University of Hong Kong > School of Humanities

Bilingualism and language divergence in small communities
- Dr. T.Mark Ellison and Ms. Eri Kashima (Australia National University)

Tue 26 Apr 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Run Run Shaw Tower 7.58, Centennial Campus

Bilingualism and language divergence in small communities

Language contact in the form of bilingual speakers and speech communities has conventionally been identified as a source of language convergence (e.g. Gumperz and Wilson 1971, Thomason and Kaufmann 1991, van Coetsem 1988, 1995, Winford 2005). Recently, however, there has been increasing evidence that even under intense contact convergence may not occur, or we may even find divergence.  (e.g. Arnal 2011, Torres-Cacoullos & Travis 2010).


In this talk, we argue that long-term bilingualism may be a mechanism for language divergence in certain social conditions, and that these conditions frequently – but not necessarily – obtain where language communities are small, travel is easy, and exogamy is practiced. Ellison & Miceli’s (in submission) model of bilingual lexical selection predicts that suitably motivated bilinguals avoid shared vocabulary, a bias which over time results in lexical divergence. Recent investigation by researchers on the Wellsprings of Language Diversity project show that the social situation in the Morehead region of Papua New Guinea is well-suited to trigger this kind of divergence.


T. Mark Ellison is a post-doctoral researcher on the project Wellsprings of Language Diversity, at the Australian National University. With a background in mathematics and computer science, his research focusses on exploring the cognitive processing of language via experimentation and computational modelling, and extrapolating from biases in this processing to language change.


Eri Kashima is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, College of Asia and the Pacific. Her dissertation is a study of language variation in the Nambo speaking area of Papua New Guinea. Her areas of interest include sociophonetics, language variation and change, and cultural evolution.

Related articles