Cognitive factors of language contact

Introduction - cognitive factors and their limits of contribution

Most linguists would agree that language contact can serve as an explanation for linguistic development on the individual level, as well as for language variation and change on the community level. As social beings we are, of course, always in contact with each other and thus with different idiolects, which include different languages, varieties, and styles. Humans only learn and develop languages in social settings, i.e., in contact situations. Therefore, some researchers have argued that language contact is the most important reason for individual language development as well as for language variation and change on the community level. One common consequence of language contact is bilingualism. There is, however, still a need to link the process of language contact with research outcomes on bilingualism at the individual level (Li Wei, 2013, p. 31). This deficit is highlighted by Romaine (2005, p. 49):

Linguists studying language contact often seek to describe changes at the level of linguistic systems in isolation and abstraction from speakers, thus losing sight of the fact that the [. . .] individual is the ultimate locus of contact.

Although the desideratum is evident, there are relatively few studies in contact linguistics that explicitly deal with cognitive factors (see chapters in Zenner, Backus and Winter-Froemel, 2019: Matras, 2009: Myers-Scotton, 2002; Winford, 2009; Muysken, 2010).

There are two types of cognitive factors that may play a role in language contact, which is defined here as speakers of language (variety) A communicating with speakers of language (variety) B, so contact is seen primarily as an inter-individual process. These types primarily reveal contact as an inter-individual process. The first type relates to cognitive factors that have an impact on language use and interaction more generally, such as aural perception, pragmatics, intentionality, and the general processes of language production and perception. The second type concerns the specific cognitive factors in bilingual and multilingual processing. There is a vast literature on both types; we will deal with only a part of that in our contribution.

This chapter aims to provide an overview of the role of cognitive processing in bilinguals for language contact. More precisely, we try to outline current trends in studying cognitive factors in bilingualism. Today, bilingualism is considered to be a process rather than a fixed state (De Bot and Houtzager, 2018). From a Complex Dynamic Systems Theory perspective, Larsen-Freeman (2007) has argued that language use and language development cannot be separated because a language can only be developed when it is used. Thus, language use is language change, and using one language will affect other languages that an individual has incorporated. More use of the LI may lead to a decline of skills in the L2 and vice versa. In essence, contact with one language in terms of use will have an impact on the whole language system. Due to the fact that linguistic input is ubiquitous, e.g., watching movies, reading blogs, listening to music, among others, the language system may either adopt new input as part of the system or adapt due to the new input. Contact between languages in an individual speaker can lead to all sorts of processes: language development, but also decline or stagnation (see Section 4).

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