Dialect convergence across language
A challenge for areal linguistics
Recent studies in typology and historical linguistics have yielded new insights
into the geographical distribution and diusion of linguistic phenomena. Within
Europe, several linguistic areas of dierent types and sizes have been proposed and
discussed, including a European area (Standard Average European, henceforth
SAE). Such claims are largely based on the grammars of the respective standard
languages. In this contribution, I argue that we need (a) to focus also on intralingual
variation in order to fully understand both the synchronic facts and the diachronic
processes behind the formation of linguistic areas, and (b) to systematically include
non-standard dialects or varieties in areal linguistic studies in order to gain a more
representative empirical basis.1 Moreover, we have to take (c) dialect convergence
across language boundaries into account, which I consider to be an important con-
tact linguistic process in the emergence of areal phenomena. is view is supported
by three case studies on areal phenomena in Northern European languages and
dialects, investigating non-standard verbal constructions (3.1), dialectal phonologi-
cal features (3.2), and medium-specic syntactic traits (3.3).
2. Does Norwegian have relative pronouns?
One of the features that many European languages have in common is pronominal
relativisation. is strategy employs a pronoun that is inected for gender and
number and, if possible, case to introduce a post-nominal relative clause, such
as German der/ die/ das, rather than an uninected subjunction (cf. Lehmann
1984:43.) such as English that. Since the relative pronoun strategy is counted as
1. Dialect and variety are used interchangeably throughout this paper.
1 Steen Höder
one of the denitional typological features of SAE (Haspelmath 2001), we have to
determine whether or not a language has relative pronouns in order to establish
its (degree of) membership in the SAE area. In areal linguistic terms, we have to
decide whether the corresponding isogloss on a linguistic map should be drawn so
as to include or exclude the language.
is approach is not unproblematic, however, as can be illustrated by ask-
ing an apparently simple and innocent question: does Norwegian have relative
pronouns? e answer is, it depends on which Norwegian we choose, Bokmål or
Nynorsk. Norwegian is, of course, special in the way that it has two distinct stan-. Norwegian is, of course, special in the way that it has two distinct stan-
dard varieties instead of one. us, a certain proportion of the (otherwise covert)
intralingual variation shows up in written texts and standard grammars: Nynorsk
doesn’t have relative pronouns (as can be inferred from any corpus of Nynorsk
texts or any grammar textbook; the usual relativiser is the subjunction som),
whereas relative pronouns are used in Bokmål texts and dealt with in Bokmål
grammars (though restricted to certain registers of the written language, among
them hvilken/ hvilket/ hvilke (Faarlund et al. 1997: 1056.)).
is shows that in an exceptional case like Norwegian, the ‘convenient ction’
(Dahl 2001:1460) of areal linguistics that each language has a specic and exclu-
sive location in space is not even sustainable at the level of the standard languages.
Normally, though, typological investigations and areal linguistic maps are based
on one dialect per language, viz. the standard variety that is described in easily
accessible reference grammars. As an empirical basis, this is not only misleading
because it excludes deviant and typologically (potentially) relevant features of var-
ious dialects (cf. Auer 2004), but also because typical features of standard varieties
are by far overrepresented – as a result of writing, dialect levelling, standardisa-
tion, or, as claimed by McWhorter (2007), L2 acquisition. Our understanding of
areal connections across language boundaries is therefore not only based on, but
also biased toward standard varieties: how sure can we be that a putatively areal
feature doesn’t turn out to be a feature only of the respective standard dialects,
or that a linguistic area like Standard Average European doesn’t only include the
average European standard varieties?
3. Areal patterns and dialect convergence across language boundaries
Diachronically, dialects or varieties are subject to areal processes of convergence,
which is to say that they can acquire, change or lose specic properties andbecome
more similar to each other or to the standard variety over time (cf. Hinskens etal.
