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Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - RUEG

RUEG Conference 2021

Dynamics of Language Contact:
new perspectives on emerging grammars, variation and change

Berlin, February 21st to 23rd, 2021


In the past, language contact was often regarded as exceptional and multilingualism was either seen as a potential problem, as reflected in Jespersen’s (1922) and similarly in Weisgerber’s (1966) early assumptions that multilingualism poses a cognitive problem, or it was neglected, as in the structural linguistics’ tradition which, beginning from Saussure (1916), focusses on an idealized, stable, and implicitly monolingual language system, also evident in Chomsky’s (1965) notion of competence of an ideal speaker-hearer. Accordingly, linguistic phenomena observed in language contact situations, and linguistic practices and competences of multilingual or bilingual speakers have mostly been the domain of specialised research, and tend to be investigated from the point of view of deviations from monolingual data.

While this might seem a natural way to look at it, lately there have been more and more calls to overcome such a deficit-oriented view, feeding into a discussion that acknowledges linguistic diversity as a normal condition of human language, normalises multilingualism and regards bilinguals as regular native speakers (e.g. Grosjean 2008, Bayram 2013, Rothman & Treffers-Daller 2014, Scontras et al. 2015, Guijarro-Fuentes & Schmitz 2015, Kupisch & Rothman 2016, Schroeder 2016, Bak 2017).

This moves research on language contact and multilingual speakers from the fringes to the centre of linguistic research, and makes it fruitful for our understanding of language structure and linguistic representations, language use and language development.

A particularly interesting population for this is that of “heritage speakers”, that is, of speakers who grew up bi- or multilingually with at least one minority language and a majority language (cf. among others Montrul 2016, Polinsky 2018, Lohndal et al. 2019 for details). This pattern supports intense language contact in dynamic linguistic repertoires, with the heritage language typically starting as a native language at home, while the larger society’s majority language usually becomes the speaker’s dominant language later.

The Research Unit “Emerging grammars in language contact situations: A comparative approach” (RUEG; www.linguistik.hu-berlin.de/de/institut/professuren/rueg) has picked up on this with an integrated, large-scale investigation that has been driven by a positive, multilingual perspective on heritage speakers’ linguistic behaviour. Under this perspective, we think of the dynamics, rather than vulnerability, of different linguistic domains, of development, rather than incomplete acquisition, and of innovation, rather than attrition and loss in heritage speakers’ languages.

This international conference marks the completion of RUEG’s first 3-year-period. It aims to bring together researchers from different fields who study the dynamics of language contact from a positive, multilingual perspective.

At present, we plan to have the conference on site. However, depending on further developments in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, we might have to move it online. Remote participation will in any case be possible.

We invite submissions on language contact phenomena from the point of view of linguistic systems (grammatical structure, linguistic architecture), and speakers (competence, choices, sociolinguistic factors). In addition to papers presenting new findings on language contact phenomena, we also welcome methododological papers with a general focus on studying linguistic patterns outside standard language. We will have three thematic sessions dedicated to different aspects of heritage speakers’ language production and comprehension, and a poster session. The three thematic sessions will be introduced by invited speakers, followed by commentaries.


1. Attrition vs. Innovation:

What linguistic developments characterise bilingual speakers’ productions in heritage and majority languages? Is it possible to detect systematic patterns which could be best analysed as newly emerging grammars, or is it more plausible to speak of attrition?

Invited speaker: Tanja Kupisch, Universität Konstanz

Commentary: Maria Polinsky, University of Maryland


2. Transfer vs. Internal Dynamics

What impact does language contact have? Is it plausible for certain linguistic patterns to assume direct transfer from one language to another, do non-canonical patterns in heritage speakers’ production rather reflect general patterns of language contact, or do they pick up, and possibly generalise, language-internal tendencies that are also evident in monolinguals? What role do different registers play?

Invited speaker: Ad Backus, Tilburg University

Commentary: Shana Poplack, University of Ottawa


3. Methods in research on patterns outside standard language

How can we best capture linguistic patterns that fall outside formal standard language? What methods in corpus and experimental linguistics are suitable to study speakers’ repertoires in general? What methods in corpus and experimental linguistics are suitable to detect and capture possible heritage language grammars or other types of non-standard grammars in particular?

Invited speakers (round table):

Maria M. Piñango, Yale University

Anatol Stefanowitsch, Freie Universität Berlin



Poster session

There will also be an extended poster session (half a day) with lightning talks dedicated to the topics described in 1-3.


International Mother Language Day

On the first day (February 21st), the conference will connect with the International Mother Language Day, focusing on educational implications for multilingual settings, including an outreach event with heritage communities, practitioners, and policy makers.

Invited speaker: Janet Fuller, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen


Submission deadline: 01.08.2020
The submission deadline has been extended. New deadline: 15.08.2020
Notification of Acceptance: 05.10.2020

Submissions to RUEG2021 via easychair


Esther Jahns

Katrin Neuhaus

Christoph Schroeder

Luka Szucsich

Heike Wiese


Scientific committee:

Artemis Alexiadou

Shanley Allen

Natalia Gagarina

Anke Lüdeling

Maria Polinsky

Shana Poplack

Christoph Schroeder

Luka Szucsich

Rosemarie Tracy

Heike Wiese

Sabine Zerbian