Structuralists and generativists have insisted for a long time that the elements and structures one language could borrow from another are constrained by typological compatibility, naturalness, and other factors (cf. Thomason and Kaufman 1988: 13–34). Such constraints are still thought to apply to structural interference, or pattern replication in the terms of Matras and Sakel (2007), and the often concomitant contact-induced grammaticalisation of non-native structures.
This paper suggests that a priori there are no typological constraints against pattern replication in general. It is proposed that typological differences between model and replica pattern are only of relevance during the grammaticalisation and maintenance of such patterns in the replica language; in other words, typological constraints do not apply at the stage of pattern replication. It will be argued that typology, in the form of system pressure, interacts with pattern frequency and socio-historical factors, which together determine retention, adaptation, or loss of a replicated pattern.
This argument is illustrated on the basis of three short studies of partial alignment change in Old Aramaic, Classical Armenian, and North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic, all of which have been in contact with Iranian languages for extended periods. In each case, Iranian ergative alignment patterns have been replicated, adapted, grammaticalised to varying degrees, and finally ousted in favour of nominative-accusative alignment. The loss of the replica pattern in each case is shown to be dependent on both typology, extent of bilingualism, and pattern frequency.
For most of the 20th century, theoretical approaches to language and linguistics suggested that structural interference, that is the adoption of non-native (morpho-)syntactic structures or categories as the result of contact with another language, is very unlikely to occur (Givón, 1979: 26) or can occur only in very specific circumstances, e.g. between languages with very similar grammatical systems (Meillet, 1921: 87). More recent work, however, has highlighted that under the right socio-historical circumstances, usually involving intense and prolonged contact, structural interference does occur with apparent disregard for any purely linguistic constraint. In other words, “any linguistic feature can be transferred from any language to any other language” (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 14) as long as this transfer does not violate overarching constraints, e.g. as regards grammaticalisation (cf. Heine and Kuteva, 2008); the latter constraint is not restricted to structural transfer, of course, but applies to non-contact scenarios as well.1
Particularly in the case of structural transfers (or grammatical calquing),2 it remains disputed whether its occurrence is indeed linguistically unconstrained and bound mainly by socio-historical context (cf. Thomason, 2003; 2008), or whether some kind of linguistic constraint remains in play.3
The concept of markedness4 has frequently been noted as one of the possible constraints at the heart of language contact (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 194, 213; Myers-Scotton, 2002: 190–1; Heine and Kuteva, 2005: 256). In this context, the definition of markedness derives “primarily from typology (more widespread = less marked), and secondarily from first-language acquisition (first learned = less marked)” (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 26–7).5 Unsurprisingly, the lack of a clearer definition and the opaque and relative nature of markedness have called into doubt its validity, leading to suggestions that the concept best be abandoned (e.g. Myers-Scotton, 2002: 231; Haspelmath, 2006).
The notion of markedness, or an intimately related concept, is still applied in a more clearly defined form in the guise of typological distance,6 which suggests that elements and patterns in the model language diverging typologically from parallel ones in the potential replica language are less likely to be adopted, at least in casual and moderate contact situations; this constraint applies mostly to phonological and syntactic interactions (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 72). In the realm of syntactic borrowings (or pattern replication), however, this constraint is not infrequently violated,7 wherefore the question arises whether (like markedness as a concept, or at least as a technical term) typological distance had best be set aside as a criterion in considering language contact processes, or whether it can be retained in a different role.
In what follows, the relevance of typological distance for transfer in language contact will be considered on the basis of three case studies of syntactic pattern replication which resulted in partial, temporary alignment change. The three replica languages – Syriac, Classical Armenian, and North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic (nena) – have each been in contact with an Iranian language and have adopted their split-ergative system, but to different degrees, at different times in history, and under varying socio-historical circumstances.
Since the replication of ergative-absolutive patterns in the model languages occurred in spite of significant typological distance to the otherwise nominative-accusative replica languages, and under a number of different circumstances, it is worth considering whether typological distance can indeed be said to constrain pattern replication. The concept of an aprioristic restriction against borrowings from typologically divergent languages is best replaced by an ‘anything goes in language contact – under the right circumstances’ approach.8 Divergent patterns may be borrowed and even grammaticalised in the replica language (given the right socio-historical circumstances), but can also be ousted by native patterns. This outcome is most likely if the borrowed element is used infrequently, contact with the model language has declined significantly, or systemic pressure from more dominant patterns make it necessary.9
These three factors (‘centrality’ of the pattern; ‘constancy’ of contact; ‘consistency’ with native, replica language patterns), varying in each contact situation, are of primary concern in determining whether a pattern is replicated, grammaticalised, and maintained in the replica language. For reasons of space and clarity, the discussion of typological constraints and their relevance to language contact situations in this paper is intentionally restricted to instances of syntactic change only; phonological, morphological, and other changes may be subject to different tendencies.
