This article explores the role of usage frequency in the structure of language mixing by the application of corpus-linguistic and statistical methods. The goal of the study is to reveal that the frequency of a lexical item and the frequency with which it occurs with other items account for its use in bilingual speech. To achieve this goal, I analyze German monolingual and German-Russian mixed adjective-modified nominal constituents in otherwise Russian discourse in a corpus of Russian-German bilingual speech collected from fluent bilinguals in Russian-speaking communities in Germany. My findings show that many of German nominal constituents, also called embedded-language islands, are recurrent A-N combinations. However, in the absence of sequential associations between the involved words, the adjectives may be realized in Russian or in German. In light of this evidence, I suggest two mechanisms underlying the production of embedded-language islands: retrieval of a multiword chunk and co-activation.
The influence of usage frequency, and particularly of linguistic similarity on human linguistic behavior and linguistic change in situations of language contact are well documented in contact linguistics literature. However, a theoretical framework capable of unifying the various explanations, which are usually couched in either structuralist, sociolinguistic, or psycholinguistic parlance, is still lacking. In this introductory article we argue that a usage-based approach to language organization and linguistic behavior suits this purpose well and that the study of language contact phenomena will benefit from the adoption of this theoretical perspective. The article sketches an outline of usage-based linguistics, proposes ways to analyze language contact phenomena in this framework, and summarizes the major findings of the individual contributions to the special issue, which not only demonstrate that contact phenomena are usefully studied from the usage-based perspective, but document that taking a usage-based approach reveals new aspects of old phenomena.