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Challenges and Benefits of Contact among Relatives: Morphological Copying

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Hierarchies of borrowability typically rank morphology as the most resistant to transfer of all aspects of language. Several explanations have been offered. One is that copying takes place primarily between typologically similar systems, and morphology is one of the ways languages can differ the most. Another is that more tightly integrated structures are more resistant to copying, and morphology is inherently tightly integrated. It has also been pointed out that copying depends on speakers establishing equivalence relations between elements of the languages in contact. Morphology may be less accessible to speaker consciousness than other aspects of language. Insight into contributing factors may come from contact situations involving related languages. Such languages are usually similar typologically. But they also present a major challenge: distinguishing contact effects from common inheritance and drift. Certain favorable circumstances can enhance their potential contributions. Most helpful are established genealogical relationships among the languages, a documented history of contact, morphological complexity, and sound changes diagnostic of copied forms. Examples here are drawn from Tuscarora, a Northern Iroquoian language. The Tuscarora separated from the other Northern Iroquoians early and spent perhaps two millennia in the American Southeast on their own. After they rejoined their relatives in the Northeast, there was close contact and intermarriage for two centuries. The languages share complex but similar morphologies. Extensive copying of forms can be discerned: not only whole words, but also bound stems, roots, and affixes. Functional features of bound forms were copied as well, including semantic extension.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara,


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