Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Clause Combining in Otomi before and after Contact with Spanish

Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Clause Combining in Otomi before and after Contact with Spanish

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

A typical feature of spoken discourse, especially in informal face-to-face communication, is that a lot of information may be left implicit precisely because it is shared by the interlocutors. One of the potential areas of underrepresentation is the relation between constituents at the phrase and the clause level, typically expressed in writing via adpositions, coordinators and subordinators. In formal interaction, and even more so in written varieties of language, such frugality may create ambiguity, or a general lack of clarity. As a consequence, prescriptive grammars, employed for writing, or speaking 'properly', will formalize sentence structure into grammatically complete entities, with relations at the different levels expressed explicitly. In language communities where writing, and formal education, have been wide-spread for a number of generations, it is inevitable that some influence of such prescriptive grammars will be noticeable in the spoken language as well. This may then lead to a higher overall frequency of relation markers in speech, and to the extension and (further) grammaticalization of the set of elements that mark such relations.

In this article, we seek to give support to the above hypothesis on the basis of a comparison of the grammars and spoken corpora of two languages. The first language is Otomi, from Mexico, which has virtually no written tradition. Its major use, over a number of generations, has been in informal speech situations, within relatively small communities. Our second language, Spanish, on the other hand, is a world language, with a longstanding written tradition. As the official language of over twenty countries, it plays a central role in the education system of these countries, one of them being Mexico. Given the role of Spanish in the Mexican reality, virtually all of today's speakers of Otomi are bilingual at least to some extent, especially the younger generations. As almost predictable in situations of intensive language contact, this has led to borrowing at different linguistic levels. Spanish being clearly in the dominant position, this has mainly been a unidirectional process. Indeed, in earlier publications we have shown that Otomi borrows considerably from Spanish, both at the lexical and the grammatical levels, though less than some other languages, such as Ecuadorian Quechua (Quichua) and Paraguayan Guarani (cf. Bakker et al. 2008).

A further hypothesis that we would like to explore therefore is related to this transfer of linguistic material from one language to another. Provided that our first hypothesis about the relative underrepresentation of relations between clauses in Otomi holds, we will test whether borrowing might have contributed to an increase in the explicit clause marking in this language. This may be evident from the borrowing of Spanish markers, additional to native elements. And it may also appear, in a more hidden fashion from a higher frequency in the use of the native markers than in earlier stages of the language. Finally, the borrowing of clause markers and other relators may have had an influence on the grammatical system of the target language, in the sense of strengthening existing structures, or even introducing new ones.

With respect to borrowing we would like to make some observations in advance of the discussion below. 'Borrow' and 'loan' as metaphors for the transfer, from two different perspectives, by speakers of elements from one language to another, both suggest that material is integrally, and possibly only temporarily taken over from a source language by the target language, without ever becoming part of the latter. We will follow Johanson (2002) in assuming that such a process in fact hardly ever takes place without the element or structure in question being adapted to the target language, not just in shape but also in meaning and function. It will be molded and integrated further in the transfer to and consecutive processing by later generations, who may no longer be conscious of its origin. …

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