Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies

Post written by Pieter Muysken based on an article in the latest issue of Bilingualism

I am very happy and proud that my paper ‘Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies’ was published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, with some very interesting and challenging commentaries. The paper was in the making for more than a decade, and went through numerous versions. I think the journal asked for revisions about six times (final acceptance is a consolation for other authors perhaps in despair about a firm but just journal editor and very skeptical reviewers). I hope it will point people in new directions, even if it does not convince them, and stimulate new discussions.

If you ask me to summarize the paper, here goes:

Outcomes of language contact, like code-switching or Creole genesis, are not uniform, but vary, depending on the status and properties of the languages involved and the similarities between them. Thus there is a type of code-switching in which a single language plays the major role, and another type where speakers go back and forth between languages in a more balanced manner. Yet other types of switching involve very similar languages, which are blended together in inextricable ways. Similarly, in some Creole languages an originally African or Melanesian substrate language plays a major structural role, while others are more similar to a dominant European language that provided most of the vocabulary. Yet others resemble neither source language and seem the result of universal strategies. However, the patterns along which the outcomes of language contact vary are similar, I argue, across a number of different subfields in language contact, also including pidgin genesis, second language learning, bilingual processing, lexical and structural borrowing, bilingual interaction, etc. These patterns can be modeled into a single framework of speakers’ strategies, and interpreted grammatically using a version of Optimality Theory. As such it is one of several attempts to sue Optimality Theory to model language contact results.

Read the entire article ‘Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies’ here.

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