Language contact and structural change : An Old Finnish case study

Abstract: The object of this study is to shed new light on both the influence exerted on Finnish by the Swedish language, and on the mechanisms by which language contact in structural domains takes place. It is argued that syntactic borrowing should be regarded as a subtype of reanalysis and extension rather than as an independent mechanism. Also, the need to regard linguistic structural change as teleologically motivated rather than deterministically caused is stressed. Possibilities to apply a framework based on A.N. Whitehead’s process philosophy to language change are explored. The corpus consists of six legal translations from the 1580s to 1759. The areas studied, all relating to Finnish object and subject marking, are those of the Finnish passive, which under foreign influence has shown tendencies to change from a typically non-promotional passive to a promotional passive; Finnish necessitive constructions, which form an active-stative subsystem within Finnish with marked active subjects and unmarked objects/non-active subjects but have shown tendencies to develop a nominative-accusative system in dialects influenced by Swedish; and the Finnish relative word "kuin", which has been taken to be a Swedish calque modelled on "som". The result is a complex interplay of reanalyses and extensions with foreign model patterns involved to a varying degree. Development of a promotional passive seems to involve both internal semantic factors and Swedish models. Necessitive subjects appear to be marked or unmarked on the basis of a merger between constructions involving active subjects and passive objects, possibly modelled on Swedish. And the relative word "kuin" has been integrated into Old Finnish in a way at odds with the usage of the model pattern. This vindicates abandoning the dichotomy between “internal” and “external” changes, and regarding language contact as a background factor rather than as an independent cause.

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