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Subject of the Rencontres Jeunes Chercheurs 2015

“Language contact: situations, representations, realizations”

Introduced by U. Weinreich (1953), the notion of ‘language contact’ has to do with any situation where two languages are simultaneously present, thus affecting an individual’s or a community’s linguistic behavior (Moreau, 1997). ‘Language contact’ is at the heart of both linguistic variation and linguistic change, in their diachronic and synchronic aspects. The phenomenon takes place in spaces the borders of which fluctuate depending on migrations, economic and cultural dynamics, or political policies (colonization, external cultural domination…). The 18th Rencontres Jeunes Chercheurs offer an opportunity to think about connections and interferences between languages on the one hand, and between varieties inside a given language on the other hand, both from a synchronic and from a diachronic perspective.

In recent years, an increasing number of research studies on ‘language contact’ have been led in a renewed methodological and epistemological frame of reference, based on variability awareness and on rooting linguistic data in materiality (Nicolai, 2007). These works are at opposite extremes from those conducted during the nineteenth century, since the latter dismissed the mere idea of ‘language contact’, in order to focus on language filiation instead (Tabouret-Keller, 1988). The conference addresses the issue of ‘language contact’ through three complementary notions: ‘situation’, ‘representation’ and ‘realization’.

Tackling ‘language contact’ implies observing and making an empirical description not only of institutional, social, professional and family circumstances, but also of language learning and language acquisition in plurilinguistic or diglossic contexts. In addition, ‘situation’ is deeply implanted in psycholinguistics as well: mastering several languages impacts brain structure and cognitive processes. The term should therefore be understood in a broader sense, as it can refer to both individual and collective levels of analysis. Regional languages and language choices made by multilingual writers are examples thereof.

Moreover, ‘language contact’ also takes part in the tension between language description and linguistic prescription. The conference will take into consideration the way speakers, as well as linguists and grammarians, build and convey social and metalinguistic representations of languages in contact, based on their own judgement. Studying ‘language contact’ is an invitation to discuss identity construction processes and to examine further notions such as ‘linguistic insecurity’ or ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1983).

Realizations pertaining to language contact are many and diverse. They are indeed compound language productions, some of which may be viewed from a collective standpoint, like borrowings, or Creole and pidgin languages. Others are to be observed from an individual angle, for instance interferences (phonic, syntactic, lexical) caused, in part, by transfers between the various languages known to a multilingual speaker. To this framework belong ‘code switching’ and, in the field of acquisition and didactics, ‘interlanguage’.

The great variety of such realizations sheds new light on current language typologies. Similarly, new problems arise in the area of natural language processing, where multilingual corpora are giving birth to methodological issues that differ from those raised by monolingual corpora. Likewise, translation studies appear as a kind of language contact realization; as a matter of fact, translators have to deal with theoretical and practical difficulties regarding both languages brought into contact through translation and languages already in contact in the original texts (Ballard, 2006).

All of the mentioned theoretical approaches are likely to bring researchers in linguistics to discuss a shared topic, and allow them to reflect on this discipline’s status within the Humanities. Participants are encouraged to consider all means of language expression (oral, written, sign language).


  • ANDERSON Benedict (1983), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Londres: Verso.
  • BALLARD Michel (2005-2006) (dir.), La traduction, contact de langues et de cultures, 2 vol., Arras: Artois Presses Université.
  • MOREAU Marie-Louise (1997), Sociolinguistique. Concepts de base, Bruxelles: Mardaga.
  • NICOLAI Robert (2007), « Le contact des langues : point aveugle du ‘linguistique’ », Journal of Language Contact, Evolution of languages, contact and discourse, Thema n° 1: 1-10.
  • TABOURET-KELLER Andrée (1988), « Contacts de langues : deux modèles du XIXème siècle et leurs rejetons aujourd'hui », Langage et société, n° 43: 9-22.
  • WEINREICH Uriel (1953), Languages in contact, findings and problems, New York: Linguistic Circle of New York.
The conference is open to graduate students (master’s degree, doctorate), young researchers...

Free admission

Participants will receive a certificate of attendance.

mise à jour le 27 novembre 2015


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