Does language contact lead to complexification or simplification? evidence from Basque
The debate as to whether contact leads to language simplification or complexification (Dahl, 2004; Miestamo et al., 2008; McWhorter, 2011; Gardani et al., 2015) has often been linked to the type of contact involved. Studies suggest that simplification is prone in adult L2-learning situations (Kusters, 2003; Bentz & Winter, 2013; Sorace, 2011) whereas cases of complexification are prone in long-term intensive contact settings or in child-bilingualism (Trudgill, 2011). Studies wherein both populations co-exist, however, remain underexplored. In this presentation, I examine three features of Basque within the Basque Autonomous Community in Spain, where Basque has been in long-standing contact with Spanish and where a large Basque-L2 community has emerged as a result of recent revitalization efforts (1960-80s).
The three contact-phenomena of interest are Basque Differential Object Marking (DOM), ergative case-marking in the nominal inflection and subject pronoun expression (SPE). Following a variationist approach, a total of 84 Basque-Spanish bilinguals were stratified in 4 groups (native Basque-Spanish, early sequential bilinguals (ESB), L2-advanced and L2-intermediate Basque learners). The variable use of the three phenomena were coded for a number of linguistic factors established in the literature and submitted to a hierarchy constraint analysis, followed by mixed-effects models, in R.
Following the relative approach to complexification, I argue that Basque DOM among L2 speakers arose to lessen the processing cost among these bilinguals (Kusters, 2003; Hawkins, 2004), but constitutes a case of linguistic complexification with respect to the functional use of the dative case marker (Dahl, 2004). Results for ergative case-marking show ample variation in its lack of use depending on the type of speaker: native-bilinguals show a phonological effect, whereas L2 speakers present a ‘problem’ in its interfaces. I argue that the underuse of ergative is the result of a simplification process in paradigmatic redundancy (i.e. case), constituting an “L2-difficult” feature (Dahl, 2004: 294), for which learners need to figure out the way different interfaces interact in constraining its use. In terms of SPE, results show that higher rates of SPE among low proficiency speakers of Basque could be attributed to L2 speakers’ need to alleviate processing costs. However, the internal configuration among these speakers is argued not to be the result of constraint simplification nor constitutes a problem in discourse-pragmatic interfaces, but is rather explained as form of complexification that is promoted by transfer effects from Spanish. In conclusion, this presentation puts into question the tendency to equate bilinguals’ processing costs to linguistic simplification.
Itxaso received her Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016. Her research focuses on the mechanisms that emerge in contact situations and lead to typologically common and uncommon linguistic patterns.
Her work on contact-induced linguistic phenomena falls within the intersection between sociolinguistics, typology, and language acquisition. Additionally, she incorporates linguistic attitudes and ideologies to explain mechanisms of contact-induced change. Most of her work pertains to the Basque-Spanish contact situation in Spain. She has done work on the acquisition of Basque ergativity and contact effects in Basque subject pronoun expression and pitch-accents in Gernika Basque. More recently, she has also focused on contact effects in the Linguistic Landscapes of Spanish and English in Pilsen, Chicago.
This is Itxaso's personal webpage where you can find links to her research interests and academia.edu page.