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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 tranfer 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:

  1. Are there functions within language that are particularly prone to convergence in linguistic areas?
  2. 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?
  3. 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

  1. 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;
  2. 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.
  3. Collaboration with other projects involving ongoing documentation and analysis of language contact and linguistic areas.


Professor Yaron Matras, project coordinator

Dr Jeanette Sakel, research associate


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:
(see also other publications

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.

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 ):


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.

Project Events

Workshops and conferences:

See also project presentations.