Handout for LING 540:
Harold F. Schiffman
University of Pennsylvania
1. Recommended Readings
2. Definitions: How, why, what, where, when?
- Language spread: process by which languages gain speakers. (Cooper,
preface, p. vii)
- language spread as cultural diffusion
- defining space, defining language
- rates, degrees, numbers, percentages,
- demographic factors: males or females? young or old? educated or
not? For what functions, uses?
- is language spread the same as diffusion of individual linguistic
features, such as the spread of uvular /r/ (France, Germany, Danish,
Dutch...) or the spread of devoiced final consonants (German, Danish,
Dutch, Polish, Russian ...)? If enough linguistic features spread, can
we speak of profound linguistic change, and therefore of spread of a
different language? (see Goossens
map, spread of /sh/ from German into
- Where to start?
3. Spread as a geographic phenomenon, over time
4. Cooper's refined definition
- Spread: increase, over time, in the proportion of a communication
network that adopts a given language or language variety for a given
communicative function. (Cooper, p. 6)
- We can discuss this definition in terms of
- what is spreading
- notion of spread as a time-dependent phenomenon
- the medium through which language spread occurs
5. What is spreading?
Language does not spread, and languages do not acquire speakers; speakers
acquire languages. What is spreading is linguistic behaviors
- Form: what is the form of the language, how is it similar to or
different from the other languages in the area? When English spreads,
which kind(s) spread(s)? Spread of British English has given way to
spread of American; if American, which kind(s) of American? If
Spanish or Quechua, which variety/ies are spreading, what is happening to
- Function: purpose for which language(s) or variet/ies spread(s)?
For written (administrative, educational, religious) purposes? spoken
(trade, jokes, relaxed communication)? At same rates? (Schiffman 1993 claims
that language shift proceeds domain by domain; does spread proceed
domain by domain too?) One language may signal solidarity, another
may signal educated status. Which function emphasized?
- Pervasiveness: degree to which speakers adopt? how many domains?
Distinguish between. classes of criterion variables, along a scale of
- Awareness: speaker is aware language exists, can/must be used for
- Evaluation: speaker forms a favorable/unfavorable attitude toward
the personal usefulness of the language for particular function. (Not
a favorable/unfavorable attitude toward speakers of the language.
- Proficiency: speaker is able to use the language for a given
purpose; not grammatical accuracy or fluency, but extent of use for a
function (gets the job done).
- Usage: speaker actually uses the language for particular function
6. Spread as time-based
Diffusion of an innovation takes time
(e.g. diffusion of oil exploration technology, high-yield grains,
microwave ovens, the VCR, the computer, the internet) but it is
proficiency in a
language that requires more time than most other innovations. Some
functions of a language may spread rapidly, require minimal knowledge; others
may take years. (Compare spread of English, especially. southwestern American
English, along with oil exploration technology, as Texans carry both
to Scotland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia...)
- Time of adoption (early vs. late) vs. adoption itself that is important
- Who are the early adopters? who the late? compare the two; establish
diffusion curves. E.g. spread of a lingua franca may be an S-shaped
diffusion curve: slow start, quick rise, slow tapering off.
- Time of first adoption; often not noticed; must be reconstructed
(ask people when they first used). Most language spread is unnoticed at
first; noticed later, and early use must be remembered.
- Tabouret-Keller: noted differential rates of adoption of French
and dialect in two regions: in Pays d'Oc, all children know French by age
8, but dialect is acquired gradually until age 14, and then only by less
than 50% of the population. In Alsace, all children who learn dialect
are fluent in it by age 8, while acquisition of French is gradual, rising
steeply until age 14, when all know it.
- Comparison over time: (Lieberson:) use census data to show
differential rates of spread. But note Khubchandani's caveat that
rates of declaration of language, especially Urdu in the Indian
just be differential rates of declaration of ethnic or religious
affiliation! Note how same changes in declaration of ethnicity may also be
7. Medium of spread
- Who/what is the carrier? the agent? the vector? the vessel? As with
epidemics, we want to know who or what carried the [innovation]?
A mosquito? A flea? A rat? A native speaker of the spreading language, or
a second-language learner?
- Where and how do people move around, so what movements of people
for what purpose carry language with them? urbanization? Railroad
construction? Does the new language skip over territory,
city to city? Seems to be true of linguistic innovation, spread of sound
- Remember that spread is a metaphor; languages do not expand,
their body of users expands, usage spreads, the number of
people in contact with the
language expands, through awareness, evaluation, knowledge, use...
- Thus languages spread through populations not in space,
except as populations are distributed in space.
- spread and social structure: how constrained?
- Across social
structures? different interaction? across networks
8. Three research traditions:
- Diffusion of Innovations: (Anthro, sociology)
- Language Maintenance and Language shift: Fishman
- Language change (linguistic diffusion); Labov, Bloomfield, other historical linguistics and sociolinguists.
9. Who adopts what, where, when,
Dec. 9, 2002