Documenting contact and change in Siberian multilingual contexts

Colloquium | April 22 | 3:10-5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Lenore Grenoble, University of Chicago

 Department of Linguistics

Multiple indigenous languages in Eurasia are undergoing change and loss as speakers shift to Russian. The language ecologies of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) provide an excellent testing ground for hypotheses about the causes and effects of contact-induced language change. The Sakha language (Turkic) is spoken by a (slim) majority of residents of the Republic, with an estimated 500,000 speakers; several minority indigenous languages are spoken as well. All are undergoing language shift, to varying degrees. Russian, although not the language of the ethnic majority in Sakha, is pervasive with its status as a national language, and as the language of higher education and media. Although we might predict that the use of Sakha supports use of areal features, but that does not appear to be the case today.
In this talk I discuss a large, ongoing project that uses mixed methods to document contact and change. Here I focus on the use of experimental methods, with particular attention to word order several Altaic languages: Sakha (Turkic) and Even and Evenki (Tungusic). All three languages show changes from inherited patterns to more Russian-like morphosyntax, including a shift from SOV word order to SVO and word order driven by information structure and changes in clause-combining strategies, as well as some evidence of contact effects in the varieties of Russian used by Sakha speakers. Preliminary work suggests that these changes take place sporadically in the speech of of Even and Evenki speakers, and that language shift probably impedes them from becoming grammaticalized. This hypothesis needs more systematic testing with a combination of experimental and sociolinguistic field data. More research is also needed to see if the innovations are diffusing across speakers of Sakha and whether these changes are indicative of imperfect learning and language shift rather than contact-induced convergence.

 hyman@berkeley.edu