In order to substantiate this point, the arguments in favour and against a typological markedness constraint are revisited in section 2 by means of a brief recapitulation of relevant cases cited in the literature. Section 3 discusses the concept of metatypy (as per Ross, 2007) and illustrates the reasons why instances thereof are ideal cases to investigate the constraint in question. In turn, section 4 outlines three instances of syntactical pattern replication, proposing that the metatypical changes found speak against a typological constraint, since markedly similar replication processes occurred in very different settings and with comparable outcomes. Finally, section 5 draws together the evidence gathered and outlines a different approach to dealing with typological divergence in language contact situations.
2 Markedness, Typological Distance, and Pattern Replication
In an influential paper, Haspelmath (2006) points out the polysemy of the linguistic term markedness, subdividing it into twelve senses and dispelling its assumed usefulness as a concept in linguistics. To give but two examples: a specific semantic distinction may be marked, regarding for example its inclusivity; the unmarked German Hund ‘dog’ can refer to a canine of any gender, whilst its feminine counterpart Hündin ‘bitch’ exclusively refers to female members of the species (cf. Jakobson, 1971: 3–4; Haspelmath, 2006: 28–9). The feminine form is, therefore, more marked since it is less inclusive, referring only to a subset of instances of the concept ‘dog’, whereas the masculine form refers to all subsets.
A correlated notion is that of markedness as morphological difficulty.10 The English plural formation in glove:gloves, for instance, is considered unmarked owing to the correspondence of semantic (plural) with morphological marking (-s); the pair ox:oxen or moose:moose, on the other hand, are marked since the former uses a non-standard plural form, and the latter bears no morphological marking correlating to its plural semantics. Accordingly, both of the latter instances ‘strain the human language capacity’ and are thus marked (Wurzel, 1998: 63).
“linguists can dispense with the term ‘markedness’ and many of the concepts that it has been used to express. It can be readily replaced by other concepts and terms that are less ambiguous, more transparent and provide better explanations for the observed phenomena” (Haspelmath, 2006: 63).
In the specific context of typology, the notion of markedness has been used to refer to the co-occurrence of certain structures or patterns; a pattern A is considered marked in relation to pattern B, iff languages with A also always contain B, but not necessarily vice versa (Eckman, 1977: 320). An instance of this typological markedness can be found in, e.g., Greenberg’s Universal 34: ‘No language has a dual unless it has a plural’ (1966: 94); since it follows that all languages with a dual category also have a plural category, but not all languages with a plural also have a dual, the dual is a universally marked feature.
When considering language contact, however, next to such universally marked features, it is necessary to consider those features, categories, or structures which are ‘relatively’ marked. In particular, these are features, etc. which fit typologically into the model language, but do not occur natively in the replica language. To give an example pertinent to the discussion below: from the perspective of an otherwise nominative-accusative replica language, ergative-absolutive alignment is ‘relatively’ marked; in this context, it is irrelevant whether ergative–absolutive alignment is universally marked. This relative markedness is an expression of the typological distance between model and replica language. Following Haspelmath’s suggestion and for the sake of clarity, the discussion below eschews the term markedness, and will instead refer to typological distance. This typological distance is one of the key factors to which the likelihood of a model language structure being borrowed in the replica language has been correlated. It might act as a borrowing constraint: the greater the distance, the less likely is borrowing (Givón, 1979: 26; also cf. already Meillet, 1921: 86–7).
Further, in the case of pattern replication, it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of such a proposed constraint, since its application does not effect change;11 the result is essentially an argumentum ex silentio. This is further exacerbated by the fact that pattern replication, where it can be shown to occur beyond reasonable doubt, is almost exclusive to intense contact situations with wide-spread bilingualism (Thomason, 1997; Aikhenvald, 2007), thus limiting the set of potential cases to be studied.
Weakening the base of this supposed typological markedness constraint even further, it is precisely in these intense contact environments where contraindicated, typologically distant constructions are replicated (see section 4 for examples in greater detail). A few examples from the literature will serve to illustrate this: Indo-European languages typically have person categories roughly equivalent to those in modern Western European languages like French, English, or German, with three persons in singular and plural.12 A small set of Indic languages, such as Sindhi and Gujarati, however, has added a category by differentiating between an inclusive and exclusive ‘we’, a distinction found in a neighbouring Dravidian language (Emeneau, 1962: 56).13 Another Indic language, Šīnā, has gone so far as to adopt the ergative alignment pattern of the neighbouring Tibetan language Balti (Verbeke, 2013: 256–7; Anderson, 1977: 344). In the Americas, Silverstein (1977; 1974) reports on the creation of a gender system in proto-Chinookan “under heavy categorial influence from the languages surrounding on the coast” (1977: 154), specifically Tillamook, Chehalis, and other Coast Salish languages.
