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Two Types of Functional Transfer in Language Contact

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The aim of this article is to examine one kind of cross linguistic influence, or transfer, in language contact situations. This is “functional transfer”, defined as applying the grammatical functions of a morpheme from one language to a morpheme in another language that does not normally have these functions. With regard to language contact, most reported instances of this kind of transfer concern the creation of a new grammatical morpheme in an expanded pidgin or creole, resulting from the use of a lexical morpheme of the lexifier (here the recipient language, RL) with semantic and syntactic properties of a grammatical morpheme of the substrate language(s) (here the source language(s), SL). Another kind of functional transfer, however, results in an already existing grammatical morpheme in the RL being used with semantic properties, but not syntactic properties, of a grammatical morpheme in the SL that speakers perceive as equivalent. Thus, the two types of functional transfer differ in that the first entails morphological augmentation while the second involves functional alteration of an existing morpheme. Other differences between the two types of transfer are that certain constraints appear to apply to the first type but not to the second. In addition, the first type of transfer, as opposed to the second, does not commonly occur in the process of second language acquisition. Explanations proposed for these distinctions concern different strategies used for morphological expansion in the development of a contact language. Different contact languages can be placed along a continuum based on the prevalence and type of functional transfer.

Affiliations: 1: University of New England (Australia), Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies,


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