Intérêts et spécialités de recherche
Variation et changement linguistique dans les langues en contact :
English as a minority language (English in Quebec)
Language contact and Ethnicity in Toronto (English and other languages)
Contact languages in Africa (Sango in the Central African Republic)
Description linguistique des pidgins et créoles :
English and English-based creoles in the Caribbean (Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Projets de recherche :
Heritage Language Variation and Change Contact in the City: Language and Ethnicity in Toronto Coexistent Systems in the Caribbean: Grammatical Variation on Bequia A Sociolinguistic Investigation of an Ethnolinguistic Boundary: Tense-Aspect on the Island of Bequia, ST. Vincent An English « Like no other »?: Language Contact and Change in Québec
Heritage Language Variation and Change
Principal Investigator: Naomi Nagy
Co-investigators: Yoon-jung Kang, University of Toronto, Alexei Kochetov, University of Toronto and James Walker.
Funding Agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Standard Rsearch Grant
Duration of Project: 2009-2012
Variationist studies tend to examine one language at a time, essentially treating speakers as monolingual. A full understanding of how linguistic variation is used to construct identity requires examining multilingual speakers’ full repertoires. We undertake this by pursuing analysis of heritage language (HL) in those ethnic enclaves selected for analysis of English: Cantonese, Faetar, Italian, Korean, Russian, Ukrainian, and Urdu. This project permits us to address questions such as: Which features, structures, rules or constraints are cross-linguistically relevant to borrowing? Which are borrowed earlier and more often in this type of contact situation? Which social factors are cross-linguistically relevant to borrowing? Do the same (types of) speakers lead changes in HLs and in English? Is leadership in language change inherent, or do leaders choose to use one language for this social “work”? The ultimate goal of this project is multivariate analysis of cross-linguistic variables to test for parallel conditioning across HLs.
Contact in the City: Language and Ethnicity in Toronto
Principal Investigator: James Walker
Collaborator: Michol Hoffmann
Funding Agencies: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Standard Research Grant
Duration of Project: 2008-2011
Description: Toronto, considered the most multicultural city in the world, features a high degree of contact among speakers of different minority languages in an English-dominant context. However, ethnic groups tend to settle in particular neighbourhoods, leading to “ethnic enclaves” which have been argued to impede the acquisition of English and result in “ESL varieties” of English. This project represents the first large-scale attempt to systematically address the effects of language contact in this multicultural setting. We are interviewing a sample of Toronto residents, stratified according to generation and ethnic origin (Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Chinese–Cantonese, Punjabi and Anglo-Cetic). Younger speakers are further stratified according to their perceived degree of orientation to the relevant ethnic group. The project explores the ways in which people use linguistic variation to construct and express ethnic identities by examining the social and linguistic patterning of several linguistic features. Publications Hoffmann, Michol and James, A. Walker. to appear. Ethnolects and the City: Ethnic Orientation and Linguistic Variation in Toronto English, Language Variation and Change
Coexistent Systems in the Caribbean: Grammatical Variation on Bequia
Principal Investigator: James Walker
Funding Agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Standard Research Grant
Duration of Project: 2004-2007
Description: Grammatical variation constitutes a longstanding challenge to linguistics, traditionally dismissed as “free variation” or the product of interacting invariant systems. Over the past forty years, variationist analysis has been successful in elucidating the constraints on such variation, but the question remains as to whether grammatical variation represents a single (variable) system or the interaction of coexistent systems. Criteria proposed for recognizing such coexistence require that we focus on language-internal constraints on variation and take into consideration the interaction of multiple linguistic variables. We provide a detailed analysis of grammatical variation on the Caribbeanisland of Bequia (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), an ethnically mixed community in which a range of varieties of English-based creole and nonstandard English are spoken. In order to determine whether this variation must be modeled along a single dimension or multiple dimensions, we examine an array of interrelated grammatical variables which have been implicated in studies of creoles as well as nonstandard varieties of English, including African American English.
Publications Meyerhoff, Miriam & James A. Walker. 2007. The persistence of variation in individual grammars : Copula absence in ‘urban sojourners’ and their stay-at-home peers, Bequia (St Vincent and the Grenadines). Journal of Sociolinguistics 11 (3). (in press). Walker, James A. & Miriam Meyerhoff. 2006. Zero copula in the eastern Caribbean : Evidence from Bequia, American Speech 91 (2) : 146-63
A Sociolinguistic Investigation of an Ethnolinguistic Boundary: Tense-Aspect on the Island of Bequia, ST. Vincent
Co-Principal Investigators: Jack Sidnell, James Walker
Funding Agency: United States National Science Foundation
Duration of Project: 2002-2005
Description: The island of Bequia is located in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The majority of its roughly 5,000 inhabitants descend from Africans brought to the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries, while a small minority trace their ancestry to British indentured laborers relocated from Barbados in the mid-19th century. Despite the small size of the island (7 square miles), people tend to live in geographically and socially distinct communities, resulting in a surprising degree of dialectal diversity. This project combines sociolinguistic interviews and recordings of daily and group interaction with more in-depth ethnographic observation, to examine the role of ethnic boundaries in maintaining separate grammatical systems. We are providing a detailed analysis of an array of interrelated grammatical features which have been implicated in studies of English-based creoles, nonstandard varieties of English and African American Vernacular English.
An English « Like no other »?: Language Contact and Change in Québec
Principal Investigator: Shana Poplack
Co-Investigator: James Walker
Funding Agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Standard Research Grant Duration of Project: 2002-2005
Description: The unparalleled success of Quebec‘s language laws has fundamentally altered the relationship of English and French in the province. The received wisdom is that English has undergone language change as a result of its minority-language status and its contact with French, This project tests this claim by examining variable grammatical structures of spoken Quebec English. We compare the speech of older anglophones who grew up before the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s with that of younger generations. If contact-induced language change has occurred, it should be most evident among those who grew up after Bill 101 (1977). We supplement this generational comparison by comparing the English spoken in urban centres in which the proportion of English mother-tongue claimants varies widely: Quebec City and Montreal. If contact-induced change is a result of minority status, its effects should be most apparent in Quebec City, where anglophones have constituted a minority since at least 1796. We focus on English grammatical structures with apparent counterparts in French, which are said to be prime candidates for transfer.
Publications: Walker, James A. 2007. « There’s bears back there : Plural existentials and vernacular universals in Quebec English. English World-Wide 28 (2): 147-166. Poplack. Shana, James A. Walker & Rebecca Malcolmson. 2006. An English « like no other »? language contact and change in Quebec. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 51 (2) : 185-213. Torres Cacoullos, Rena & James A. Walker. 2009. The present of the English future: Grammatical variation and collocations in discourse. Language 85(2):321-54. Torres Cacoullos, Rena & James A. Walker. 2009. On the persistence of grammar in discourse formulas: A variationist study of that. Linguistics 47(1): 1-43.