Handout for LING 540: Language Spread

Harold F. Schiffman
University of Pennsylvania

1. Recommended Readings

2. Definitions: How, why, what, where, when?

3. Spread as a geographic phenomenon, over time

4. Cooper's refined definition

5. What is spreading?

Language does not spread, and languages do not acquire speakers; speakers acquire languages. What is spreading is linguistic behaviors

6. Spread as time-based

Diffusion of an innovation takes time (e.g. diffusion of oil exploration technology, high-yield grains, microwave ovens, the VCR, the computer, the internet) but it is proficiency in a language that requires more time than most other innovations. Some functions of a language may spread rapidly, require minimal knowledge; others may take years. (Compare spread of English, especially. southwestern American English, along with oil exploration technology, as Texans carry both to Scotland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia...)

7. Medium of spread

8. Three research traditions:

  1. Diffusion of Innovations: (Anthro, sociology)

  2. Language Maintenance and Language shift: Fishman et al.

  3. Language change (linguistic diffusion); Labov, Bloomfield, other historical linguistics and sociolinguists.

9. Who adopts what, where, when, how?