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Regular version of the site

Article

Lingua Francas as Lexical Donors: Evidence from Daghestan

Language. 2021. Vol. 97. No. 3. P. 520-560.

This paper looks at the correlation between the use of an L2 in a speech community and the amount of lexical material borrowed from it into the L1 of this speech community. Our data comes from the traditional highlands of Daghestan, an area of high language density. As in Epps (2017), to measure and compare lexical borrowing, we collected one short list of presumably more borrowable concepts at different locations, similarly to how a short list of less borrowable concepts is used in historical comparative research. Based on field elicitations, the list is shown to detect areal differences in lexical contact between locations. We match our counts with the data on multilingualism from the same locations, and find that the two types of data are mutually supportive. Based on this combined evidence, we isolate two zones of lexical influence, the South, heavily influenced by Azerbaijani, and the North, dominated by Avar. This is likely to reflect the historical role of the two languages as lingua francas. The study supports the observation by Brown (1996, 2011) and Epps (2017) that lexical influence from a lingua franca is higher than from other languages in a multilingual repertoire. In line with the argument that the amount of borrowing from a language is proportional to intensity of bilingualism (Thomason & Kaufman 1988), Brown hypothesizes that the importance of lingua francas as lexical donors must be linked to the high rate of bilingualism. Indeed, the bilingualism in Azerbaijani and Avar respectively in the south and the north of Daghestan is evident from the available data. On the other hand, the knowledge of Chechen and especially Georgian was high at some locations in the north but did not lead to substantial lexical transfer. This leads us to conclude that it is the social condition of a lingua franca that makes it a likely donor of lexical material. Among other possible reasons, we discuss the possibility that a lingua franca is not as strongly associated with a specific ethnic identity as languages spoken only by their L1 speakers, and lexical borrowing from a lingua franca does not threaten the identity of its users as much as borrowing from another language that is only used in communication with its L1 speakers. Similar suggestions of the global lingua franca viewed as neutral grounds are by Epps (2018) with respect to lexical borrowing and code-mixing in Amazonia and by Vaughan (2019) for Australia, though only with respect to code-mixing. By fine-tuning the list to different linguistic settings, the methodology of field probing for lexical contact may be extended to other geographical areas of high language density and intense language contact and become a tool for reconstructing multilingual patterns of the past.