“The evidence we have collected that bears on this point does not permit a firm conclusion about the validity of the general hypothesis [concerning the role of typological distance]. […] We have solid evidence from cases of heavy structural borrowing (e.g., Ma’a, Asia Minor Greek) and even moderate structural borrowing (e.g., various contact situations in India) that features can and do get borrowed regardless of their typological fit with borrowing-language features.” (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 53)14
They do suggest, however, that this constraint should apply “in cases of light to moderate interference” (1988: 54).
In view of even these few examples, the plausibility of a constraint or even tendency so readily overridden must be called into question; either it is to be discarded entirely, or its parameters and effects are to be defined more closely. As it stands, the constraint does not apply in casual or less intense contact situations, where pattern replication generally is not observed and only non-basic lexicon is likely to be borrowed. In more intense contact situations, where pattern replication has been noticed most frequently, there are numerous cases of constraint violation as just mentioned;15 yet, such morphosyntactic borrowings are still more common in instances where there is no typological distance between model and recipient language in the pattern concerned (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988: 52–3).
The key to resolving this apparent discrepancy lies not in abandoning the typological distance constraint entirely, but in repositioning it. Contrary to Silva-Corlvalán’s assertion that ‘every change allowed appears to be constrained by the structure of the affected language’ (2008: 221), it appears that in principle anything is possible in language contact under the right socio-historical circumstances (Thomason and Kaufman, 1988; Campbell and Muntzel, 1989; pace Myers-Scotton, 2002), and that pattern replication relies on the accessibility of the pattern in question during language processing, irrespective of the language produced. This common accessibility is to be expected for patterns occurring in both languages, but also applies to bilingual contexts or in L2 acquisition, where code-switching bilinguals may need (or want) to ‘replicate a function that exists in the model language’ (Matras, 2009: 239) by using non-native patterns available in their mental grammar (cf. Heine and Kuteva, 2005: 92; 2003: 539). Such erroneous or consciously deviant usage of non-native patterns is transient during language acquisition and learning, and does not in itself predict whether a foreign pattern will be grammaticalised or not. Yet once a model language pattern has been used in the replica language (no matter under which circumstances), pattern replication is a distinct possibility.
Accordingly, it is argued in what follows that grammaticalisation and long-term retention of such patterns in the replica language depend on a number of factors: ‘centrality’, that is the usage frequency in communication of the structure in question; ‘constancy’ , viz. constant contact with the model language, concomitant bilingualism, and thus active usage of the model pattern; and ‘consistency’ with replica language typology, or in other words, maximal cross-system harmony between the languages involved.16 That is to say that any kind of pattern may, in principle, be replicated in spontaneous speech acts of proficient or imperfect bilinguals, with varying degrees of modification to the pattern in order to adapt to morphosyntactic categories of the replica language; the grammaticalisation of such a pattern and its maintenance in the replica language is contingent on its frequent recurrent usage and the continuation of the language contact environment in which the pattern was established. These two factors are, in turn, counterbalanced by the typological distance, or perceived ‘difficulty’, of the pattern: a more intense contact situation and/or very frequent use of the replicated pattern can accommodate the grammaticalisation of more typologically divergent patterns. Since the typological factor is often diachronically more constant,17 changes in the contact situation or frequency of use affect this balance, and may result in further adaptation of the replicated pattern to the typology of the recipient language, its marginalisation, or ousting.
A typological constraint, such as a constraint against borrowing syntagmata requiring a different morphosyntactic alignment pattern, or typological distance more broadly speaking, is therefore not an a priori blocking mechanism of pattern replication in language contact, but rather one of multiple factors determining the eventual grammaticalisation, stability, and longevity of an extraneous pattern. It is not typological considerations that are at the heart of pattern replication, but rather the community of bilingual speakers and their circumstances. Following Haspelmath’s attempt at eliminating the unnecessary term markedness, the phenomenon owing to which pattern replication is more common in typologically similar languages is probably best described as a combination of frequency effects and, in Haig’s (2008: 193) terms, a tendency for language-internal systemic harmony.
3 Typological Changes through Contact: Metatypy and Metatypical Changes
A substantiation of this proposal requires that the interplay of these three determining factors (centrality; constancy; consistency) can be shown to apply in instances of pattern replication; in what follows, the focus will lie on instances violating the typological distance constraint (consistency).
Briefly returning to the cases of pattern replication mentioned above, it is evident that the replicated morphosyntactic patterns or categories mentioned are not affected by this constraint: the addition of morphosemantic categories, such as gender or number distinction, is not liable to reduction through systemic pressure within the replica language, since the syntax of these systems is expanded rather than altered; as long as such new categories are actively used, they present no challenge to native patterns. Whilst the persistence of contact is difficult to evaluate in the case of Proto-Chinookan, both Šīnā, Sindhi, and Gujarati are still in contact with the model language from which they borrowed patterns. In the case of Šīnā, the contact-induced occurrence of ergative marking in the imperfective system is also unproblematic in view of the pre-existing ergative alignment of the perfective system; that ergativity is realised in different ways in each system is of little consequence (Verbeke, 2013: 257).
