Sunday, August 04, 2019

On reading Poplack 2018

It was a frustrating experience reading Poplack's Borrowing: Loanwords in the Speech Community and in the Grammar. On the one hand, it’s intelligent, well-written, and packed with a wealth of precious sociolinguistic data on borrowing and to a lesser extent code-switching; on the other hand, it appears to be largely dedicated to hammering home a definition of the former that appears to me to be fundamentally untenable. The author ably demonstrates that three criteria that one might expect to be closely correlated are not: conventionalization, morphosyntactic integration, and phonological integration are all independent of one another. Of these three, she chooses to define borrowing exclusively in terms of morphosyntactic integration. For her (enormous, but not very numerous) preferred corpora, this apparently works just fine. But...

The notion of “borrowing” emerged from diachronic studies of the vocabulary used in monolingual discourse. As such, whatever necessary criteria we choose to use to delineate marginal cases, conventionalisation must remain a sufficient criterion for borrowing: if the whole speech community uses the form irrespective of individuals’ level of competence in its source language, it must be a borrowing, not a code-switch. Poplack rejects the criterion of conventionalization as essentially extra-linguistic, preferring the criterion of morphosyntactic integration; yet the latter invokes community conventions just as much as the former, the only difference being the type of conventions invoked (grammatical vs. lexical.) Finding that single words of foreign origin overwhelmingly display morphosyntactic integration and are thus by her definition nonce borrowings, she concludes (p. 213) that “loanwords do not originate as code-switches… the very first mention of a nonce form already features the full complement of morphosyntactic integration into [the recipient language]”. But this makes some problematic predictions.

First of all, if this is true, borrowings should never retain source morphosyntax. This is clearly not tenable. Borrowings retain source morphology all the time: Berber nouns in several Arabic dialects, and Arabic nouns throughout Berber, keep their plurals; Latin nouns in German keep their case markers; in a tiny scattering of languages around the Mediterranean, such as Ghomara Berber, borrowed verbs even keep their conjugation. Some categories of borrowings retain their syntax as well: larger borrowed numerals precede or follow the noun according to the rules of the source language, not of the recipient, in Korandje; borrowed primary adpositions and complementizers rather consistently place their complement as in the source language wherever they are found (cf. Moravcsik 1978). Poplack attempts to dispose of the latter with a short footnote (p. 50): “More wide-ranging proposals for borrowability hierarchies […] including prepositions, determiners, pronouns, clitics, and complementizers may be characteristics of certain extreme borrowing situations, such as pidginization or creolization, or, alternatively, the result of confounding code-switches […] and borrowing. The latter is so heavily restricted to content words that this is practically a defining characteristic.” But this really will not do. Turkish (which has borrowed the complementizer ki from Persian along with the associated word order) is hardly anyone’s idea of a pidgin or creole!

Second, such a claim (along with the book as a whole) seems to presuppose that borrowings are necessarily single lexical items. This is manifestly not the case. In English, borrowings that consist of multiple source language words (quid pro quo, per cent, hors d’oeuvres…) are sufficiently unanalysable to be considered as single lexical items in the recipient language; these need not pose a problem for Poplack. But in quite a few languages, including many Berber varieties, at least two classes of multi-word borrowings remain clearly analysable as multiple words, and productive, even for monolingual speakers: numerals, and numeral+measure noun combinations. Such borrowings must necessarily start out as code-switches in Poplack’s terms.

From these facts, I conclude that the process of conventionalization is even more independent of morphosyntactic integration than Poplack assumes. Morphosyntactic integration, as Myers-Scotton implies, is far stricter for structure than for semantics, and is strictly obligatory in neither case. And for function words, at least, syntactic integration only concerns relations up the tree, not down it. It follows that neither morphosyntactic nor phonological integration can be considered necessary or sufficient criteria for borrowing.

13 comments:

bulbul said...

if the whole speech community uses the form irrespective of individuals’ level of competence in its source language, it must be a borrowing, not a code-switch
I dunno about the whole community, it surely depends on the semantic domain of the borrowing etc (think e.g. the English IT terminology among the more tech-savvy people). But then again, it makes me think of that one time my mother and I were watching some stupid gossip show on TV. A segment came on someone cheating on their SO in a particularly flagrant way, to which my mother - who does not speak English at all - responded:

Tak toto už je iný level
Well this already is different level

Me and my sister were like "whaaaaa"; the point is, that was definitely a loanword, since there isn't even a possibility of attempted code-switching.