2005). Although normally understood as a contact-induced process, convergence
Dialect convergence across language boundaries 1
as a descriptive term may in principle also refer to a long-term result of the original
genetic relatedness of the dialects (e.g. the so-called dri phenomena) or to purely
coincidental changes, as long as it results in a new areal pattern that is not directly
traceable to a common ancestor of the dialects involved.
Dialect convergence may involve varieties of only one language, but it may
also cross language boundaries and aect dialects of other (unrelated or not
closely related) languages. is observation by itself isn’t surprising. It is, however,
remarkable that because of the standard language bias in areal linguistics, inter-
lingual areal patterns at the dialectal level, including dialect convergence across
language boundaries, seem to go largely unnoticed in contact linguistics, though it
can be assumed to be at work whenever languages as a whole are converging: there
is dialect contact without language contact, but not vice versa.
In the following sections, I discuss three cases of areal patterning which
may (and in one case can be proved to) be the result of dialect convergence across
language boundaries and which thus provide a challenge to the standard-based
approach in areal linguistics.
3.1 Pseudocoordination in Germanic
In several Germanic languages, there are various types of monoclausal con-
structions that consist of two nite verbs conjoined by a conjunction (‘and’),
in which the rst is a member of a closed verb class (oen positional or direc-
tional verbs) and functions as a kind of aspectual marker, while the second is a
main verb. Such pseudocoordinating structures are found and well described
in various Germanic languages, such as the Mainland Scandinavian languages,
English, and Afrikaans (cf. Teleman et al. 1999: 334.; Tonne 2001; Hopper
2002; de Vos 2005):
(1) hun sidder og snakker med sig selv (Danish)
she sits and talks with refl self
‘she is talking to herself (progressive)’
(2) we go and buy a DVD (inchoative) (English)
(3) hy sit en lees die boeke (Afrikaans)
he sits and reads the books
‘he is reading the books (progressive)’
ese examples represent constructions that are (partly) grammaticalised, though
not paradigmatic or obligatory (unlike, say, the English progressive). Rather,
although generally accepted as a part of the standard varieties, there is a tendency
for pseudocoordination to be a feature of colloquial speech rather than formal
1 Steen Höder
styles, oen competing with alternative non-pseudocoordinating constructions
such as innitives:
(4) a. I try and do that (English)
b. I try to do that
(5) a. jag håller på och skriver ett brev (Swedish)
I hold on and write a letter
b. jag håller på att skriva ett brev
I hold on to write
‘I am writing a letter (progressive)’
Since pseudocoordination is usually considered to be a relatively recent phenom-
enon and is oen discussed in terms of grammaticalisation processes (cf. Hilpert
& Koops 2008), it seems more likely that its emergence is due to convergence
than to common inheritance. From an areal linguistic perspective, we could posit
a connection between those Germanic languages that have pseudocoordina-
tion (around the North Sea) and those that lack it (on the European continent;
Figure1). Hence, there are two questions posed by this distribution: rstly, why do
Dutch and German lack pseudocoordination? Was it lost or did it never emerge?
And secondly, why is Afrikaans dierent from its parent language, Dutch?
Eng Ger –pseudocoordination
Figure 1. Pseudocoordination in Germanic standard languages
Kjeldahl (2008) in her investigation of pseudocoordination in Danish and
Afrikaans suggests that pseudocoordination is a cross-linguistic phenomenon that
is blocked by verbal inection. While primarily theoretically motivated, such an
explanation seems at rst to be supported by the distribution of pseudocoordi-
nation within Germanic, since Dutch and German have a relatively rich verbal
morphology, whereas there is little verbal inection le in Mainland Scandinavian
and Afrikaans. However, Kjeldahl’s suggestion can be reformulated as a falsiable
claim: if, for example, German is found to have pseudocoordination, then it can’t
be blocked by verbal inection.
