Operationalising language dominance in contact linguistics: Insights from small-scale multilingual communities in the Philippines

Presentation Date: 

Saturday, March 7, 2020


Dapitan City, Philippines
Linguistic Society of the Philippines International Conference 2020
Jose Rizal Memorial State University
5-7 March 2020
The Philippines is a particularly rich area for the study of language contact and change—first, the colonial history of the country brought significant contact-induced change in the Philippine languages, including the development of several creoles, and second, the patterns of multilingualism within and across indigenous communities, oftentimes involving speakers of closely related languages, entail processes and outcomes that are seldom acknowledged in the field of contact linguistics (Epps, Huehnergard, and Pat-el 2013:211). Contact-induced language change is an aggregate of individual- and community-level patterns of multilingualism and language use, and so the various frameworks within contact linguistics derive from psycholinguistic mechanisms (at the individual level) and socio-historical processes (at the community level).
This workshop is divided into three parts. The first part of the workshop introduces some frameworks for studying language contact, with particular focus on a speaker-based approach that uses the psycholinguistic notion of language dominance to link various outcomes to specific mechanisms (van Coetsem 2000). Dominance is typically measured in terms of a speaker’s relative proficiency, frequency of use, and amount of exposure to the different languages in their repertoire, but it has primarily been explored through bilingualism in large-scale, industrialised, and educated societies (cf. Silva-Corvalán and Treffers-Daller 2016). In order to have a more informed and nuanced operationalisation of language dominance, there is thus a need to include the experiences of speakers who come from small-scale multilingual communities, where different norms and practices may apply. The second part of the workshop explores this by drawing on the participants’ insights from their field sites and own speech communities. This will be facilitated through small group discussions guided by the following questions:
  • How do individual speakers learn the different languages in their repertoire?
  • Are speakers clearly aware of the distinction of their different languages?
  • Is language choice and use domain-specific?
  • How does a speaker’s personal history contribute to the shape of their linguistic repertoire?
  • How does the bigger community shape individual patterns of language use?
The third and final part of the workshop is a general discussion that links the Philippine experience to the operationalisation of language dominance in the literature. Based on the main points raised in the small group discussions, we address the following questions:
  • How can language dominance be operationalised in terms of the different factors identified?
  • How do changes in a speaker’s dominance in one language affect their dominance in the other language/s in their repertoire?
  • Can there be a global measure of language dominance? Or is language dominance skill- and domain-specific?
It is hoped that the workshop will contribute to building a broader theoretical foundation for language dominance, as well as become a forum for discussing possible projects and collaborations that explore language contact in the Philippines.
Epps, Patience, John Huehnergard, and Na’ama Pat-El. 2013. Introduction: Contact among genetically related languages. Journal of Language Contact 6: 209–219.

Silva-Corvalán, Carmen and Jeanine Treffers-Daller (eds.) 2016. Language dominance in bilinguals: Issues of measurement and operationalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Van Coetsem, Frans. 2000. A general and unified theory of the transmission process in language contact. Heidelberg: Winter.