A Workshop at the 25th International Conference on Historical Linguistics

The Typology of Contact-Induced
Changes in Morphosyntax

University of Oxford, 2 August 2022


The study of language contact and contact-induced change has seen a rise in attention since Weinreich’s Languages in Contact (1953), and especially after Thomason and Kaufman’s 1988 book. Since then, numerous textbooks and handbooks (Heine and Kuteva 2005; Hickey 2010, 2017; Matras 2007, 2020), collected volumes (Aikhenvald and Dixon 2001, 2007; Braunmüller et al. 2014), monographs (Chamoreau and Léglise 2012; Coghill 2016) and dissertations, both on modern (Bisiada 2014) and on ancient languages (Bianconi 2019; Fendel 2018; Meyer 2017) have appeared, dealing with a wide variety of aspects of language contact from different vantage points and frameworks, ranging from, for instance, Thomason’s socio-structural approach (Thomason 2001) to Myers- Scotton’s purely structural, model-based one (2002).

Among the types of contact-induced change, those affecting the morphosyntax of one of the contact languages represent an as yet understudied field—certainly from a typological perspective—and are of particular interest for at least the following two reasons:

  • They illustrate that even typologically uncommon changes to very basic patterns of a language can result from contact (e.g. changes in morphosyntactic alignment, cf. Coghill 2016; Meyer 2017, 2019).

  • They suggest that speakers of a contact-language index constructions with individual languages less strictly than we may assume intuitively (cf. e.g. Höder 2014).

In many such studies, the languages in question are either well-attested historically, allowing for a thorough diachronic study (e.g. for English and Norman French); and/or there are native speakers with or without contact-background to consult concerning the grammaticalisation status of a potentially contact-induced change (e.g. in Spanish-American communities as reported by Fishman et al. 1971).

Yet, the situation is considerably less clear in contact situations where contact took place prior to attestation (e.g. Parthian and Armenian) or where documentation has been minimal until relatively recent times (Amazonian languages and languages of Papua New Guinea); where languages have no written tradition, but have influenced a written language (English and Romani; Lekoudesch and German); where languages are attested in different historical depth (Sanskrit and Dravidian); where contact-induced changes appear to be restricted in genre (Armenian and Greek); where dialects or varieties of the same language are involved (Greek dialects); or where translation may be involved (biblical Greek and Latin). To make things worse, it remains generally difficult to distinguish securely changes due or at least heavily influenced by language contact from those resulting from genetic inheritance, in particular where there is no ‘standard’ language.

Goal & Questions

This workshop aims to explore the problems of investigating contact-induced change in the morphosyntax in general, but with a particular focus on such historical or corpus languages and on the typology of the documents that attest them and of the changes themselves. Its main goals are twofold:

  • to collect and present new data concerning contact-induced changes in the morphosyntax primarily of languages with attestation issues;

  • to compare and contrast the methodologies of investigating this type of change in such linguistic contexts.

To achieve these goals, we invite submission addressing the following questions, amongst others:

    • How can the analysis of historical (corpus) languages benefit from the theories and methods used in the description of contact in better-attested languages or dialects?

    • How can typology inform a finer-grained analysis of contact at the morphological and syntactic level?

    • What role, if any, do ‘markedness’/‘typological distance’ and genetic relatedness play in borrowing processes of morphosyntactic structures?

    • Do insights from recent scholarship allow us to revisit and improve on the explanation and analysis of established cases of (possible) language contact?

    • To what extent can new (typological) insights confirm Curnow’s (2001) doubts concerning traditional ‘hierarchies of borrowability’?

    • Is it possible to establish a ‘typology of borrowing’, broadly defined, for contact-induced changes in morphosyntax?

Confirmed Speakers

Nino Amiridze, Zurab Baratashvili, Giorgi Jgharkava and Medea Sagliani (Tbilisi)

Marina Benedetti (Siena Stranieri) & Chiara Gianollo (Bologna)

Morphosyntactic contact in translation:
reflexives between Greek and Latin in the Bible

Michele Bianconi (Oxford / Harvard) & Marta Capano (Pisa)

The Greek datives in -essi: contact or drift?
The evidence from Sicily and Pamphylia

Gemma McCarley, Raquel Montero, Molly Rolf, Sarah Einhaus and George Walkden (Konstanz)


Aikhenvald, A. & R.M.W. Dixon (eds.) (2001) Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance. Problems in Comparative Linguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Aikhenvald, A.Y. & R.M.W. Dixon (eds.) (2007) Grammars in Contact: A Cross-Linguistic Typology, Oxford: OUP.

Bianconi, M. (2019) The Linguistic Relationships between Greek and the Anatolian Languages, DPhil Thesis, University of Oxford.

Bisiada, M. (2014) From hypotaxis to parataxis: An investigation of English–German syntactic convergence in translation, Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, Manchester.

Braunmüller, K., Höder, S., & K. Kühl (eds.) (2014) Stability and Divergence in Language Contact: Factors and Mechanisms, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Chamoreau, C. & Léglise, I. (eds.) (2012) Dynamics of Contact-Induced Language Change, Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Coghill, E. (2016) The rise and fall of ergativity in Aramaic: cycles of alignment change, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Curnow, T.J. (2001) “What Language Features Can Be 'Borrowed'?”, in A. Aikhenvald & R.M.W. Dixon (eds.), Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance. Problems in Comparative Linguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 412–436.

Fendel, V.B.M. (2018) Coptic interference in the syntax of Greek letters from Egypt, Ph.D. thesis, University of Oxford.

Fishman, J.A.; Cooper, R.; and Newman, R. (eds.) (1971) Bilingualism in the Barrio, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Heine, B. & T. Kuteva (2005) Language Contact and Grammatical Change, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hickey, R. (ed.) (2010) The Handbook of Language Contact, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hickey, R. (2017) The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Höder, S. (2014) “Convergence vs. divergence from a diasystematic perspective,” in K. Braunmüller; S. Höder; and K. Kühl (eds.), Stability and Divergence in Language Contact: Factors and Mechanisms, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 39–62.

Matras, Y. (2007) “The borrowability of structural categories,” in Y. Matras (ed.), Grammatical Borrowing in Cross-Linguistic Perspective, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 31–74.

Matras, Y. (2020), Language Contact, 2nd edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meyer, R. (2017) Iranian-Armenian language contact in and before the 5th century CE. An investigation into pattern replication and societal multilingualism, DPhil thesis, University of Oxford.

Meyer, R. (2019) “The Relevance of Typology for Language Contact,” Journal of Language Contact 12(3), 569–608.

Myers-Scotton, C. (2002) Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pat-El, N. (2013), Contact or Inheritance? Criteria for distinguishing internal and external change in genetically related languages, «Journal of Language Contact» 6(2): 313–328.

Thomason, S.G. (2001) Language Contact: An Introduction, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Thomason, S.G. & T. Kaufman (1988) Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, Berkeley/Los Angeles/Oxford: University of California Press.

Weinreich, U. (1953) Languages in Contact, The Hague: Mouton.


For any questions, please get in touch with robin [dot] meyer [at] unil [dot] ch &michele [dot] bianconi [at] st-hildas [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk .