Man'kov Aleksandr

The problem of structural change in an endangered language

Man'kov Aleksandr (2013) "The problem of structural change in an endangered language ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia III : Filologiia, 2013, vol. 32, pp. 30-44 (in Russian).


Due to the ongoing process of rapid decrease in the number of spoken languages, the most important task of linguistics today is to document and describe endangered languages (Dixon 1997: 144; see also Crauss 1992; Crystal 2000). Among issues associated with endangered languages one of the most linguistically significant is structural changes taking place in such languages (Campbell, Muntzel 1989; Palosaari, Campbell 2011). The general question is: what is going on with phonetics, morphology, syntax and vocabulary of an endangered language? Studying changes which take place in endangered languages, one should distinguish between those which are caused by internal factors and those caused by extralinguistic factors. For example, innovations which appear by analogy or due to contamination are found in any language and should not necessarily be caused by insuffi cient language competence. On the other hand, the rapid increase in the number of such forms and in the frequency of free variation (in morphology the situation when the same grammatical meaning is expressed by several forms which are interchangeable and occur without any regularity) may be caused by certain external factors. The paper describes linguistic situation in the village of Gammalsvenskby, Ukraine, where a Scandinavian dialect is preserved by a number of elderly people. This dialect is represented by several varieties, which are accounted for by different levels of language competence of its speakers. The main types of speakers of endangered languages, distinguished on the basis of the language competence, are fluent speakers, semi-speakers, terminal speakers (Dorian 1977; Grinevald, Bert 2011); all these types are present in Gammalsvenskby. The dialect should not be likened to a uniform standard language, and its description should not be restricted to the most conservative variety. This variety serves as a starting point in the research, while material obtained from less conservative speakers provides opportunity for comparison and allows us to study structural changes taking place in the dialect. The paper discusses examples of change in the following segments of morphology: personal pronouns (cf. Mankov 2011), infi nitive and present tense of weak verbs of types 1a and 1b (Mankov 2012), imperative; some characteristics of the vocabulary are examined as well. The basic feature of the less conservative speakers is high frequency of free variation. Free variation exists in the conservative variety of the dialect as well. However, the occurrence of forms there is quite predictable, whereas the occurrence of forms in the speech of less conservative speakers becomes unpredictable. Besides, not only does the number of forms not decrease, it increases. Despite the diversity of variation, only a limited number of morphemes take part in it. In the present tense the following endings take part in the variation: -r, -ar, -ar, -a, -O. All these endings occur in the conservative variety as well and are not specific to any group of the speakers. The list of basic morphemes is restricted, which allows us to speak of the varieties of the same dialect, not of diff erent dialects.


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Man'kov Aleksandr