Naomi Nagy

Linguistics at U of T

Hyperforeignization as a cause of language change
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Hyperforeignization as a cause of language change

Previous research (Nagy 1996) has shown that Faetar, a Francoprovençal dialect spoken in southern Italy, has geminates of two types: lexically marked geminates in word-medial position and phonologically triggered geminates in word-initial position (Kattenbusch 1982:169, Ciociola 1972:56, Orlando 1972:36). There are four possible sources of geminates in Faetar: Italian, Apulian, Francoprovençal, and spontaneous change. However, none of these, independently, can account for the presence of all the geminates in Faetar. While contact with Italian is the ultimate source, I propose that geminates must have become established in Faetar through the process of hyperforeignization: an "exaggeration" of a perceived pattern in the source language which is borrowed into the recipient language. The existence of geminates in Faetar is unexpected, as Gallic Francoprovençal did not have any geminates by the fourteenth century, when the first settlers of Faeto came to southern Italy. According to Bourciez (1930:305), phonemic geminates, with the exception of [rr] had been simplified throughout Gaul by the ninth century. According to Pope (1952:147), Latin geminates, including [rr] had degeminated in Old French by the seventh or eighth century. Presumably this also occurred in Francoprovençal. By both accounts, there would be no phonemic geminates in the language that became Faetar (with the possible exception of [rr]).

Although cognate sources can be found for all of the words with geminates in them, two problems are apparent. Cognate sources of geminates for the words which don't have geminates in them in Faetar are just as common. Also, there are other Faetar words with geminates for which no source of the geminate has been found. Thus the origin of the geminates in such words remains a mystery, if one stays within the confines of regular sound change.

However, I present one possible account of the history of such words. While standard and dialectal Italian borrowings can account for the presence of some geminates in Faetar, a more complex social explanation must be sought to account for the presence of geminates in words where there is no historical reason for them to appear. My explanation is based on the concept of hyperforeignization, with an extension into the domain of native words. Janda, Joseph, & Jacobs (1994:71) introduce the concept of hyperforeignization, whereby,

in attempting to approximate a perceived L2 pattern, a speaker nevertheless overextends the latter in such a way as to yield a form which is not natively found in either L2 or L1.

This phenomenon, combined with the evidence that learning a second language may affect one's first language phonology (Flege 1987), are the necessary factors to account for the appearance of geminates in Faetar. I describe some examples of hyperforeignization affecting borrowings into one's first language, then give examples of it affecting native words. Finally, I show the role hyperforeignization played in the development of Faetar geminates.


Bourciez, Edouard. 1930. Éléments de linguistique romane. Paris: Klincksieck.

Ciociola, Raffaela. 1972. Unpublished master's thesis. Università degli studi di Bari.

Flege, James E. 1987. The production of new and similar phones in a foreign language: evidence for the effect of equivalence classification. Journal of Phonetics. 15:47-65

Janda, Rich, Brian Joseph, & Neil Jacobs. 1994. Systematic hyperforeignisms as maximally external evidence for linguistic rules. In Susan Lima, Roberta Corrigan and Gregory Iverson (eds.) The Reality of linguistic rules. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Kattenbusch, Dieter. 1982. Das Frankoprovenzalische in Süditalien. Studien zur synchronischen und diachronischen Dialektologie. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Nagy, Naomi. 1996. Language Contact and Language Change in the Faetar Speech Community. University of Pennsylvania dissertation. Philadelphia: IRCS.

Orlando. 1972. Bari: Università degli studi di Bari Master's thesis.

Pope, M.K. 1952. From Latin to Modern French. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Paper presented at:
The 1997 Meeting of the Modern Language Association

Author: Naomi Nagy
Affiliation: University of New Hampshire

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