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Multilingualism seminar

Contact, change and code-switching

27 October 2016, 13:00 – 14:30

Faculty of English, University of Cambridge

Theoretical and methodological issues in the study of contact and change in an endangered creole


This talk presents ongoing doctoral research into language contact and change in an endangered creole language, Louisiana Creole (ISO 639-3: LOU). In addition to this French-lexifier creole, the (once) linguistically diverse territory of Louisiana has been home to communities speaking varieties of several Native American languages, French, Spanish as well as the now-dominant English. Louisiana Creole has been formed and shaped over time by this multilingual environment, and is now critically endangered by overwhelming monolingualism in English. This project investigates morphosyntactic, phonological and lexical change using a diachronic corpus spanning circa 1820 to the present day.

This study has three dimensions. First, creoles have been largely overlooked in the study of language endangerment and its linguistic consequences ('language obsolescence'). Second, discussion of contact and change in creoles has traditionally taken place within the creolistics-specific 'decreolization' paradigm, which has seldom been integrated into more mainstream discussion. Third, it is claimed that obsolescent varieties change in ways which are quantitatively—but not qualitatively—distinct to varieties which are not in such intense contact. An analysis of Louisiana Creole is particularly suited to addressing these three interconnected themes. Louisiana Creole has historically been in intense contact with both its lexifier (French) and, now especially, a non-lexifier language (English). This offers the rare opportunity to compare the effects of contact with each of these languages, as well as the impact of obsolescence on these processes. In addition, the existence of diachronic data means that a corpus-based approach is particularly suited to testing specific quantitative claims made about language obsolescence.

This talk outlines the theoretical and methodological framework for this study. After a brief introduction, the talk will argue for integrating creoles into a more mainstream account of language contact, change and obsolescence. On this basis, a methodology for analysis is proposed which aims to uncover the socio- and psycholinguistic factors that condition inter-speaker variation in the corpus. As this research is in its early stages, feedback from the audience on this approach is especially welcome.


Code switching in 13th century Crown of Aragon: data from El Llibre dels Feyts


In this talk, I will explore code switching in El Llibre dels Feyts del Rey en Jacme, a 13th century chronicle written in Old Catalan. I will aim at (i) presenting the four linguistic varieties found in the text, including Old Catalan, Old Occitan, Old French, Old Castilian, and Latin; and explore how they interacted in 13th century Catalonia, and (ii) explain the absence of Aragonese in the text.

Varieties other than Old Catalan are mainly found in direct speech, where they are used to emphasise the difference in geographical origin, and potentially, in linguistic and political identity of non-Catalan characters.

The study of these cases of code switching and their effect on the surrounding text sheds light on the relation between language and identity in 13th century Catalonia, and the construction of the other through the opposition Romance speakers/Christians vs. Arabic speakers/muslims. 

However, the absence of Aragonese, a neighbouring language of Catalan in the 13th century, and the language of the western side of the Crown of Aragon, needs explaining. In spite of it being a language used officially, and the wealth of Aragonese characters, there is not a single case of explicit code-switching into Aragonese (Martines Peres 2012). I will argue that its absence is the reflection of a sociolinguistic context in which Aragonese was already a marked variety, contending with Old Catalan and Old Castilian (Colón 2002), varieties associated with political power.  

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Oliver Mayeux and Afra Pujol Campeny, PhD students, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge

13:00 - 14:30


Room GR04 - Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP

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