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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 1, 2011

English as a Contact Language: Typology and Comparison

Theo Vennemann
From the journal


This article places English language contacts in a typological and comparative perspective. It begins with a review of the essentials of language contact terminology: concepts such as substrate, superstrate, and the various kinds of adstrate, as well as borrowing, importation, language shift, and interlanguage are defined and illustrated. Two sections describe substratal and superstratal contact influence in the history of English: language shift from Celtic to English and borrowing from Norman French into English. A process of the former kind, substratal language shifting toward English, is further described in a separate section with a recent and continuing parallel: the shifting in the direction of Standard Australian English by speakers of Aboriginal Australian languages, who have thereby created a widely used interlanguage, Aboriginal English. Next, change of language type by language contact is illustrated with word order transformations from VSO to SOV and conversely, and it is argued that English too has undergone its own and unique type change from the Germanic Verb-second/Verb-late type to the SVO type as a consequence of language contact. The final section (before the conclusion) addresses the question of how the non-Indo-European features which Celtic passed on to English arose in the Isles in the first place. The more than a century old theory that they developed on a pre-Indo-European substrate is paralleled by a reconstruction of the passing-on of SOV order in three linguistic layers at the Horn of Africa, namely from Nilo-Saharan to (originally VSO) Cushitic and further to (originally VSO) Amharic. The Concluding Remarks emphasize the singular importance of English for the developing general theory of language contact and the promise this theory holds for a better understanding of the history of this language.

Published Online: 2011-December
Published in Print: 2011-December