Microcontact: what it means and what it does
Is there a way to tease apart contact-induced change (CIC) from spontaneous, endogenous change (EC)? Are they the same thing or not? The views on the issue vary, with Heine & Kuteva (2003, 2005) maintaining that they show the same underlying mechanism and direction while other contact linguists (like Aikhenvald & Dixon) argue that they do not. Studying pairs of grammars in contact is not going to tell us much. Furthermore, there are many sociolinguistic factors determining change which might have an impact on the direction that change takes.
In order to understand if the mechanism is the same we need to observe the two changes thoroughly. A language A with a feature X can be studied in contact with a set of languages: B,C, D, and F, all having an identical feature X. B,C, D, and F should also be almost equivalent grammatically BUT for the features Y and Z, strictly related to X. If the feature X in [A|B] (read, A in contact with B) undergoes exactly the same change as [A|C], [A|D] and [A|F], despite Y and Z are different in these languages, we can conclude that the change of X is spontaneous, and that B,C,D,F did not have any impact on A. If that’s not the case and change takes different directions depending on the contact languages, we can conclude that this is CIC. We can repeat this for many languages.
This is the basic reasoning behind the project Microcontact, which studies CIC between languages that are minimally different, like the Italo-Romance languages in contact with the Romance languages in the Americas. We study eight Italo-Romance languages all in contact with three Romance languages and English, in the Americas, as well as the diachronic evolution of these languages through the centuries. Observing the two kinds of changes is the first step to understand their nature.
400,000 Italians left Italy after the WW2. They all moved in groups, they were mostly not educated and they were not speakers of Italian. These groups have a very similar sociolinguistic profile, which helps factor out the non-grammatical factors.
In this talk I will present the project and the very first results of the project.