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Essay: Language contact

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  • Published: 19 September 2015*
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When two languages interact it is referred to as a language contact. Two or more languages are used either by one individual or in speech communities. The ways the languages impact each other are transfer and integration. The feature of the item can remain as the idiolect of bilinguals or start to function as a part of the language of the whole speech community (G??rlach 137).

2.1. Three Types of Contact

G??rlach mentions three paths of borrowing. The result of the first type of contact is integration of the transferred items into the receiving language. It is located in mixed speech communities and on verges of two regions where there are two spoken languages. The change can be restricted to certain domains and often has an impact on daily life. The second type of contact is characterized as remote and is confined to lexis. It can be for example a result of importing goods and their names which means the transfer takes place over long distances, only in written form and does not require bilinguals. Borrowings from book languages are the third and last type of contact. The integration is based on written forms and is not very powerful: later contact in speech can lead to changes, mainly in pronunciation (G??rlach 138).

2.2. Borrowing

There are several classes into which the borrowed items can be divided. The first of categories, regarding spelling and writing system can be demonstrated on the Old English alphabet which was adapted from Latin. There were some alterations made by the Norman scribes in items where the indigenous system was inefficient. Individual words were influenced where the spelling and pronunciation did not match with the etymon and subsequently the new spellings became the ground for new pronunciations. Changes in the system of phonemes did not appear until Middle English when French determined the pronunciation of the loanwords, for example new phonemes /z/ and /v/ were introduced to English in the loanwords that contained them. Here, the author states that the medieval French loanwords were ultimately integrated excluding those that were adpoted after 1660. Another of borrowed items is morphology. It is possible, but not certain that the -s in verb inflection was influenced by Scandinavian. Borrowing elements from open sets (lexemes) was more frequent in lexicon than from closed sets. Bound morphemes were also borrowed less easily.

Calques are borrowed items that include three subtypes: loan translations, loan renderings and loan creations. Next type of borrowing is a existing word which takes over the meaning of the foreign item: this is called a semantic loan. Semantic loan creates polysemy, but it can proceed in being substituted or given up again. Also syntax can be borrowed. It is usually an effect of an unidiomatic translation or deliberate adoption of a foreign pattern. The last type of borrowing is a loanword, which is described in detail in the following text (G??rlach 144-146).

2.3. Loanwords

A loanword is an expression indicating either a foreign word or a lexical item that the recipient language borrows from the donor language. G??rlach states that a loanword is a foreign lexical which is borrowed at word level or above (loan phrase); both form and content are affected in the process of borrowing and in later integration, precisely by adaptation to the formal categories of the receiving language, and by the selection of a meaning (which has to co-occur with indigenous counterparts) (G??rlach 145).

The process of the lexical item becoming a loanword normally begins with episodic use in a native context and the integration develops when the word starts to function in the speech community (G??rlach 145).

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