Borrowings retain source morphology all the time: Berber nouns in several Arabic dialects
Italian nouns and adjectives in certain others...

David Marjanović said...

Latin nouns in German keep their case markers

In modern usage this is limited to the genitives Jesu and Christi. I don't think it's a coincidence that the genitive is long dead in most kinds of spoken German, and noticeably endangered and restricted in practically all others.

For older writings (at least into the 18th century, IIRC) your description is correct (down to vocatives: there's a church song that begins with Christe, du Lamm Gottes!), but all those writings were probably made by people who were completely fluent in Latin, so could be classified as code-switching.

That said, lots of borrowings keep their original plurals; and lots of learned borrowings attach a German plural ending to the original stem which is completely impossible to guess from the singular by German means. Forum, Foren; Atlas, Atlanten; and through some weird detour through taxonomic nomenclature we even get Kaktus, Kakteen...

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Bulbul: Fair point; I think in many cases we have to think in terms of a more limited speech community defined by a profession or a class or even a neighbourhood... And yes, Maltese is an excellent example :)

David: Interesting to know - it's an unusual case to begin with, and I'd like to see more parallel cases before reaching any firm conclusions. Poplack doesn't seem very happy with the idea of single-word code-switches, but she doesn't rule them out completely. But if German fails us, there's still Greek loanwords into Latin...

John Cowan said...

~~ smh ~~

Poplack is an American Canadian who grew up speaking English, and yet she can't see what's in her own back yard (linguists often cannot): the hundreds (at least) of borrowings in English that have kept their plurals. The -s plural has taken over English so completely that only about 30 native or native-ish (e.g. scarves) irregular plurals survive: gone is the -u plural forever!. Meanwhile, we have added plurals in -us/-i, -um/-i, -a/-ae, -x/-ces, -is/-es, -on/-a, -ma/-mata, and zero/-im.

David Marjanović said...

But if German fails us, there's still Greek loanwords into Latin...

...those, too, either occur only in texts written by people fluent in Greek, or else have been completely adapted (e.g. French lisse "smooth").

David Marjanović said...

gone is the -u plural forever!

I think that's a pull chain, not a push chain: the final vowels all merged and then disappeared, so -s was added to keep them marked. In Standard German they merged but did not disappear, so the cognate of scip, scipu (the one example I know) is Schiff, Schiffe. I find it interesting that the English cognates of some other -e plurals are endingless: fish, sheep, deer – perhaps they were regular before a semantic motivation was interpreted into them and prevented the expansion of -s.

Anonymous said...

Acts 16:31, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 1 Peter 1:17-21, Revelation 22:18-19

David Marjanović said...

Anonymous, what is your point?

David Eddyshaw said...

Kusaal has, among several other borrowed function words, hali "until, even, very", which is ubiquitous in the speech of even monolinguals.

Hali is remarkable, moreover, for the initial /h/; /h/ does not occur as distinct phoneme anywhere in native vocabulary (though [h] is a frequent realisation of word-internal /s/.) It is also remarkable for invariably preceding the constituent it takes scope over (like the equivalent Hausa word har), whereas all native words of this type (like "also") follow.

There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that Kusaal has undergone creolisation or any drastic interruption of normal transmission at any point, and it is not at all pidgin-like.

All this would be hardly worth mentioning, as it's such a familiar sort of phenomenon, were it not for the fact that Poplack seems to be denying that it's possible.

David Eddyshaw said...

I should add that hali is in no way limited to preceding other loanwords or found only in en bloc loaned phrases. It's completely integrated into the language.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Yep. And even Hausa got that one from Berber...

David Eddyshaw said...

Geoffrey Heath tentatively suggests that this practically Pansahelian hali might be ultimately from Arabic ħatta:. Are there potential Berber-internal developments that would make that look more plausible?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That hypothesis ultimately comes from earlier work on Hausa, where word-final t > r. Looking at the Berber data, however, it becomes clear that that etymology isn't going to fly.