5 September: Savithry Namboodiripad

Language contact and language evolution: Integrating approaches

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of California, San Diego)

Tuesday 5 September 2017, 11:00–12:30
1.17 Dugald Stewart Building

What explains the typological distributions observed in the world’s languages? Approaches from language evolution rely on cognitive biases such as processing preferences as a causal factor in language creation and change (e.g. Christiansen & Chater). In this talk, I argue for the inclusion of language contact in models of language evolution, and discuss ways in which language contact can enhance current methodologies in language evolution, as well as help to explain the typological distributions seen in the world’s languages.

The empirical domain of this talk is “flexible” languages, in which every logical ordering of the major constituents — subject, object and verb — has the same truth-conditional meaning. I present formal acceptability judgment experiments which show similarities in how experience with English reduces speakers’ flexibility in Malayalam (Dravidian) and Korean, even under different circumstances of contact. I describe post-colonial contact between English and Malayalam (Dravidian) in India as an illustrative (and relatively common) example of a case in which contact cannot be sidelined. Finally, I discuss an upcoming experiment designed to model these outcomes in the lab, with the intention of comparing groups of participants with L1s that differ in terms of flexibility.