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Brigitte Pakendorf, Independent Junior Research Group on Comparative Population Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
Linguistic and genetic approaches to (pre-)historic population contacts
Current theory on language contact predicts that different kinds of contact situations will have an impact on different aspects of the language concerned. Thus, in their seminal monograph Thomason & Kaufman (1991 ) predict that in the case of substratum interference due to language shift, primarily the phonology, syntax, and to some extent morphology of the target language will undergo change, with only few lexical items being borrowed. In the context of large-scale cultural contact and bilingualism, on the other hand, predominantly lexical items will enter the target language, with far less impact on structural features. Conversely, Ross (2003) and Aikhenvald (2002) suggest that long-term bilingualism may well result in the large-scale restructuring of a language without concomitant lexical borrowing.
It can be difficult to study the factors involved in the different linguistic outcomes of language contact solely with linguistic methods, as the nature of the contact situation is often not known, especially in cases of prehistoric contact. It is here that molecular anthropological investigations can be of assistance. Since human DNA, especially the mtDNA and the Y-chromosome, is relatively stable in time and space, genetic analyses can provide an indication of prehistoric migrations, intermarriage with other groups, and language shift. The results of such studies can then be compared to the results of linguistic analyses, providing the potential of obtaining a more complete picture of the factors that shape language over time.
This multidisciplinary approach to investigations of language contact will be exemplified by a case study focussing on prehistoric contact influence on Sakha (Yakut). This case study is interesting in that linguistic investigations reveal structural influence from the neighbouring Tungusic language Evenki, while there is no genetic evidence for large-scale language shift of Evenks to Sakha.
Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2002. Language Contact in Amazonia. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
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