Languages with More Second Language Learners Tend to Lose Nominal Case

in Language Dynamics and Change
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In this paper, we provide quantitative evidence showing that languages spoken by many second language speakers tend to have relatively small nominal case systems or no nominal case at all. In our sample, all languages with more than 50% second language speakers had no nominal case. The negative association between the number of second language speakers and nominal case complexity generalizes to different language areas and families. As there are many studies attesting to the difficulty of acquiring morphological case in second language acquisition, this result supports the idea that languages adapt to the cognitive constraints of their speakers, as well as to the sociolinguistic niches of their speaking communities. We discuss our results with respect to sociolinguistic typology and the Linguistic Niche Hypothesis, as well as with respect to qualitative data from historical linguistics. All in all, multiple lines of evidence converge on the idea that morphosyntactic complexity is reduced by a high degree of language contact involving adult learners.

Languages with More Second Language Learners Tend to Lose Nominal Case

in Language Dynamics and Change

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    Figure 1. (a) Frequency histogram and superimposed kernel density estimates of the L2 speaker proportion (independent variable). (b) Frequency histogram and superimposed kernel density estimates of the case rank variable (dependent variable).

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    Figure 2. (a) Presence and absence of case as a function of L2 speaker proportion. For better visibility, presence and absence points are shown with some random jitter along the y-axis. The curve indicates the fit of the logistic model, which represents the estimated probability of observing a language with case. (b) Case rank as a function of L2 speaker proportion. The curve indicates the fit of the negative binomial model, which represents the estimated number of nominal cases.

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    Figure 3. Proportion of case presence (first row) and case rank (second row) as a function of L2 speaker proportion. Columns indicate averages by stock (left column) and by region (right column). Curves indicate lowess scatterplot smoothers.

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