This type of alignment change can, however, pose more significant problems for the notion of typological constraints or consistency since, by their nature, (partial) alignment changes work against the typological grain of a language. Before delving into the details of three examples of such changes in section 4, it is worthwhile considering the process from a more theoretical perspective as suggested in the form of metatypy by Ross (2007).
“diachronic process whereby the morphosyntactic constructions of one of the languages of a bilingual speech community are restructured on the model of the constructions of the speakers’ other language, such that the constructions of the replica language come to more closely match those of the model language in both meaning and morphosyntax.” (Ross, 2007: 124).
As opposed to previous suggestions (Ross, 1996; 1997; 2001; 2003), however, he distinguishes lexical and grammatical calques, which function as necessary precursors, from the process of morphosyntactic restructuring itself. The difference is illustrated by means of contact-induced changes in Mixe Basque, where on the basis of Gascon models complex adpositions and a passive voice have arisen, and Yiddish, which has partly remodelled a Germanic focus construction on Slavic patterns. Both instances, according to Ross, do not constitute metatypy, however, since the changes in Mixe Basque represent changes in categories and their membership, not syntax (2007: 127). Similarly, the Yiddish example is taken to be “direct copying” of the Slavic model, rather than change in recipient language structures through imitation (2007: 129).
The border between grammatical calquing and metatypy is thus, understandably, fuzzy at times: calquing is a prerequisite for metatypy, but not a sufficient condition; equally, the syntactic restructuring required in order to qualify as metatypy becomes more complicated, and thus more unlikely, the more typologically distant the languages are; yet a decrease in likelihood does not equal a constraint.
It is for this very reason that instances of metatypical changes18 are of particular interest in considering the above hypothesis concerning typological distance: if metatypy, or changes bordering thereon, can be shown to have occurred in typologically sufficiently distinct languages, this would reinforce the operational invalidity of the typological distance constraint. In turn, if metatypy is prevented despite the occurrence of grammatical calques that might have led to it, the circumstances of such a lack of metatypy should be illuminating. Only such instances of typological change, however, as would be unlikely to occur without external influence will be admissible as evidence.19 If, therefore, metatypical changes due to language contact in languages exhibiting typological differences can be shown to be transient, restricted to a certain system, or influenced by non-typological factors, this would further speak against a typological constraint in language contact, and indeed in favour of the notions of centrality, constancy, and consistency proposed above.
4 Pattern Replication based on Iranian Model Languages
In this section, three instances of contact-induced syntactic change are discussed in greater detail; in each instance, the verbal system of the recipient language has, to a greater or lesser extent, adapted to that of the respective Iranian model language.
The first case concerns changes in Old Aramaic, which on the basis of contact with Old Persian has developed a participle-based past tense with a prepositional agent. Both languages were spoken in antiquity: Old Persian is first attested in the late sixth century bce as one of the influential languages of the Achaemenid Empire, and ceased to be used in inscriptions in the late fourth century bce (Skjærvø, 2009: 46–7); Old Aramaic was used as the lingua franca of the region before, during and after the Achaemenid Empire.20
A second case is presented by substantial influence on Classical Armenian from the Western Middle Iranian languages, foremost among which Parthian. Armenia was first recognised as a distinct entity in the late sixth century bce; its inhabitants clearly had a distinct language throughout antiquity,21 which however is only attested from the fifth century ce onwards, after the invention of the Armenian alphabet. Beginning and end of Parthian influence are difficult to determine: a conservative date-range begins with the installation of a Parthian king over Armenia in 66 ce, and ends with the abolishment of Parthian rule under the Sasanians in 428 ce.22
The final case concerns dialects of North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic (nena), which have been in contact with Kurdish dialects for extended periods of time. Both Kurdish and nena dialects vary greatly as regards their grammar, owed to no small extent to the geographic dispersion of the speaker communities and varying contact languages. The particular case considered here is that of the Jewish dialect of Sulaymaniyah, which has been in contact with the local Sorani Kurdish dialect for at least two centuries. For each case, a brief socio-historic introduction is followed by an explanation of the original patterns of the verbal system that later underwent syntactic changes through contact with the relevant Iranian language (where possible).23 Thereafter, both Iranian model and the replicated pattern based thereon will be discussed. Where possible, the history of the pattern shall be traced and socio-historic elements examined as necessary.
