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Subversion of Language Structure in Heterogeneous Speech Communities: the Work of Discourse and the Part of Contact

Abstract : For a long time (and in some way it is still the case) the scholastic tradition considered language change as an ungraceful deformation of the existing patterns. Indeed, change represented the danger of compromising the social order established by the standard norm; that is what Manessy (1989) expressed by the term of "subversion" in one of his articles about French in Africa. In another way, contact and interference phenomena still imply ‘subversion’ in Weinreich’s point of view, as far as bilingual proficiency is the ability to keep the two languages apart (Weinreich 1953:3). The underlying assumption is the structuralist dogma that human languages are stable sets of units and combination rules. Contact involves subversion in the sense that the encounter with an alien system leaves traces in the language under consideration. Essentially, the problem is to prove what seems to be an evident observation: as languages do not exist by themselves, they cannot be in contact. Only speakers and speech communities are effectively in contact, by interacting in concrete situations. If the so-called ‘language contact’ takes place in interactions, it would be impossible to observe language contact directly, and the concept could even less explain directly what is going on. The aim of our contribution is to render the assumption explicit that change is an ongoing process constitutive of human language to which we will refer by the term of dynamics. We will discuss how the general tendency of grammatical ‘systems’ to autonomize by promoting their own, ‘self-contained’ (Croft 1995) logic is counter-balanced through the subversion that occurs in everyday’s elaboration of discourse. We will work out how mere interaction conditions the language dynamics and how the disposable structural resources will be coordinated in microsystems that can be traced back to different typological sources. Our purpose will be illustrated by an example from the contact between French and Manding languages in Ivory Coast.
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Katja Ploog. Subversion of Language Structure in Heterogeneous Speech Communities: the Work of Discourse and the Part of Contact. Journal of Language Contact, Brill Online Books and Journals edition 2008, 2, pp.249 - 273. ⟨10.1163/000000008792525200⟩. ⟨halshs-01385569⟩

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