Bristol Centre for Linguistics seminar by Petros Karatsareas

by Jeanette Sakel

All are welcome to the seminar Petros will give at the BCL (Bristol Centre for Linguistics) next week:

Wednesday, 4.12.2013      1-2pm       in 3E24

He will talk about his research on the interface between historical linguistics and contact linguistics, looking at a variety of Greek that has been in close contact with other languages, and investigating a number of claims as to whether some of the features in this variety are due to contact – or could be due to historical developments. This will be particularly useful for students of ‘Language Contact and Bilingualism’ at level 3 – but all others are very welcome, too.

Petros is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at UWE, working on an exciting project that looks at the Cypriot Greek spoken in London. This talk is about his previous research (mainly based on his PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge). Some of you will know Petros as the supervisor of their undergraduate projects. Those who don’t: come and meet him 🙂

Here is his abstract for the talk:

My aim in this paper is to put prominently into the research agenda of contact linguistics the caveat that superficial similarity between two languages that have come in contact with one another in their history may not always be the result of that contact. This becomes particularly relevant (a) in the case of pattern replication phenomena (in the sense of Sakel 2007) where what appears to be borrowed from one language to another is not actual linguistic material (phonemes, morphemes) but the organisation, distribution and mapping of linguistic form and grammatical function; and (b) especially where pattern replication is posited to have taken place in the past. As a case-in-point, I examine the limited use of the definite article in Cappadocian Greek, a Modern Greek dialect that figures prominently in the linguistics literature as a par excellence example of heavy borrowing.

In Cappadocian, the nominative singular and plural forms of the non-neuter definite article are realised as null, evidencing a diachronic development that is generally attributed by many scholars (Anagnostopoulos 1922, Dawkins 1916, Thomason & Kaufman 1988, Winford 2005) to the influence of Turkish, which lacks a definite article altogether. Contact-oriented explanations, however, fail to account for the distribution of null realisation in terms of case/number and noun class: if Turkish had provided the model for this development, one would expect there not to be an article-like determiner in Cappadocian at all. In contrast, null realisation in the dialect becomes meaningful in the light of other Asia Minor Greek varieties―most notably Pontic and Silliot―in which parallel phenomena are also attested. My comparative examination of the synchronic distribution of null realisation in the three dialects reveals that its occurrence in Cappadocian is but one of the many reflexes of a significantly early innovation, internal to Asia Minor Greek, whose origins go back to a time before Cappadocian, Pontic and Silliot began developing idiosyncratically. The surface similarity between Cappadocian and Turkish is therefore shown to represent the final stages in a long series of language-internal developments whose origins predate the intensification of Cappadocian-Turkish contact. Of course, Turkish influence must have facilitated the transitions from one developmental stage to the other, especially in more recent times. Nevertheless, my analysis shows that language contact is highly unlikely to have been the initial trigger for the null realisation of the definite article in Cappadocian.

Against this backdrop, what this paper aims to achieve is set the record straight regarding a very frequently cited case of borrowing by reassessing the role of language contact while at the same time lending support to the growing view in historical linguistics that composite explanations addressing both language-internal history and the effects of cross-linguistic influence are the most fruitful approach to the study of diachronic innovations that emerge in language contact settings.

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