4.1 The Old Aramaic qṭyl l- construction and Old Persian
Old Aramaic24 (OA) was the lingua franca of the Achaemenid Empire and as such was in prolonged contact with Old Persian.25 Having been the language of Aramean city states prior to their annexation by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Old Aramaic had gained its status independently from the invading Achaemenids; its function as a means of communication between the various parts of the Empire, each with their own dominant language, is in part owed to its script.26 The contact between the two languages is reflected not only in translations of Old Persian material, such as the Behistun inscription, into Old Aramaic, but also in numerous lexical borrowings from Old Persian into Old Aramaic.27 They consist largely of legal and administrative terms such as OA’ḥšdrpn’ ‘satrap’ < OIr. *xšθrapāna- or OAptyprs ‘retribution’ < OP *patifrāsa-, but also include lexical items referring to less abstract, more quotidian objects, e.g. OAprds ‘garden’ < OPparidaiza- (cp. Engl. paradise) or OAnbršt ‘lamp’ < OP *nibrāšti-.28
To a lesser extent, morphosyntactic calques also occur: these involve the use of connectives like OA’ḥr ‘afterwards’, based on OPpasāva ‘id.’, but also more complex structures like the replication of OPhaya/taya-phrases—an early form of the ezāfe-construction found also in Avestan and numerous later Iranian languages—, which express a genitive/possessive relationship between NPs, in the form of OAzy instead of a construct chain typical for Semitic languages (cf. Whitehead, 1978: 128–35).
In all instances of the construction, the participle occurs together with an agent in the genitive case and patient in the neuter nominative/accusative, while a finite form of the copula does not frequently accompany the construction.31 This taya manā kṛtam construction is of interest for two reasons: first, a genitive agent is not widely attested in Old Persian in either active or passive construction, finite or non-finite;32 while the genitive is not a prototypical agentive case (cf. Hettrich, 1990: 94, 97; Jamison, 1979: 133–7), similar constructions exist in Avestan and Sanskrit (cf. Cardona, 1970). Secondly, the construction is attested only with the verb °kar- ‘to do, make’, which raises questions concerning its status in Old Persian.33
Despite the scholarly attention that has been paid to the taya manā kṛtam construction and related syntagmata in later Iranian languages, the pattern is synchronically rather limited in scope. Limited to °kar- in the Old Persian inscriptions, it must have gained greater currency by Middle Iranian times, since its successor became the standard past tense of the Western Middle Iranian languages (see section 4.2 below).
Here, the svo word order typical of later stages of Old Aramaic and semantics alone serve to indicate the syntactic roles of the constituents.35
Historically, then, the sequence of events must have been approximately as follows: the Old Persian construction is replicated in Old Aramaic, whereby the genitive pronoun is rendered as a prepositional phrase owing to a lack of case marking in the recipient language.37 Originally restricted to verbs of perception, its input widens to encompass other types of verbs, including intransitive ones; by the time of Syriac, the prepositional agent marker has been reanalysed as a subject, and previous grammatical subjects of the passive-intransitive participle may receive overt object marking.
It is important to note, however, that this construction never became the standard, and certainly not the only way of expressing the past in Old Aramaic or Syriac (Ciancaglini, 2008: 36); nor did it cause a typological change in the syntax of either language, since the l- prefixed agent was neither adopted in other tenses, nor the standard for passive constructions in this tense. Conversely, it is of note that the replicated pattern was reanalyzed as an active construction, fitting into the syntax of Syriac as shown in (6). The Old Aramaic grammatical calque, which could have been the precursor of metatypy proper, survived in Aramaic on the fringes of the verbal system in spite of its typological differences such as syntactic role marking and the occurrence of subjects in a prepositional phrase. Owing to these, however, and to its apparent lack of centrality in Old Aramaic, as well as the loss of prestige of Old Persian after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, system pressure resulted in the reanalysis of the pattern, which only then became more common in Syriac.
These metatypical changes may not have led to a change of syntactic alignment in Old Aramaic or Syriac, but, given the typological differences between model and replica language, clearly show that no typological constraint was in place during the replication process. Conversely, once replicated, the pattern was over time reanalyzed to fit into the replica language system.
4.2 The Classical Armenian periphrastic perfect and Parthian
The second case of pattern replication and metatypical changes, namely the periphrastic perfect in Classical Armenian, bears certain resemblances to the qṭyl l- construction of Aramaic in that here, too, a second, non-native morphosyntactic alignment pattern emerges in one particular tense system as a result of language contact. The Armenian case, however, is somewhat more complicated, as detailed below.
Armenian is an Indo-European language once thought to belong to the Iranian phylum; since the seminal work of Hübschmann (1875), however, it is generally accepted that the Iranian ‘appearance’ of Armenian is in fact owed to long-lasting language contact with both Old and Middle Iranian languages.38 Classical Armenian was spoken in the Armenian highlands, roughly delimited by the Caucasus in the North, Media Atropatene (modern Azerbaijan) to the East, the Taurus Mountains to the South and the Upper Euphrates in the West; owing to political expansion in the 1st century bce, and close cultural ties to the Greek-speaking world, the language spread into Asia Minor and the Levant as well. While Armenian is only attested in written form from the 5th century ce onwards, the first certain attestation of the Armenian people goes back to the Behistun inscription of the Achaemenid King Darius I, finished 520–518 bce.
