MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Language Contact

Unit code LELA70292
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics and English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Much of linguistic analysis in the Western tradition is based on the assumption that speakers are either monolingual, or – if they do speak more than one language – that these form distinct systems. But do bilingual or multilingual speakers really process their languages as separate systems? What kind of influences from speakers’ first languages can manifest themselves in second language acquisition? Under what circumstances do bilingual speakers “mix” languages in conversation? Can such mixing result in changes in the languages involved, or even the formation of new languages? What are creole languages, and how do they arise? What do we really mean by the “borrowing” of elements from one language into another? How do processes of language acquisition relate to particular historical changes in the lexicon and grammar of a language?

In this course unit, we will address the above questions on the basis of a range of case studies involving languages from around the world. Students can base their written assignment on a course topic and on languages of their choice. 


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:

Students will obtain an overview of processes of historical language change and the formation of new languages due to language contact, and of their relation with multilingual language use. They will critically reflect on the concept of “language” as a delimited system, and will learn to analyse relevant aspects of the phonology, grammar and semantics of a range of languages, including non-European ones. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • identify the key issues in the study of multilingualism and language contact
  • analyse multilingual discourse
  • apply a variety of general linguistic descriptive and analytic methods to data examples from a variety of domains: language acquisition, conversation, and language change
  • compare and evaluate case studies involving different, including unfamiliar, languages
  • link the social factors giving rise to multilingualism and the likely changes to be undergone by languages due to language contact
  • critically reflect on the relations between social environment., communicative needs and grammatical categories


Week 1. Introduction

Week 2. Bilingual and second language acquisition: implications for the study of language contact

Week 3. Bilingual language processing

Week 4. Language choice in multilingual societies

Week 5. Language mixing in conversation 1: discourse functions

Week 6. Language mixing in conversation 2: structural aspects

Week 7. Lexical borrowing

Week 8. Grammatical borrowing

Week 9. Linguistic areas

Week 10. Pidgin and creole languages

Week 11. Mixed languages

Week 12. Summary and further discussion

Teaching and learning methods

  • 2hr weekly lecture (with 3rd year students)
  • 1hr weekly seminar (MA students only)
  • Assignment guidance in written form and during consultation hours

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand the role of some key conceptual notions in language contact such as “borrowing”, “code-switching”, and “creole genesis”
  • link historical processes of contact-induced change to the processing of multiple languages by multilingual speakers
  • apply these concepts to data from languages unfamiliar to them
  • reflect on the implications of linguistic research on multilingualism for policies in multilingual societies

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • identify patterns in sets of data
  • identify key points in the literature relevant to a given topic, and integrate information from different sources
  • identify conceptual links between synchronic and diachronic phenomena
  • critically evaluate theoretical claims and sources of data

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • transcribe and analyse multilingual conversations (depending on choice of assignment)
  • conduct interviews in an intercultural setting (depending on choice of assignment)
  • use glosses and translations to analyse structures of unfamiliar languages

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • provide explicit evidence and precise argumentation in written work
  • gain an increased appreciation of linguistic and cultural diversity

Employability skills

Oral communication
Written and oral argumentation
Awareness of issues and benefits regarding multilingualism
Challenging common preconceptions about language learning and language use

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

  • Feedback on seminar contributions
  • Individual meetings in consultation hours to discuss choice of topic
  • Written feedback on essay (additional feedback in consultation hour if desired)

Recommended reading

Matras, Yaron. 2009. Language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Winford, Donald. 2003. An introduction to contact linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Li Wei. ed. 2000. The bilingualism reader. London: Routledge. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

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