Commission on Language Contact
under the auspices of the International Congress of Slavists
The Commission’s activities are to be guided by two overarching objectives:
1. Variationist linguistics should not only be regarded as a supplement to more traditional methods of research, but be employed in a consistent manner, so that qualitative and quantitative methods of studying language can cross-pollinate.
Variationist approaches aim at making intuitive insights (“guesses”) more reliable; quantificational methods are used to verify (or falsify) insights from qualitative research and to help generalize them. These methods have been gaining ground in practically all fields that are relevant for contact linguistics; moreover, they are increasingly finding their way into higher education at universities. Among relevant domains, first and foremost, are the following:
- sociolinguistics understood in a Labovian sense.
- dialect geography and dialectometry.
- areal linguistics (primarily with respect to smaller areas).
2. Varieties of Slavic should not be investigated in isolation, whether in regard to them as objects of study or to the methods employed (see §1). Research on Slavic variation should not lag behind the study of the diversity of other language groups (e.g., Germanic, Romance); rather, Slavic linguistics dealing with variation should be on par with cutting-edge research and become a pacesetter itself.
Slavic non-standard varieties (dialects, sociolects, exogeneous and endogeneous minority languages, etc.) offer a wide range of hitherto poorly utilized opportunities that supply important resources for the investigation of language contact, both between varieties of Slavic and between Slavic and non-Slavic varieties. In addition, Slavic varieties are involved in diverse contact situations, offering manifold objects of research not only in diatopic, but also in diastratic dimensions (in Coseriu’s terms). This empirical background gives us a reasonable chance not only of documenting and describing various contact situations which complement our knowledge about linguistic diversity from a sociolinguistic and structural point of view, but this background offers possibilities of making significant contributions to theoretical approaches fostering a better understanding and explanation of language change.
As for methods, variationist approaches require corpora and similar kinds of databases. Thus, the creation, improvement, and propagation of well-constructed corpora and databases of linguistic variation must be recognized as one of the primary concerns of the Commission (compare, for instance, the SpoSla network: http://parasolcorpus.org/Spoken-Slavic/). Such resources should be propagated, first of all, to secure access to sustainable and authentic linguistic data which lend themselves to reliable and compatible presentation of factual evidence and which, in addition, are flexible enough to address various research questions.
Both aforementioned objectives should counteract the isolation of research in Slavic linguistics. Pursuing these goals does not negate, nor downplay, the relevance of qualitative methods in the investigation of contact situations (whether in a sociolinguistic or in a dialectological mode). However, Slavic linguistics needs a solid framework in order to not only keep pace with generally accepted and applied methods in empirical linguistic research, but also to make valuable contributions to it. Apart from that, qualitative methods can be usefully applied to shed light on global issues (for instance, the role of language contact in linguistic change, reasons and processes of convergence and divergence in designated contact zones and smaller areas), and they can provide valuable input for a wide range of variationist techniques. This cross-fertilization is possible only with consistent support for the creation and application of sustainable corpora and the exchange of a large and diverse body of data. Open access using Creative Commons Licenses, encouraging maximal openness, would serve as the logical frame-work for data sharing. A guide to Creative Commons Licenses is found here:
Consequently, the Commission should be composed of researchers who are willing and able to complement each other in order to guarantee appropriate coverage fulfilling the following criteria:
- coverage of variationist and qualitative (“traditional”) methods;
- optimal diversity of contemporary and historically attested cases of language contact with the participation of Slavic varieties (considering both inner-Slavic and Slavic-non-Slavic contacts);
- know-how in the creation, improvement, and exploitation of corpora (primarily spoken and non-standard), of databases and of repositories which guarantee sustainability of exchange and access to data as well as to supply tools for corpus queries.
Björn Wiemer (Chair), Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität, Institut für Slavistik, Turkologie und zirkumbaltische Studien, Abt. Slavistik – email@example.com
Mainz, December 27, 2017