Evidence from a limited amount of Old Iranian loanwords suggests that Armenian and Iranian speakers had been in close contact since that time at least; 39 this is confirmed further by the political dominance of Iranian peoples over the Armenians.40 With minor intermissions, Armenia was ruled by Iranians in one fashion or another until the establishment of the marzpanate in 428 ce, from which time government affairs were conducted by non-hereditary governors-general installed by the Sasanian king, often Armenian nobles, for two centuries.41
Quantitatively and qualitatively, the most influential amongst the Iranian languages in contact with Armenian was Parthian,42 spoken by the members of the Arsacid dynasty that ruled Armenia for about four centuries.43 The number of lexical borrowings from Parthian and its sister language Middle Persian can rival that of directly inherited Indo-European words,44 and includes not only cultural and non-core lexicon, but extends into closed classes like numerals and prepositions, and the core vocabulary.45
Table 1 offers a few examples.
Apart from the lexicon, Parthian had considerable influence on the derivational morphology and phraseology of Armenian. This includes the formation of denominal adjectives and patronymics, a number of nominal and verbal affixes, calques and semi-calques of both nominal compounds as well as complex predicates.47 Recent studies further suggest that Armenian syntax has also been affected by Iranian patterns; in particular, this includes the expression of reflexive relations and the function of anaphoric pronouns and intensifiers.48
Examples (7–9) show, respectively, an active one-place predicate, a two-place predicate, and a passive one-place predicate with the demoted agent expressed in a prepositional phrase. This configuration is the standard in all tenses, and continues to be so in the modern Armenian daughter languages.
In the periphrastic perfect, therefore, Classical Armenian shows tripartite alignment, with different morphological marking of intransitive subject, transitive agent, and object. This type of alignment is cross-linguistically rather uncommon; it is synchronically stable in some languages such as Yazgulyami (Indo-Iranian, Pamir; cf. Payne, 1980), some dialects of Pahari and Western Hindi (Indo-Aryan; Stroński, 2010; also cf. Liljegren, 2014: 150ff.), and frequently appears to be a transitional stage from ergative-absolutive to nominative-accusative alignment (Skalmowski, 1974; Payne, 1980: 150). In a third set of languages, tripartite alignment occurs next to other alignment types in a split system; in Armenian, this split is tense-based, whereas Wanggumara, Waga-Waga, Yidiny, and Dyirbal exhibit an animacy-based alignment split (cf. Blake, 1977: 11; Dixon, 1979: 86–8).
Evidently, the Parthian pattern has not been replicated in Armenian without change, since Armenian shows not ergative, but tripartite alignment. The difference between the two systems manifests itself in the marking of the object as accusative in Armenian, as opposed to the direct case in Parthian, which given its other functions should be rendered as an Armenian nominative.
While this is not the only adaptation that the Parthian pattern underwent in Armenian, it is by far the most significant,55 since it results in alignment change. Classical Armenian, under the influence of Western Middle Iranian languages, has developed a tense-sensitive alignment split, with nominative-accusative alignment in all tenses except for the periphrastic perfect. The genesis of this split unfortunately predates extant historical documents, wherefore all analyses rely on remnants of previous stages in the attested texts.
The use of the genitive with an intransitive verb in the periphrastic perfect lends further credence to the suggestion that this was a replicated rather than an inherited pattern, wherefore confusion concerning its usage arose on occasion. In turn, the extension of the nominative to work as the agent even in the active is likely the result of both system pressure from other tenses, and the fact that, when coordinated with other, nominative-accusative aligned tenses, the perfect does not require the agent to be restated in the genitive.57 Thus arise contexts in which the grammatical subject of the perfect is legitimately in the nominative.
The example of the Classical Armenian periphrastic perfect therefore shows in two instances the influence of typological distance on the development of replicated patterns in the replica language: firstly, the replicated ergative alignment pattern of Western Middle Iranian was, in all likelihood, initially adopted without change.58 By the time of its first attestation, however, the pattern had already undergone mutations, marking the object as accusative like in all other tenses.59 Secondly, this adapted pattern was maintained as long as there was significant contact with the model language, but with the subsiding of the Sasanians’ political dominance as a result of the Arab conquest, this ceased to be the case in the middle of the 7th century. The minority alignment pattern of the perfect then gave way to the systemic pressure from other tenses, resulting in a change to nominative-accusative alignment.60
These findings align neatly with the parameters suggested above. As opposed to the case of Old Aramaic above, the replicated pattern in Classical Armenian was of significant centrality from the beginning, being one of the main narrative tenses and occurring with great regularity in all text types. Like in the other languages mentioned or discussed, supposed constraints relating to typological distance have not prevented the initial replication of this pattern; instead, systemic pressures owed to typological differences within the Armenian verbal system have resulted in the adaptation of the replicated pattern to the replica language, and later in the levelling of all differences through the adoption of the standard alignment pattern. The latter stage of this process coincides with major socio-historical changes, owing to which the previous level and kind of contact with the model language was no longer maintained or desired, and bilingualism likely subsided.
