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  Home > Research at the Lacito > Language evolution and social ecology

Research programs (Archives)



Language evolution and social ecology



Responsables : Evangelia Adamou, François Jacquesson
and Catherine Taine-Cheikh



  • September 30th, 2011, Linguistic Areas (presentation)

  • January 28-29, 2011, Linguistic Geography "From linguistic landscapes to Landscape Linguistics" (presentation)

  • March 26th, 2010, Population and Language Change (presentation)
  • October 19th, 2009, Déserts. Y a-t-il des corrélations entre l'écosystème et le changement linguistique ? (presentation in French and conferences with videos)

  • October 23rd, 2008, Ecology and Language Evolution (presentation and conferences with videos).

The objectives of this research program
We will study the relations between linguistic changes, which are the starting point of our study, and their social context, i.e. we will attempt to measure how the study of a given speech community sheds light or explains these changes. This exploration covers everything from correlations to causation, and varies depending on whether the changes are considered internal or external.
This research program brings together experts who, conscious of the importance and variety of linguistic change, are also intimate enough with the speech communities they study to be able to present cases where this factor obviously plays a role. We believe this will make it possible to extrapolate general tendencies.

Description of the intellectual context
Research carried out at the LACITO is devoted to several different linguistic regions, for language descriptions, the study of their contexts, and for the history of the languages and of their speech communities.
While recent studies (cf. Thomason and Kaufman 1988, Thomason 2001) highlight the differences in behavior which vary depending on whether the change is more “internal” or instead induced by contact, the two approaches nonetheless complement each other (cf. Aikhenvald and Dixon 2001, Heine and Kuteva 2005) and, in practice, can only be carried out together. Furthermore, even in contact situations, of which recent studies have brought to light a surprisingly wide array (Bakker & Mous 1994, Nicolaï 2007) it is important to take the typological and historical proximity into account to grasp how the contact situation was negotiated, or, in cases where the change is currently in progress, how it is currently being negotiated.

Some developments may appear to be more specific to internal evolution (such as grammaticalization phenomena) or, on the contrary, characteristic of contact situations (such as borrowings, calques or dissemination processes).
One also notes differences and varying levels:

  • in the borrowing frequencies (isolated lexemes / morphological features or syntactic patterns, future / past modalities…) and the degrees of integration (phonetic, morphological, etc.)
  • in the order of appearance and disappearance of the features and linguistic categories (for languages on the decline, cf. Dorian 1989; for situations of bilingualism, cf. Matras and Sakel (ed.), 2007)
  • in the impact of a linguistic change on the various systems, the latter possibly being limited (as is usually the case with the lexicon) or on the contrary profoundly modifying the language system (metatypy, cf. Ross 2007).

Whatever their cause (internal, external, or both) and their specificities (illustrating a general tendency or a specific case), linguistic change always takes place in a particular anthropological context, which will be studied in detail.
Each specific human community can be studied from various angles and it is the sum of the data (historical, geographical, socio-economic, cultural, etc.) which make up the “social ecology” of a linguistic variety. This approach, described in detail in Mufwene 2005, is not without risks. In using the “ecological” metaphor, we in no way subscribe to the assimilation which is often made between language sciences and natural sciences, nor to the temptation to explain culture by biology. For us the expression “social ecology” nicely evokes, at this point in time, the wish to once again recognize the anthropological context behind linguistic facts.
Different groups often emerge for a given language or language area, on the basis of one or several criteria: distinction between center and periphery, between large and small communities (mountains / plains, villages / cities), between sedentary and nomadic populations, religious specificities or not, a whole area is opened up: let us see if it can be organized.
The role of extra-linguistic factors – complex as in the case of bedouinity in Arabic dialectology or in population density (cf. Jacquesson 2001, 2003) – will be studied for various language families and linguistic areas. We will see to what extent it is possible to establish parallels between linguistic evolutions and the evolution of the society in which a given language is spoken, as in the case of the contrast between the relatively slow and limited evolution of the Bedouin (as well as in the “quasi-deserts” studied by Jacquesson) and the rapid evolution of the convergence phenomena which may be observed in large cities.

Aikhenvald A.Y. & R.M.W. Dixon (éd.), 2001, Aréal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance. Problems in Comparative Linguistics, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
P. Bakker and M. Mous (eds), 1994, Mixed Languages. 15 Case Studies in Language Intertwining, Amsterdam, Institute for Functional Research into Language and Language Use, 242 p.
Heine B. & T. Kuteva, 2005, Language contact and grammatical change, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Jacquesson F., 2001, « Pour une linguistique des quasi-déserts », in A.-M. Loffler-Laurian (éd.), Études de linguistique générale et contrastive. Hommage à Jean Perrot, Paris, Centre de Recherches sur les Langues et les Sociétés, pp. 199-216.
 —, 2003, Linguistique et génétique : l'avenir d'une collaboration,  BSLP, t. XCVIII/1, pp. 101-122.
Matras Y. et J. Sakel (eds.), 2007, Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Mufwene S. S., 2005, Créoles, écologie sociale, évolution linguistique, Paris, L’Harmattan.
Nicolaï R., 2007, « Le contact des langues ; point aveugle du ‘linguistique’ », Journal of Language Contact – THEMA 1, www. jlc-journal.org, pp. 1-11.
Ross M., 2007, « Calquing and Metatypy », Journal of Language Contact – THEMA 1, www. jlc-journal.org, pp. 116-143.
Thomason S.G., 2001, Language contact: An introduction, Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Thomason S.G. et T. Kaufman, 1988, Language contact, creolization, and genetic linguistics, Berkeley: University of Chicago Press.

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