So far, we have only taken Standard German (StG) into consideration. But
what about the dialects? While, of course, StG doesn’t have pseudocoordination, it
is very common in Low German (LG) dialects and even, though less frequent, in
Dialect convergence across language boundaries 1
low-status varieties of North High German (NoHG) in traditionally LG-speaking
areas (Höder in prep). As these are varieties with relatively complex verbal mor-
phology (though less complex than StG), the proposed connection between the
lack of verbal inection and pseudocoordination doesn’t seem to hold. 2
(6) ik bün bi un feuel (LG)
I am at and wipe
‘I am wiping the oor (progressive)’
(7) he güng bi un schreev dat op (LG)
he went at and wrote it up
‘he started writing it down (inchoative)’
(8) denn geht er bei und repariert das (NoHG)
then goes he at and repairs it
‘then he proceeds to repair it’
On the basis of these ndings at the dialectal level, pseudocoordination appears as
an areal feature (within the Germanic family) dened by an isogloss that doesn’t fol-
low language boundaries, but rather extends into geographical and social dialects
of German, while excluding the standard variety (Figure 2). Regardless of whether
this distribution is due to dri, coincidence or convergence, the ndings indicate
that if we take a closer look at intralingual variation in the languages in which pseu-
docoordination occurs, we can at least expand the factual basis of the theoretical
claims we make and begin to ask more fruitful questions. Why, for example, does
StG lack pseudocoordination? Is there any relation to the fact that pseudocoordina-
tion is a colloquial, rather than a formal, feature in other languages?3
Figure 2. Pseudocoordination in Germanic and North German
2. Another possible counterexample is Faroese with its rich verbal morphology, where con-
structions like vit sótu og ótu ‘we sat and ate’ seem to be at least partly grammaticalised as a
3. One factor could be the inﬂuence of the prescriptivist tradition in standard varieties.
1 Steen Höder
3.2 Vowel qualities and polytonicity around the Baltic Sea
As observed by several scholars, various languages around the Baltic Sea share
some interesting phonological features, among these the large size of the
vowel inventories and polytonicity. Eliasson’s (2000) survey shows that geneti-
cally unrelated languages from this area (mainly Scandinavian, Finnic, Sami,
Baltic) have rather high numbers ofphonemically distinctive vowel qualities
as compared to the global average (Maddieson 1984) and to other European
languages (cf. Ternes 1998), giving rise to relatively complex vowel systems.4
Within the monophthong system, for example, Swedish and Norwegian dis-
tinguish between nine phonemic vowel qualities, Finnish and Northern Sami
between eight, and Danish has (at the minimum) ten phonemic vowel qualities
(Eliasson 2000:28., cf. Grønnum 1998:223.). Another typical feature is the
existence of large diphthong inventories in the Finnic and Baltic languages as
well as inDanish.
e areal clustering of tonal systems in the Circum-Baltic languages is well-
established since Jakobson’s (1962 :137f.) proposal of a polytonic Sprach-
bund, which relates to the fact that many of the Circum-Baltic languages have
some kind of phonemic distinction between two suprasegmental features at the
level of the prosodic word (cf. also Koptjevskaja-Tamm & Wälchli 2001:640.).
Examples are the two tones in the pitch accent languages Norwegian and Swedish,
Danish stød or the tonal distinction in Latvian:
(9) Swedish anden /Áand6n/ ‘duck-def’ – anden /Áànd6n/ ‘spirit-def’
(10) Danish mor /mo˜r/ ‘mother’ – mord /mo˜ôr/ ‘murder’
As far as the standard languages are concerned, these two features dene a rela-
tively coherent area whose southern boundary coincides with the Danish- German
language border: Danish has ten phonemic monophthong qualities, eleven
diphthongs and stød (Braunmüller 2007:103.), while German has eight monoph-
thong qualities, three diphthongs and no tonal contrast (Figure 3).5
. Maddieson’s (1984) ﬁgures are based on phonemic analyses that abstract as little as pos-
sible from the phonetic realisation. Such analyses regularly result in higher numbers for
languages where short and long vowels have diﬀerent qualities (such as the Scandinavian
languages or Standard German) than the numbers assumed here.
. Only those diphthongs are included that can arguably be analysed as monophonemic (e.g.
ˆ/, but not [o
] = /o˜r/).
Dialect convergence across language boundaries 1
Danish iyu – eøo –7œf– a (±˜)
German iyu– eøo –7– a (±˜)
no tonal contrast
Figure 3. Vowels and tonal contrast: Danish/German
However, the picture becomes more complex if we don’t only consider the
standard varieties, but also take the regional languages and dialects on both sides
of the border into account, viz. (a) South Jutlandic (SJ) north of the border and (b)
dialects of Low German and the North German variety of High German south of
the border. As far as the size of vowel inventories and polytonicity are concerned,
all of these varieties share more features with Standard Danish than with StG. LG
has fourteen monophthongs and ve diphthongs (Höder 2007: 98., forthcom-
ing), NoHG has fourteen distinctive monophthong qualities and three diphthongs
(Ternes 1999:90.). None of these varieties, including SJ, have a stød-like system,
but both SJ and LG are pitch accent languages with a suprasegmental distinction at
the word level, similar to the system of Norwegian or Swedish (Ejskjær 2005:1723;
Ternes 2006; Prehn 2007, Höder in prep. a; cf. Figure 4):
(11) lys /lys/ ‘light’, lys /lŷs/ ‘to shine, glow’ (SJ)
(12) laat /lot/ ‘late’, laad /lôt/ ‘load-1sg’ (LG)
e areal distribution (Figure 5) shows that, although established as features
shared by a number of Circum-Baltic languages, large vowel inventories and
polytonicity aren’t conned to the regions where the respective standard varieties
are used. Again, the isogloss dening the corresponding area crosses the Danish-
German language boundary and includes non-standard dialects under the roof of
StG, while excluding the standard variety itself.
Two questions remain to be answered: does this areal pattern at the dialectal
level reect a process of dialect convergence? And if so, was it contact-induced?
Contact is commonly agreed to be an important factor in the emergence of
similarities among the Circum-Baltic languages in general, as language contacts
have been manifold and intensive throughout this area (Koptjevskaja-Tamm &
1 Steen Höder
Danish iyu– eøo –7œf– a (±˜)
SJ iyu– eøo –7œf– a (±˜)
German iyu– eøo –7– a (±˜)
no tonal contrast
LG iyu–~– eøo –7œf(˜) – a(˜)#
NoHG iyu–~– eøo –7œf(˜) –a(˜)#
no tonal accent
Figure 4. Vowels and tonal contrast: Danish/German varieties
+other tonal contrast
Nor Swe Fin –pitch accent
Ltv +large vowel inventory
–large vowel inventory
Figure 5. Large vowel inventories and polytonicity
Wälchli 2001:616.). Similarly, if not even more so, the Danish-German border
region has been a region of intensive bi- and multilingualism, language contact,
and language shi from prehistoric times until today, as reected in, for example,
large-scale bidirectional lexical borrowing between SJ and LG. Furthermore, large
vowel inventories and polytonicity are relatively recent innovations in both SJ and
LG (and possibly NoHG under the inuence of the original LG dialects spoken in
Northern Germany; the Middle Low German vowel system was rather like Modern
StG; cf. Stellmacher 2000:54.). Inheritance from a common ancestor can thus
be ruled out. Coincidental convergence, however, could be a possible explana-
tion, since neither large vowel inventories nor tonal systems are exceptional in the
Dialect convergence across language boundaries 11
world’s languages. On the other hand, both features are exceptional enough, partic-
ularly among the European languages, to set the respective languages apart from
their neighbours. In summary, these ndings can only suggest contact-induced
dialectal convergence across language boundaries. ey may, however, motivate
further research on the topic.
