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Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies*



This paper sketches a comprehensive framework for modeling and interpreting language contact phenomena, with speakers’ bilingual strategies in specific scenarios of language contact as its point of departure. Bilingual strategies are conditioned by social factors, processing constraints of speakers’ bilingual competence, and perceived language distance. In a number of domains of language contact studies important progress has been made, including Creole studies, code-switching, language development, linguistic borrowing, and areal convergence. Less attention has been paid to the links between these fields, so that results in one domain can be compared with those in another. These links are approached here from the perspective of speaker optimization strategies. Four strategies are proposed: maximize structural coherence of the first language (L1); maximize structural coherence of the second language (L2); match between L1 and L2 patterns where possible; and rely on universal principles of language processing. These strategies can be invoked to explain outcomes of language contact. Different outcomes correspond to different interactions of these strategies in bilingual speakers and their communities.


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Address for correspondence: Department of Linguistics, Radboud University Nijmegen, Postbus 9103, 6500 HD, Nijmegen, The


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This paper has been a very long time in the making and was first presented at the University of Michigan in April 2002, and subsequently on many occasions. I am grateful for comments from audiences in Ann Arbor (Mich.), Módena (Italy), Berlin, Bangor (Wales), Bayreuth, Barcelona, Stockholm, Groningen, State College (Penn.), Utrecht, Stellenbosch, Tilburg, and of course Nijmegen. Critical comments from Suzanne Aalberse and Gerrit Jan Kootsta, from four very helpful anonymous reviewers, and from Carmen Silva Corvalán on behalf of the journal likewise helped a lot to improve this paper. A much earlier version appeared in the proceedings of the 4th conference of AItLA (Muysken, 2005). I also want to acknowledge the help of Geertje van Bergen, Lotte Hogeweg, and Helen de Hoop regarding the Optimality theoretic formalizations proposed. The paper was written with the support of the Traces of Contact Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC). I am grateful for the hospitality of the Wallenberg Research Centre at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) for time to work on this paper. This paper is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Michael George Clyne.



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Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies*



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