While the metatypical change that Classical Armenian underwent did not result in full metatypy in the sense of alignment change across the whole verbal system, it clearly demonstrates that issues of consistency or typological differences, together with centrality or frequency of use, and constancy, that is socio-historical concerns, play a role in the retention of replicated patterns in language contact situations, rather than in their initial inception.
4.3 The nena simple past and Sulaymaniyah Kurdish
“the Kurdish and Aramaic speech communities maintain highly complex historical relationships, of which much is still obscure and perhaps will remain forever so. The wide range of sociolinguistic factors involved obviously shifted and drifted over the course of time, yet it is safe to say contact between the two continued without interruption.” (Noorlander, 2014: 203).
While contact between the two language families stretches more than 2,500 years, not all sources useful for the consideration of modern dialects go back quite as far, with the onset of some contact situations datable only to the 18th century.
The results of language contact differ in each dialect, but may include any of the whole plethora of possibilities. Khan (2004, 2007) illustrates a number of borrowings into nena from Kurdish dialects, including phonological changes (e.g. postvocalic [t̪͆], [d̪͆] > [l] in bela < *beta, cp. OAbyt /bayit/ ‘house’ or ’ile < *’ide, cp. OAyd /yad/ ‘hand’; cf. Mutzafi, 2004: 36–8) and loss of grammatical categories (e.g. loss of gender in the pronouns). For the present purpose, however, it is the construction of the simple past (perfective) in the Judaeo-Aramaic dialect of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan that is of most interest.
The vast majority of the Muslim population of the town, founded in 1784, speaks a dialect of Central Kurdish (Sorani); the Jewish community, most of whom came from a village some twenty miles away, used this local dialect to communicate with their neighbours until the community emigrated to Israel between 1950 and 1952 (cf. Khan, 2007: 198). This form of nena is now only spoken by a few surviving community members in Jerusalem.
Sulaymaniyah Kurdish has a tense-sensitive split-ergative inflection pattern, wherein tenses based on the past stem exhibit ergative marking, while all other tenses follow a nominative-accusative pattern (cf. Khan, 2004: 10–11).61
This is similar to the pattern found in Middle Persian and Parthian illustrated above. Thus, intransitive verbs behave in like fashion in the present and simple past, but transitive verbs diverge significantly, as Table 2 illustrates.62
In the present and past intransitive, a clitic is added to the verb, agreeing with the subject. For the transitive verb, a subject clitic of the same type is affixed to the verb in the present; an object clitic precedes the verb. In the transitive past, however, this object clitic fills the subject position, following the verb; a subject clitic (Ø for 3.sg) may further be added. Evidently, then, it is the form (or case) of the clitic that suggests ergative alignment, rather than its position, which may vary.
This pattern mirrors the Kurdish model, and is not dissimilar to the one found in Old Aramaic and Syriac mentioned in section 4.1; the (marginal) pre-existence of the classical pattern may well have been a factor in the replication of the present pattern into nena.
The Sulaymaniyah nena pattern is not an exact copy of the Kurdish model, of course, but shows the same formal symmetry of present object and past agent taking the same clitic form. Whilst clitics in the Kurdish dialects may appear separated from the verb, their position is fixed in nena, but their grammatical function as agreement markers is tense-dependent.
Nonetheless, the nena verbal system has been affected to such an extent by Sulaymaniyah Kurdish that the morphosyntactic alignment of the simple past tense and the order and meaning of the associated affix system no longer correspond to that of the rest of the verbal system. This contact-induced split-ergative alignment, which goes beyond the changes described for Syriac and Old Aramaic, clearly shows metatypical changes that may lead to systemic alignment change.
The argument order in (21) has, therefore, been adapted to that of the present tense system, with agent marker followed by object marker, albeit with morphological forms diverging from the present.63
The format shown in (21) is, as regards sequence of constituents, an accommodation of the past-tense system in favour of the more widely used present tense order. The replicated split-ergative system is being eroded by system pressure to conform to the predominant nominative-accusative pattern found in other tenses. Similar changes are, of course, also found in languages whose split-ergative pattern does not derive from language contact.64
Recent research (Doron and Khan, 2012; Barotto, 2014) concerning nena dialects shows, however, that more than one path can lead to de-ergativisation. In some dialects of nena, such as the Judaeo-Aramaic of Sanandaj and Urmia, ergative marking in the simple past has spread to intransitive verbs, now applying to unergative65 verbs in the former and to all intransitives in the latter.66 This type of development is not paralleled in any of the closely related Kurdish dialects (Khan 2008: 21).67 Barotto (2014: 93) concludes that, in one form or another, all nena dialects are in the process of restructuring the alignment of the perfective past to fit the nominative-accusative pattern of the imperfective system.
