Convergence and Attrition: Serbian in Contact with English in Australia

By Dimitrijevic-Savic, Jovana | Journal of Slavic Linguistics, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Convergence and Attrition: Serbian in Contact with English in Australia


Dimitrijevic-Savic, Jovana, Journal of Slavic Linguistics


Abstract. The aim of this paper is to examine features resulting from language contact under conditions of language shift in a variety of Serbian spoken in a migrant community in Melbourne, Australia. Three categories of change are proposed: (i) change that makes Serbian more similar to English without simplifying it, exemplified by the resetting of the pro-drop parameter; (ii) change that simplifies the structures of Serbian without making them more similar to English, exemplified by leveling within the verbal inflectional paradigm and dropping of the 3sg auxiliary clitic je; and (iii) change that both simplifies the structures of Serbian and makes them more like English, exemplified by leveling within the nominal inflectional paradigm, use of full pronominal forms following the verb rather than clitic pronominal forms in second position, and placement of verbal auxiliary clitics and the reflexive clitic se.

1. Introduction

The migration of people is a leading cause of externally motivated language change. Except where a homogenous group moves to an isolated location, migration results in language (or dialect) contact (see Thomason 2001, Kerswill 2006) and, except in a few documented cases, for example, Pennsylvania German in the United States (Dorian 1978), language shift to the language of the host speech community (the host language) is complete in the space of three generations (see Romaine 1989, Grosjean 1982). The aim of this paper is to provide a description of language change under conditions of ongoing language shift in a Serbian migrant community in Australia (Dimitrijevic 2005). Language contact is bringing about changes in the lexicon and structure of the community language, a variety I refer to as Australian Serbian (AS), making it different from the variety I refer to as Homeland Serbian (HS). (1)

Language change in a language contact situation characterized by ongoing language shift takes various forms. As the host language develops and the language of the migrant community diminishes, losing domains and speakers, the community language ultimately begins to lose structure. The loss of phonological, morphological, syntactic, and discourse structure is part of the gradual process of attrition. The ongoing simplification within the verbal paradigm in AS, where the more frequent ending -u replaces -e in the formation of the 3pl form of verbs in the present tense, is an example of attrition.

Attrition, however, is not the only kind of contact-induced language change encountered in language shift situations. As a result of contact-induced change, similarity between structures in the community language and corresponding structures in the host language may increase at the expense of maintaining difference, that is, language contact may result in convergence. The utterance in (1a) is an example of syntactic convergence in AS. (2)

(1) a. AS

a svako pocne da smeje mi and [everyone.sub.NOM] [begin.sub.PRES3.SG] that [laugh.sub.PRES.3SG] [I.sub.DAT]

b. HS

a svi pocnu da mi se smeju

and [everyone.sub.NoM.PL] [begin.sub.PRES.3.PL] that [I.sub.DAT] REFL [laugh.sub.PRES.3SG]

'and everyone begins to laugh at me'

Syntactic convergence will here refer to similarity between syntactic structures in one language (Serbian) in contact with another (English) increasing at the expense of difference (Clyne 2003). Convergence has variously been defined as the increasing agreement of languages in regards to features of their overall structure (Hock 1986: 492-512), or as increasing similarity between two or more languages in a particular area of grammar (Silva-Corvalan 1994: 4-5). McMahon (1994) has argued for three dimensions of difference between convergence and borrowing: (i) convergence requires long-term bilingualism; borrowing can occur with only limited bilingualism; (ii) convergence tends to affect syntax and morphology; borrowing tends to be limited to the lexicon; (iii) convergence is a mutual process, i. …

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