, Nordquist, Richard. (2016, June 3). contact linguistics. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "contact linguistics." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 14, 2017).