Tracing contact in closely related languages 2020

Call for abstracts

The topic of this workshop is situated at the intersection of areal and historical linguistics: What effect does shared ancestry have on language contact?

Linguistic areas often consist of languages that can be traced back to a common ancestor. While for some shared features it might be easy to establish common inheritance as a source (if they can be found in related languages outside the contact zone for example), in other cases it might be hard to distinguish between borrowing and inheritance (Mithun 2013). Moreover, their relatedness may facilitate the transfer of lexical and morphological material as well as that of more abstract patterns, creating within family similarities the origin of which is not inheritance.

The view that relatedness facilitates the transfer of linguistic material and patterns has long been supported by linguists (e.g. Meillet 1921: 87, Moravscik 1975, Weinreich 1979). While this view has received wide acceptance at least as a general tendency, the implied causal nature of this link has recently been questioned: the more closely related two languages are when they come into contact, the less time they have had to diverge, develop new patterns and coin new vocabulary. Thus, the reason why material and structure are more easily transferred between closely related languages might just be their typological similarity rather than their relatedness (Bowern 2013: 417).

While there have been numerous attempts at disentangling contact induced change from common inheritance and typological drift, identifying a clear origin for a certain feature/construction seems unfeasible in many cases.

With this workshop, we aim to bring together researchers working on these topics to discuss methodological issues in studying contact in closely related languages.

We also encourage submissions for short presentations (5-10 minutes) of ongoing research and open questions, to be held in a special discussion session.

Please send abstracts by October 15th 2020 to:,,
The workshop will take place from November 19th to 20th 2020 at the University of Zurich in a mixed online/offline format if the situation allows. Online participation is welcomed and encouraged.


November 19th 2020


Time Presenter Title
10:00 Christian Ebert, Nour Efrat-Kowalski, & Stefan Dedio Introduction
10:20 Anna Berge Tracing contact in the closely related Eskaleut languages of the North Pacific Rim
10:45 Valentin Gusev & Olesya Khanina Divergence and convergence in the history of Northern Samoyedic
11:10 Discussion  
12:00 Lunch break  
13:00 Geoffrey Haig Stability and adaptivity of word order in the Western Asian Transition Zone: Evidence from West Iranian
13:25 Christian Ebert, Balthasar Bickel, & Paul Widmer Spatial distance as an explanatory factor for word order variation in Indo-European
13:50 Short break  
14:00 Anastasia Escher, Ivan Šimko, & Barbara Sonnenhauser Developing of argument coding strategies in dialect contact: evidence from South Slavic
14:25 William Balla-Johnson Areal diffusion of the compound pluperfect through western Romance
14:50 Discussion  
16:00 Break  
16:30 Julian Kreidl Linguistic contact in Eastern Afghanistan: The spread of lambdacism
16:55 Kellen Parker van Dam Borrowing and re-borrowing in Southeast Asia: Complicating factors in historical reconstruction
17:20 Hannah Gibson & Lutz Marten Tracing inheritance and contact in Bantu languages: Evidence from morphosyntactic variation
17:45 Discussion  


November 20th 2020


Time Presenter Title
09:30 GIS workshop  
13:00 Lunch break  
14:00 Nour Efrat-Kowalsky Tracing contacts in the Ancient Near East: a hint to our past
14:25 Paul Noorlander & Dorota Molin Contact, conservatism and convergence in the development of Arabic and Aramaic dialects
14:50 Thomas Leddy-Cecere Contact-Induced Grammaticalization of NOW < THIS TIME across Arabic: Implications for Actuation
15:15 Discussion  
16:00 Break  
16:30 General Discussion  
18:00 Social Event: