Language convergence and linguistic areas


The replication of concrete formal-structural material (morpho-phonological forms with attached meanings) from one language in another is universally understood as grammatical and lexical "borrowing". More controversial is the interpretation of contact-induced structural change that does not involve such replication of forms, but is manifested rather through shift in meaning, distribution, or organisation of inherited material, inspired by an external model. Such changes are sometimes referred to as "convergent developments", and are often typical of linguistic areas.

Weinreich (1953), for example, already distinguished between borrowing or transfer from a SOURCE LANGUAGE to a RECIPIENT LANGUAGE, and what he called "Convergent development", which is either the application of grammatical relations to morphemes of the other language, thus involving a MODEL LANGUAGE and a REPLICA LANGUAGE.

We refer to the first as replication of MATTER or MAT, and to the second as replication of PATTERN, or PAT.

The project explores the position of language convergence of this kind in the overall context of contact-induced change. We address the mechanism that is involved when language-internal resources are employed to replicate an external model. We attempt to trace this mechanism to its roots at the level of the organisation of communicative discourse in multilingual settings.


The principal aim of the project is to carry out a comparative study of linguistic areas, convergence, and structural borrowing, and to arrive at generalisations, addressing the following questions:

  • Are there functions within language that are particularly prone to convergence in linguistic areas?
  • What is the relation between structural borrowing (the transfer of actual forms from one language to another) and convergence (mutual structural adaptation, or the replication of a pattern, without replicating a form)? How do borrowing hierarchies relate to hierarchies of convergence?
  • How can a theoretical notion of convergence accommodate both phenomena that are known to us from linguistic areas, namely shared typological features, and strategies of accommodation and structural adaptation in bilingual speech?

Project methodology

The project draws on the following.

  • A database of convergence and borrowing, on the basis of which generalisations are made in respect of grammatical categories that are prone to replication of MAT and PAT;
  • An evaluation of a corpus of speech in bilingual situations, on the basis of which speakers' motivations and strategies to perform in bilingual settings are investigated.
  • Collaboration with other projects involving ongoing documentation and analysis of language contact and linguistic areas.

Further information on the database of convergence and borrowing:

The "Grammatical Borrowing" database

Background and aims

Generalisations on grammatical borrowing have hitherto been based on either casual observations and intuitions, or on samples limited to a particular area (e.g. Mesoamerica, Pacific) or linguistic-genetic group (e.g. Turkic, Romani). The aim of the database project is to collect and evaluate data on borrowing in all areas of grammar (phonology, morphology, syntax, and grammatical function words) from a variety of languages, representing genetic, typological, and geographical diversity as well as sociolinguistically diverse contact situations. Relevant phenomena to be surveyed include both the replication of substance (concrete morpho-phonological forms), or MATTER, and replication of a construction type, or PATTERN.

The questionnaire

The questionnaire - a FilemakerPro 6 database file - is organised in chapters that survey the principal structural features: Phonology, nominal and verbal morphology, concord, syntax, other parts of speech. Questions address the presence and absence of contact phenomena in the various structural domains. The information accompanied by general information on the language, e.g. the sociolinguistic situation.

In order to facilitate the search for particular types of contact phenomena, affecting particular types of structures, much of the questionnaire is organised around pre-set boxes. These encode:

  • The presence or absence of contact-induced change for a given structural category
  • Replication of MATTER vs. replication of PATTERN, represented by checkboxes in different colour-codes
  • The specific semantics of a functional sub-category that is affected by contact (e.g. "experiencer", "superlative", "adversative", "lower than 5", etc.)

The pre-set categorised boxes are accompanied by text boxes in which glossed examples are provided.



The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a period of three years, starting 1 September 2003.


Recent publications and publications in preparation include:

  • Matras, Yaron & Sakel, Jeanette (eds.) Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective.(in preparation)
  • Matras, Yaron. McMahon, April & Vincent, Nigel (eds.) (in press) Linguistic areas: Convergence in historical and typological perspective. Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan.
  • Matras, Yaron. Language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (in preparation).
  • Matras, Yaron. (in press). Contact, connectivity, and language evolution. In: Rehbein, Jochen, Hohenstein, Christiane, & Pietsch, Lukas, (eds.). Connectivity in grammar and discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Matras, Yaron. 2003/2004. Layers of convergent syntax in Macedonian Turkish. Mediterranean Language Review 15: 63-86.
  • Matras, Yaron. The full extent of fusion: A test case for connectivity and language contact. In: Walter Bisang, Thomas Bierschenk, Detlev Kreikenbom und Ursula Verhoeven. (eds.) Kulturelle und sprachliche Kontakte: Prozesse des Wandels in historischen Spannungsfeldern Nordostafrikas/Westasiens. Akten zum 2. Symposium des SFB 295. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag. 241-255.
  • Sakel, Jeanette. 2005. "Development of an inclusive/exclusive distinction: a possible loan scenario in Mosetenan" in E. Filimonova (ed.) Clusivity Amsterdam:Benjamins.

Other relevant publications of members of the project team:

Yaron Matras:

  • 2000a. Mixed languages: A functional-communicative approach. Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 3-2, 79-99
  • 2000b. Back to motivations: between discourse and grammar. Reply to peer commentaries, Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 3-2, 126-129.
  • 2000c. Fusion and the cognitive basis for bilingual discourse markers. International Journal of Bilingualism. 4:4. 505-528.
  • 2003a. Defining typical features of minor languages (with special reference to Domari). In: Sherzer, Joel & Stolz, Thomas (eds.). Minor Languages. Approaches, definitions, controversies. Bochum: Brockmeyer. 1-14.
  • 2003b Mixed languages: re-examining the structural prototype. In: Bakker, P. & Matras, Y., Eds. The Mixed Language debate. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 151-175.
  • 2002. Kurmanji complementation. Semantic-typological aspects in an areal perspective. In: Haig, Geoffrey & Matras, Y. eds.. Kurdish Linguistics. Special issue of Language Typology and Universals (STUF) 54-3, 49-63.
  • 2001. Language contact. In: Verschueren, J. et al. eds. Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 1-14.
  • 2000a. How predictable is contact-induced change in grammar? In: Renfrew, Colin, R. L. Trask & April McMahon, eds. Time depth in historical linguistics. Cambridge: McDonald Institute. 563-583.
  • 2000b. Migrations and "replacive convergence" as sources of diversity in the dialects of Romani. In: Mattheier, Klaus (ed.).Dialect and migration in a changing Europe. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 173-194.
  • 2000c. Mixed languages: A functional-communicative approach. Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 3-2, 79-99
  • 2000d. Back to motivations: between discourse and grammar. Reply to peer commentaries, Bilingualism: Language & Cognition 3-2, 126-129.
  • 2000e. Fusion and the cognitive basis for bilingual discourse markers. International Journal of Bilingualism. 4:4. 505-528.
  • 1998a. Utterance modifiers and universals of grammatical borrowing. Linguistics 36-2, 281-331.
  • 1998b. Convergent development, grammaticalization, and the problem of "mutual isomorphism". In: Boeder, Winfried, Schroeder, Christoph, Karl-Heinz Wagner (eds.) Sprache in Raum und Zeit. Tübingen: Narr. 89-103.
  • 1997. The function and typology of coordinating conjunctions: evidence from discourse and language-contact situations. In: Butler, Chris, Connolly, John, Gatward, Richard, & Vismans, Roel (eds.) Discourse Pragmatics in Functional Grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.177-191.

Jeanette Sakel:

  • 2005. "Development of an inclusive/exclusive distinction: a possible loan scenario in Mosetenan" in E. Filimonova (ed.)Clusivity Amsterdam:Benjamins.
  • 2004. A Grammar of Mosetén Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin
  • 2002. "Gender agreement in Mosetén" in Current studies on South American languages, CNWS, University of Leiden, Holland.

Research training

The project supports the research training of several PhD students specialising in aspects of language contact and language convergence, and linguistic areas (see programme of the PhD seminar on "Language Contact / Pragmatics" 2004/5):

  • Maryam Shabibi: Grammatical contact phenomena in Khuzestani Arabic.
  • Francesco Goglia: Emerging biligualism among African immigrants in Italy.
  • Sirin Tufan: Language convergence in Gostivar Turkish (Macedonia).
  • Barbara Schrammel: Verb constructions and contact phenomena in Romani.
  • Heveen Ali Kurdi: The use of discourse markers by Arab learners of English.
  • Anton Tenser: Convergence and contacts in Northeastern (Baltic-Russian) Romani
  • Veronica Schulman: Convergence and contact in the Romani dialect of Sofades, Karditsa (Greece)
  • Sandy Lo: English-Cantonese codeswitching in Hong Kong and the Chinese community of Manchester.
  • Chen-Hui Chun: Chinese-Taiwanese codeswitching in the media.


Contributions to the project database and to volume on Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective are made by a series of collaboration partners specialising in various language-contact situations. The project has also set up a partnership with the Loanword Typology project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Collaboration partners:

Mark Alves; Felix Ameka; Werner Arnold; Dik Bakker; Hauke Bartels; Walter Bisang; Oliver Bond; Kersti Börjars; Una Canger; Claudine Chamoreau; Marina Chumakina; Clancy Clements; Joachim Crass; Victor Elsik; Patience Epps; Zarina Estrada; Bethwyn Evans; Steven Roger Fischer; David Gil; Geoffrey Haig; Ewald Hekking; Birgit Hellwig; Kristine Hildebrandt; Mark Janse; Anne Jensen; Silvia Kutscher; Friederike Lüpke; Utz Maas; Marianne Mithun; Maarten Mous; Johanna Nichols; Steve Pagel; Brigitte Pakendorf; David Peterson; Gertrud Reershemius; Jorge Gomez Rendon ; Michael Riessler; Vincent de Rooij; Malcolm Ross; Anju Saxena; Eva Schultze-Berndt; Maryam Shabibi; Patrick Steinkrüger; Thomas Stolz; Uri Tadmor; Miloud Taifi; Sirin Tufan.

