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Open Access Social and Linguistic Factors as Predictors of Contact-Induced Change

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Social and Linguistic Factors as Predictors of Contact-Induced Change

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Two claims made by Thomason & Kaufman (1988) have elicited particularly strong reactions from specialists in language contact: first, that there are no absolute linguistic constraints on the kinds or numbers of features that can be transferred from one language to another; and second, that when social factors and linguistic factors might be expected to push in opposite directions in a language contact situation, the social factors will be the primary determinants of the linguistic outcome. Both claims have frequently been challenged in recent years, for instance by Gillian Sankoff, Ruth King, and Carol Myers-Scotton. To some extent the challenges are based on a misunderstanding of our arguments; most seriously, some critics argue that we dismiss linguistic predictors as entirely irrelevant to an analysis of contact-induced change. Since we discussed linguistic as well as social predictors of contactinduced change, it isn't true that, as King 2002 puts it, we claimed that 'linguistic factors… play no role' in determining the outcome of language contact (and Sankoff 2001 has a similar statement). In part, however, the objections to our position are based on genuine theoretical and/or empirical disagreements between Thomason & Kaufman and their critics. This paper explores these disagreements in an effort to arrive at a better understanding of the relative importance of social and linguistic predictors in language contact situations. My main conclusions are these: although critics have made impressive contributions toward specifying linguistic predictors, there is still no good reason to abandon the Thomason & Kaufman position (mainly because it was much less extreme than some readers have assumed); and much more work needs to be done to make even rough predictions about the relative impact of particular social and linguistic factors, and their interactions, in particular contact situations.


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