Category-specific conjunctions in a European minority language
2022-04-12, 17:00–17:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 4

Transylvanian Saxon (TrSax) is an understudied Germanic language that evolved in Romania since the 13th century as an oral, non-standardized variety. Historically in contact with Romanian and German, TrSax was consistently used by Transylvanian Saxons as a marker of identity, unity, and autonomy. Our study investigates the origin and typology of category-specific conjunctions in TrSax within a language contact framework (Thomason 2010). We survey the input varieties of TrSax (Old High German, Moselle Franconian, Ripuarian), diachronic and synchronic TrSax data, and search for equivalent structures in German and Romanian.
We examined TrSax texts (19th - 20th century), recordings from over 120 TrSax dialects from the 1960s, and current data collected from the same variety in different contact settings. We found that TrSax has two conjunctions, end and och, with the function of ‘and’:

TrSax (Valentinus-Greff 1889:67):
(1) Annemarichen OCH Martin lossen sich los END traden zeräck
Annemarichen and Martin let.3PL.PRS REFL.3PL off and step.3PL.PRS back
‘Annemarichen and Martin let go (of each other) and step back.

These conjunctions share the following properties: end conjoins main finite clauses, och conjoins everything else: NPs, APs, PPs, non-finite clauses, and subordinate clauses. Given these diachronically and synchronically widespread patterns, we consider the following explanation: language-internal developments, aided by the language contact ecology in which TrSax evolved, led to the category-specific make-up of end and och and their maintenance in TrSax from the early stages of its formation. We turn to OHG for evidence and find two conjunctions – enti and joh. Enti was used predominantly in clausal conjunction, joh was used in nominal conjunction (Valentin 2003). Moselle Franconian and Ripuarian texts from the middle ages show that joh was replaced by und(e) (< OHG enti), and ouch (< OHG auh) was retained only as the additive particle ‘also’. In TrSax, och still functions as a conjunction and an additive particle.
Looking at the contact varieties, we find that they each have only one coordinating conjunction: German - und, Romanian - și. TrSax och and Romanian și are similar; they both function as a conjunction and the additive particle ‘also’ in their respective language. We address the possibility of language contact acting as an inhibitor of change in TrSax: archaic features can be maintained due to overlapping patterns between the languages in contact (Enrique-Arias 2010). This is further supported by the synchronic data. The conjunctions remain category-specific even in light of intensified language contact: German-dominant speakers and Romanian-dominant speakers use them in the same way. Furthermore, TrSax speakers maintain positive attitudes towards TrSax, and consider it an important marker of TrSax identity.
Our study documents conjunctions in TrSax, and proposes that non-standardized languages can maintain archaic features while in contact with standardized, prestigious languages. We also introduce category-specific conjunctions with a morphosyntactic make-up not attested in European languages so far (cf. Stassen 2000), and promote the importance of understudied languages for our understanding of language typology more broadly.


Selected references

Enrique-Arias, A. 2010. On language contact as an inhibitor of language change. In Breitbarth, Anne, Lucas,
Christopher, Watts, Sheila and Willis, David (eds.), Continuity and change in grammar, 97 – 117.
Stassen, Leon. 2000. AND-languages and WITH-languages. Linguistic Typology. 4, 1 – 54.
Thomason, Sarah G. 2010. Contact explanations in linguistics. In R. Hickey (ed.), The hand book of language
contact, 31–47. Wiley-Blackwell.

I am an assistant professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, USA. My research interests are in the areas of Language Contact, Multilingualism, Language Variation and Change, Grammatical Transfer, Documentation of Endangered Languages. I explore theoretical questions related to grammatical transfer and to factors influencing transfer in cases of trilingualism. I work with a community of Transylvanian Saxon speakers, an endangered Germanic language from Romania. I draw on methodologies from language contact and variationist sociolinguistics to explore: - How the dominant language in a community affects changes in the minority language - Whether the same contact-induced transfer phenomena occur in different sociolinguistic settings - The factors that influence the directionality of transfer (e.g. typological similarities, language dominance)