Project events

Workshops and conferences:

  • The project hosted a workshop on grammatical and lexical borrowing on September 30 and October 1 2005, in collaboration with the Loanword Typology project at the MPI Leipzig
  • The project is organising a theme-session on Language Contact and Grammatical theory at the annual meeting of the LAGB in Cambridge 2005 
  • A conference on Language Convergence and Linguistic Areas was held at The University of Manchester in 2002 
  • A weekly research seminar on Language Contact and Pragmatics takes place during the semester 
  • Guest speakers invited by the project included Bernd Heine and Tania Kuteva, authors of Language contact and grammatical change (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Project presentations

Yaron Matras and Jeanette Sakel

  • 2005 PAT, pivot and language convergence. Annual Meeting of the LAGB, University of Cambridge, 30 August 2005.
  • 2005 A procedure for compiling data on contact-induced change: The Manchester Convergence Project. Workshop on Loanword Typology. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 5-7 June, 2005.
  • 2005 The Manchester Convergence Project. Symposion on Language contact in Romance. Bremen University, 4-6 May, 2005.

Yaron Matras:

  • 2005 Grammatical borrowing in Domari. Conference on Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective. University of Manchester.
  • 2005 Towards a theory of language contact. University of Cologne. 20 June 2005.
  • 2005 Towards a theory of language contact. University of Düsseldorf. 21 June 2005.
  • 2005 Towards a theory of language contact. University of Hamburg. 21 June 2005.
  • 2005 Endangered languages, contact, and the 'better linguist': The case of Domari. Workshop on Endangered Languages, Hans Rausing Endangered Language Documentation Project, SOAS, February 2005.
  • 2004. Toward a theory of language contact, LAGB Annual Meeting, Roehampton, September 2004.
  • 2004. Borrowing, convergence and bilingualism: Toward an integrated theoretical perspective. Workshop on Loanword Typology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, May 2004.
  • 2003. Category hierarchies in structural borrowing. Colloquium on Categories and Contact, University of Hamburg, November 2003.

Jeanette Sakel

  • 2005. Borrowing of Spanish function words and discourse markers in Mosetén. SSILA meeting at the LSA conference, Oakland, California, 8 January 2005.
  • 2003. Complex predicates in Mosetén. SOAS, London, 28 October 2003.

Francesco Goglia

  • 2005 Grammaticalisation, reanalysis and contact-induced innovations in the Italian of Igbo-Nigerian. Annual Meeting of the LAGB, University of Cambridge, 30 August 2005.

Anton Tenser

  • 2005 Convergence of case representation: A case for grammaticalisation? Annual Meeting of the LAGB, University of Cambridge, 30 August 2005.

Research seminars

Language documentation and language contact

The purpose of this seminar series is to provide a forum for MA and PhD students and postdocs involved in fieldwork-based studies of aspects of grammar and/or multilingual practice. Participants are invited to present any aspect of their work, even work in progress and unsolved problems, in an informal, relaxed environment. Ample opportunity will be given to discuss methodological considerations concerning the collection and interpretation of data. Sessions can also be used to discuss relevant literature.

All MA and PhD students supervised by Matras and Schultze-Berndt are strongly encouraged to participate, but everyone else is extremely welcome to present or just to attend (including students preparing a BA thesis with a data collection component). The understanding is that anybody who wishes to present should out of courtesy also attend the other presentations whenever possible, but anybody else should feel free to drop in to any session of special interest to them. PhD students (especially in the early stages of their work) are encouraged to attend even without presenting - just to get some new ideas and to meet other postgraduates.

Schedule, Semester 1, 2010/11

  • 7 October: Samuel Atintono - The challenges of documenting Gurene oral genres to obtain a naturalistic semantic data
  • 14 October: Coralie Herve - The usage-based perspective in child bilingualism
  • 21 October: Jon Morris - Phonology in Welsh-English bilinguals
  • 28 October: Rick Davey - Coastal Dhofar Arabic
  • 11 November: Mohamed Fathi Osman - Language preferences in the Arabic community of Manchester
  • 18 November: Ebtessam Othman - Linguistic features of Najdi Arabic online
  • 25 November: Dorothea Hoffmann - Motion expressions in Kriol
  • 2 December: Kathleen Ng - Spatial expressions in Cantonese
  • 9 December: Reading group and discussion led by Serge Sagna - Reduplication
  • 16 December: Daniele Viktor Leggio - Romani on the internet: Taking ownership of language codification