Linguistic Areas, Language Contact and Typology: Some Implications from the Case of Ethiopia as a Linguistic Area



The concept of linguistic area or Sprachbund has triggered many discussions among linguists dealing with language contact. Even though various suggestions for its exact definition and numerous papers dealing with the question of whether a certain geographic area really is a linguistic area have been published in the years since the introduction of that term by Trubetzkoy (1930) it still remains unclear what is in fact a linguistic area. As I would like to show in this chapter, this does not come as a surprise if one starts looking more closely at the problems inherent in this concept, which is based on an idealization that takes for granted too much of structural and social homogeneity across potential linguistic areas. In fact, almost all of the criteria discussed in the literature for a more clear-cut and homogeneous definition of what makes a linguistic area turn out to be either arbitrary or difficult to apply. In addition, the correlations between structural changes and their potential social and historical background seem to be of such a general and rather abstract nature that too much rigour in defining linguistic areas may obstruct the finding of potential regularities from the outset. It is for reasons like these that I shall introduce the concept of zones of contact-induced structural convergence (abbrevated to zones of convergence) as a more open concept comparable to geographic dialect continua (see section 3.3).


Word Order Universal Grammar Structural Convergence Semitic Language Language Contact 
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