When Tension Is Strong, How Strong Is Attractiveness?

Janice L. Jake, Carol Myers-Scotton

Midlands Technical College, Columbia, SC, USA Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

TP115: Attractiveness: empirical and theoretical perspectives

The notion of attractiveness (Johanson, 2002), along with language-specific congruence, may underlie convergence of certain structures from one variety to another in contact situations. However, this paper argues that the twin pull of attractiveness and congruence to change structure is constrained by two other abstract universal forces that are part of any explanation for outcomes in language contact: the Uniform Structure Principle (USP) and the Abstract Level Model (ALM).

The USP recognizes the universality of maintaining uniform structure whenever a given constituent type appears; in bilingual speech it preferences only one variety, designated the Matrix Language (Myers-Scotton, 1997; 2002), as the source of that uniform structure (Myers-Scotton, 2002). As such, the USP opposes change.

The ALM explains the possibility of new combinations of structure; the abstract levels of lexical-conceptual structure, predicate-argument structure, and surface level morphological realization patterns become salient in different stages of congruence checking and structure building (Myers-Scotton & Jake, 2001). New combinations within a lemma arise when features from the levels in a given lemma from one variety are split and combined with features from another variety. These combinations are realized on the surface as an innovative element or phrase from one variety, but with convergence features of another variety. That is, the ALM functions as a mechanism that facilitates congruence checking and underlies attractiveness.

In order to operate, attractiveness and congruence depend on the particular configurations found in each bilingual corpus. In contrast, the USP and ALM are context-free in their applicability. Yet, as noted above, the USP and ALM are themselves opposing forces. The USP inhibits grammatical innovations, while the ALM promotes changes that can ultimately affect structure. Without the USP, the ALM might foster changes based on attractiveness or congruence more than is evident in the contact literature. This paper shows how the tension between these two forces constrains attractiveness and convergence.

For example, Fredsted (2007) cites Danish-German examples entirely in German, but with part of the predicate argument structure from Danish, as in ich fehle ... (‘I lack ...’); the experiencer subject is nominative ich, as in Danish, and not dative, as in German (mir). The German subject controls verb agreement. The ALM provides the possibility of combining predicate-argument structure from one language with another, because of congruence at the level of lexical-conceptual structure. Yet, the morphological realization patterns are consistent with only one language, German. Such examples show attractiveness, but attractiveness limited by the USP, which maintains the grammar of German.


Fredsted, Elin. 2007. Convergence in Verb Phrases. (Forthcoming in Linguistics.)

Johanson, Lars. 2002. Structural factors in Turkic language contacts. Richmond, UK: Curzon.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1997. Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in Codeswitching. Oxford: OUP. 2nd ed.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 2002. Contact Linguistics. Oxford: OUP.

Myers-Scotton, Carol & Janice L. Jake. 2001. Explaining aspects of codeswitching and their implications. In Janet Nicol (ed.) One Mind, Two Languages: Bilingual Language Processing. Oxford: Blackwell. 84-116.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Attractiveness: empirical and theoretical perspectives
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 01