3.3 Clause linking in old Swedish
e third case clearly involves language contact, namely between Latin and
Swedish within a cultural elite group of clerics, most prominently the nuns and
monks in Vadstena Abbey during the Late Middle Ages. Previous studies (Höder
2009, 2010) show that this bilingualism led to or at least reinforced some syntactic
changes concerning the clause linking strategies in Old Swedish (OSw) texts. Two
of these changes are particularly widespread in the source texts, namely the emer-
gence of various adverbial subjunctions and relativisers.
ese innovations were part of a tendency to introduce a clause with a con-
nective element that overtly and unambiguously species the semantic rela-
tion between the preceding and the following clause, i.e. conveys more, or more
explicit, semantic information than older, ambiguous elements. e eect was not
only an increase in the use of such elements, but also a substantial extension of
the inventories of subjunctions (such as for þy at ‘because’, än þo at ‘although’) and
relativisers (relative pronouns such as hviliken, cf. §2). e innovative clause link-
ing strategies competed with the original strategies that nevertheless continued to
be used, viz. (a) less explicit clause-initial elements (semantically vague subjunc-
tions: än ‘but, and, if, than’, ok ‘and’ (cf. Kotcheva 2002); relative subjunctions: sum,
þär), (b) clause-internal connectives (e.g. deictic adverbs: þo ‘yet’, þy ‘therefore’),
(c) zero, i.e. implicit clause-linking.
OSw clause linking eventually came to resemble the strategies of Latin quite
closely, both in actual use and in the inventories of connectives, and both with
respect to the semantic relations that could be expressed by a special, i.e. mono-
semic, subjunction and with respect to the constructional form of the innovative
connectives (cf.the parallel construction in OSw for þy at and Latin pro eo quod
or the homophony between a relative pronoun and an interrogative determiner
‘which’ in OSw hviliken and Latin qui).
I have demonstrated in previous studies that this change, which can be
explained as a process of replica grammaticalisation in the sense of Heine & Kuteva
(2005), relates to an increase in the OSw text production, which was mainly the
work of Swedish speakers used to writing in Latin and very oen translating from
Latin originals. us, the contact-induced syntactic innovations in OSw aected
primarily the (emerging) written variety while having a lesser eect on the spoken
12 Steen Höder
language, and intensied a medial split within Swedish that has continued until
today. As a consequence, for example, relative pronouns generally aren’t used in
Spoken Modern Swedish and probably never were used in the spoken language
at all, while they do occur in Written Modern Swedish, though decreasingly (cf.
Pettersson 1976). is contact-induced change represents a type that could be
classied as medium-specic dialect convergence across language boundaries with
intralingual dialect divergence (Written Swedish becomes more similar to Latin
while becoming more dierent from Spoken Swedish).
As mentioned in §2, the relative pronoun strategy is counted among the typical
features of a larger linguistic area, SAE, and the particular set of adverbial subjunc-
tions shared by Latin and OSw is at least a characteristic feature of SAE languages,
too (Kortmann 2001). e isogloss dening the area, however, separates two medial
varieties of the same language (both OSw and, to a lesser extent, Modern Swedish)
as well as two standard varieties of another language (Bokmål and Nynorsk, cf. §2).
While it is in principle possible to visualise the relevant part of the SAE area (cf.
Figure 6), it is clear that a traditional areal linguistic map can’t capture the actual
course of such an isogloss convincingly, which cuts across a variety continuum
rather than geographical space.
Nyn Bok WrSwe
(SAE languages) –pronominal relativisation
Figure 6. Relative pronoun strategy
e case studies show that the distribution of areal features cannot be investi-
gated on the basis of standard varieties alone. Instead, we also need to include
non- standard dialects into areal linguistic studies, particularly considering that
language contact without variety contact is impossible. Dialect convergence across
language boundaries results in isoglosses that include some varieties while exclud-
ing others, which may be the standard dialects. Furthermore, a literally areal con-
cept of linguistic areality, as implicitly suggested by the visualisation of isoglosses
on linguistic maps, is simplistic, since varieties can also be delimited by, say, social
or medial boundaries in addition to geographical ones (cf. Muysken 2008:4).
Dialect convergence across language boundaries 13
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