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Auteur: Lenka ZAJÍCOVÁ

Variation and Grammaticalization in Moribund Languages: The Case of Immigrant Czech in Paraguay

Abstract/Résumé: One of the environments where language death occurs is that of immigrant communities with vernacular languages. The paper focuses on the topics of variation and grammaticalization in the morphology, as manifested in the speech of Czech immigrant community in Paraguay, which undergoes the process of language shift. The analysis of the linguistic data, collected in the community during the fieldwork in 2007 and 2008, confirm the extreme variation of individual innovations in language shift situation. The innovations are caused by an interplay of influences from inner tendencies, contact language(s), and attrition. With the lack of traditional models, but the presence of many other models to be replicated (Croft 2000), the innovations of different speakers are highly divergent. However, unlike in other studies of these situations (as for Slavic languages in contact with English, for example, Henzl 1982, Ďurovič 1983, Meyerstein 1969), which claim to have identified different types of systemic reduction and simplification in their morphological system (especially the inflection), we have not found enough evidence for systemic changes. On the contrary, the data rather seem to confirm the key role of communication for such a systemic change, which is exactly what is missing in the language that is being abandoned. The language use and speakers’ interaction is crucial in the process of generalization, regularization and systematization of innovations. Without communication, there is no way for individual innovations to become a systemic language change. This corresponds with the Paul Hopper’s conception of emergent grammar (Hopper 1998). There is no grammar available a priori to the speakers; what is identified as general rules is the result of sedimentation of frequently repeated forms and routinization (Haiman 1991). In conclusion, grammar “is not the source of understanding and communication but a by-product of it” (Hopper 1998: 156).