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Convergence processes in the history of language: phonetics, grammar, lexicon

Priority areas of development: humanitarian

Goal of the research

The aim of the project is to study convergent processes in the field of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary and a description of social bases for these processes, that is, contacts of speakers of different languages and dialects.


The following methods were used to achieve this goal. Field research methods were used to collect data on multilingualism in a number villages of the Agulsky and Botlikh districts of the Republic of Dagestan, in and around the Village Karata, in the city of Makhachkala and in the Qax region of Azerbaijan; Russian texts were recorded in the village of Old Torjyal, in the Novotoria region of the Republic of Mari El; data on Circassian dialects were collected in the Republic of Adygea and the Krasnodar Krai; data on the Andi language was gathered in the village of Zilo in the Republic of Dagestan.

Sociolinguistic interview methods were employed to collect information on multilingualism in Dagestanian and Azerbaijanian villages.

Analysis of corpus data was used to study word order in the Dagestanian variety of Russian.

Statistical data analysis methods were used in studies of multilingualism, intonation contours of Russian speech from different regions, and the comparison of Evenki dialect corpora.

Empirical base of the research

Linguistic corpora and databases compiled by participants of the project formed the empirical base of the research. In particular, the spoken corpus of the Ustya dialect, the dialect of the village of Rogovatka, and the corpus of Dagestanian Russian were used. In addition, databases for multilingualism in Dagestan, dialect features in Circassian and lexical borrowings in Dagestanian languages were compiled and used.

Results of the research

The research of 2018 was devoted to the description of a number of different convergent processes in the field of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary and the social conditions for these processes, that is, the linguistic contact of speakers of different languages and dialects. The necessary resources for such descriptions were developed, new methods were developed and several specific studies were conducted.

The statistical comparison of two Evenki dialect corpora allowed testing of the DP method. It was shown  that the DP measure provides an important tool for evaluating presupposed differences between the corpora. The interpretation of relatively high values of the DP measure, however, is not self-evident. The DP measure is rather sensitive to small figures, so that the DP measures of smaller corpora, as is expected, is rather high, although it is not clear how high exactly. This means that it is impossible to evaluate which of the resulting values are within the range of a normal distribution.

A typological study of  noun phrases conducted in 2018 made it possible to compare the number of nominal and verb categories in three regions of the world. It was shown that the correlation coefficient in all three language groups is close to zero. This confirms the zero hypothesis that nominal and verbal grammar in the languages of the world develop independently.

A study of the dynamics of the spread of Russian in Dagestan in the 20th century made it possible to identify the most significant social factors that played a role in the rapid emergence of Russian as a lingua franca in Dagestan. It was shown that the most important factor that aided the acquisition of Russian was school education.

Russian speech formed in the 20th century in Dagestan and has a number of striking features which evolved as the result of contact with the speakers’ native languages. A study of the speech of Dagestanian bilinguals, speakers of left-branching languages, revealed that the genitive is noticeably more frequent in the initial position of the noun phrase in their speech when compared to comparable speech of monolinguals.

Sociolinguistic analysis of models of bilingualism in the area in and around the village Karata showed that the Karata region is a clear example of a region where a lingua franca is present. All residents of Karata and the surrounding villages speak Avar and use it as a language for intergroup communication. The level of knowledge of neighboring languages is low in the Karata zone, and the level of passive bilingualism on the other hand is high.

A statistical comparison of direct and indirect data obtained using the method of retrospective family interviews allowed us to prove that data collected in the field form a single whole, and can be used for further analysis of multilingualism in Dagestan. The proposed method can also be applied to other data that are organized in a similar way.

One of the most obvious consequences of bilingualism is lexical borrowing. A quantitative analysis of lexical borrowings and their sources in a number of dialects of Dagestan showed that a relatively short list of concepts can be used to create a representative image of medium-level borrowed vocabulary (i.e., borrowings from non-prestigious languages), and compare the results from different settlements and areas with each other. The study revealed a zone of intensive contact with the Azerbaijani language and a zone where Avar has been influential.

To sum up, in the research of 2018, several new methods were developed and tested on empirical material, with which convergent processes in the languages of the world can be described.


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