Convergence and divergence in language contact situations

Convergence and divergence in language contact situations. Ed. by Kurt Braunmüller and Juliane House. (Hamburg studies on multilingualism 8.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp, viii, 241. ISBN 9789027219282. $113 (Hb).

Reviewed by Diego Pascual y Cabo, University of Florida

This book is based from the proceedings of a symposium that took place during the fall 2007 at the Research Center on Multilingualism at the University of Hamburg. A detailed introduction by Kurt Braunmüller and Juliane House provides the reader with an in-depth review on the topic of convergence and divergence. This topic is further developed in three different parts.

Part 1, ‘Challenges to accepted views of convergence and divergence in language contact situations’, consists of three papers that defy traditional beliefs on language convergence and divergence. First, Georg Bossong argues against the genealogical classification of languages and suggests a multilateral approach in his article ‘Divergence, convergence, contact: Challenges for the genealogical classification of languages’ (13–40). Second, in ‘Increases in complexity as a result of language contact’ (41–52), Östen Dahl argues against the idea that language contact is followed by the reduction in complexity of the language system. As a matter of fact, he claims that there is an increase in the complexity mainly due to the creation of distinctions that did not exist in either of the contributing languages (41). Lastly, Kurt Braunmüller concludes this section in ‘Converging genetically related languages: Endstation code mixing?’ (53–70) by challenging Pieter Myusken’s concept of congruent lexicalization (Bilingual speech: A typology of code-mixing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Carol Myers-Scotton’s definition of composite matrix languages (Contact linguistics: Bilingual encounters and grammatical outcomes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) regarding language contact. His main contribution is the proposal of a new model of language mixing between closely related languages.

Part 2, ‘Convergence and divergence in different varieties in oral and written discourse’, consists of four papers. Steffen Höder posits in ‘Converging languages, diverging varieties: Innovative relativisation patterns in Old Swedish’ (73–100) that the emergence of appositive relative clauses and the pronominal relativization strategy, as the most typologically salient innovations, has to be explained as a grammatical replication of Latin features in a process of language Ausbau (73). Karoline H. Kühl and Hjalmar P. Petersen analyze the vulnerability of verb phrases in bilingual speech in two language contact situations in ‘Converging verbal phrases in related languages: A case study from Faro-Danish and Danish-German language contact situations’ (101–24).  In ‘Convergence and divergence of communicative norms through language contact in translation’ (125–52), Viktor Becher, Juliane House, and Svenja Kranich evaluate the role of translation as a trigger for convergence and divergence phenomena in two studies involving English and German. They suggest that perceived similarities between linguistic elements in the two languages will result in convergence while perceived differences between linguistic elements will result in divergence. Lastly, Robert E. Vann reflects on the need for improved preservation, access, and analysis of spontaneous speech innovation in his article, ‘On the importance of spontaneous speech innovations in language contact situations’ (153–82). Vann offers previous evidence from Spanish speaking communities of Spain and America.

Part 3, ‘Phonological processes of variation and change in bilingual individuals’, starts with Susana Cortés, Conxita Lleó, and Ariadna Benet’s article ‘Gradient merging of vowels in Barcelona Catalan under the influence of Spanish’ (185–204). The authors analyze the intense contact situation between Catalan and Spanish in three districts of Barcelona. This paper examines the influence of Spanish phonology on the production of Catalan vowel contrasts, and provides quantitative evidence that both vowel systems are converging in the speech of children living in the highly Spanish-influenced district of Barcelona. Javier Arias and Conxita Lleó conclude this volume with ‘Comparing the representation of iambs by monolingual German, monolingual Spanish and bilingual German-Spanish children’ (205–34). In this article, the authors examine stress acquisition in early childhood, specifically the production of iambic-shaped words by monolingual and bilingual children.

In conclusion, this volume offers a fresh overview on convergence and divergence in language contact situations. Although most of its papers exclusively examine contact among (North) Germanic languages, all of the papers included in this volume successfully contribute to a better understanding of language contact. Overall, this book will be of great interest to linguists, particularly those interested in bi/multilingualism, language in contact, and language variation and change.