5 Centrality, Constancy, and Consistency – a Conclusion
While it remains impossible to predict precisely which patterns of a model language might be adapted into a replica language in a sufficiently intense and long-term contact situation, it has been established that anything is possible in principle. Typological distance of whatever degree does not affect the ‘borrowability’ of patterns (although it may affect in which direction such replications develop).
It is a separate question altogether, however, whether a model language pattern that has been employed by a bilingual speaker of both languages will spread in the replica language or not. Three separate factors play into the promulgation and maintenance of patterns: their centrality in the grammar of the bilingual speaker, the constancy of contact with the model language or of bilingualism, and their typological consistency with the replica language systems affected. In the three cases discussed above, it has been shown that the absence or decline of any of these factors is the, or one of the, underlying factor(s) in the loss or adaptation of replicated structural patterns.
In the case of the qṭil l- construction of Old Aramaic, the replicated verbal pattern did not form part of, replace, or add to existing verbal paradigms, but has remained a minority construction. Lacking frequent use, even constant contact and the relative typological consistency68 were unable to maintain or foster this pattern. It gained currency only with its adaptation to the more common alignment pattern of the other tenses in Syriac.
The situation in Classical Armenia shows variation already in the early stages of the language’s attestation, but the decline of the tripartite periphrastic perfect coincides rather closely with the decline of the Western Middle Iranian languages as a vehicle of cultural and political dominance in the area. The ensuing loss of proficiency in these languages resulting from lacking constancy of contact and bilingualism then allowed for an adaptation of the perfect alignment pattern in order to match the other tenses, thus improving cross-system harmony and typological consistency. For Armenian, therefore, the centrality of the periphrastic perfect in (at least) literary usage and the centuries-long contact and bilingualism with the model language have to some degree acted as a blocking mechanism against adaptation to the mainstream alignment pattern.
The most complicated case is that of nena dialects. Evidently, even under maintenance of constant language contact and concomitant bilingualism, an adjustment of patterns contravening the norm may occur. The different ways in which nena dialects adapt their replicated ergative past tenses to the dominant nominative-accusative pattern show clearly that there is more than one way of dealing with differences in alignment patterns. It shall remain open here whether lack of typological consistency, and therefore system pressure alone is responsible for this particular change.69
Centrality and constancy, it appears then, may to some extent act as blocking mechanisms in the typological adaptation of model language patterns to the replica language. As long as replicated patterns are used frequently enough, and speakers continue to be sufficiently proficient bilinguals so that the same underlying pattern is indeed accessed in speech acts in both languages, the concepts of centrality and constancy may counterbalance the potentially diametrically opposed ‘pull’ exerted by the strive for typological consistency.70 The precise determination of this balance, however, is made difficult by the lack of quantifiability of typological distance; while the centrality of a pattern may be measured as its relative frequency when compared to similar patterns, and Constancy is a function of the number of bilingual speakers over time, no non-abstract and non-arbitrary number is readily associated with typological concepts such as morphosyntactic alignment.
Further research into language contact situations which provide sufficient diachronic depth in order to account for the variables in question here will show whether the role of centrality, constancy, and consistency for the maintenance of replicated patterns suggested here is viable as is, or requires further refinement. Such cases should be of particular interest as show metatypical changes or full-blown metatypy, in the hope that closer observations and analyses will be able to determine whether metatypy is triggered or conditioned by any specific factors not present in cases of mere metatypical changes. The application of statistical analysis to the diachronic development of such patterns together with census data and other speaker-related information will likely prove central to this endeavour. While it remains impossible to predict with any certainty which patterns will be replicated in language contact situations in the first instance, it is hoped that the above discussion provides an impetus for further study concerning the post-replication fate of such patterns.
=Agat‘angełos, History of Armenia (Thomson 1980)
=Acta martyrum et sanctorum (Bedjan 1968)
=Inscription of Darius I at Behistun (Schmitt 1991)
=Ełišē, History of Vardan and the Armenian War (Thomson 1993)
=Eznik Kołbac‘i, Refutation of Sects (Mariès and Mercier 1959)
=Mitteliranische manichäische Texte kirchengeschichtlichen Inhalts (Sundermann 1981)
=The Epic Histories attributed to P‘awstos Buzandac‘i (Garsoïan 1984)
=Spicilegium Syriacum (Cureton 1855)
=Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt (Porten and Yardeni 1986–1999)
A preliminary version of this paper was presented in November 2015 at TypoUlm in Paris; I am grateful to Gilles Authier for the invitation and his comments. I would further like to thank Elizabeth Tucker, Theo Maarten van Lint, and Wolfgang de Melo for their thoughts and suggestions on drafts of this paper, and the three anonymous reviewers and editors of the jlc for their corrections and constructive criticism. All errors and omissions are, of course, mine.
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