Reflections of language contact in dialectal word formation

Reflections of language contact in dialectal word formation

It would seem that language contact always induces change. History does not provide instances of speech communities which adjoined one another, still less which intermingled, and where the languages of each community remained unchanged.

Hickey 2010: 7

The Tersko dialect, the westernmost dialect of Slovene, belongs to the Primorska/Littoral dialectal group. It is spoken in the valleys of the river Ter/Torre and the streams of its river basin in the western part of Slavia Veneta, a mountainous border region in the north-western part of the Autonomous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in the Republic of Italy (cfr. Ježovnik 2018:95–97). The dialect represents the western border of the South Slavic linguistic area and, at the same time, the maximum extent of the original South Slavic settlement in the area. From the time of the settlement on it has been in uninterrupted contact with the neighbouring Romance idioms.[1]

The form of influence of contact languages on a certain language most evident to the lay eye is lexical borrowing; however, the effects of language contact are often much broader, influencing the target language on a deeper level as well.[2] While the Tersko dialect today is subject to an advanced language shift especially towards (Standard) Italian, it has been in strongest and longest-lasting contact with Friulian, as evidenced by numerous lexical, morphological, and syntactical influences. In this article, we analyse the effect Friulian has had on the word-formational level, as exhibited by noun derivatives in the local variety of Ter/Pradielis, a representative of the easternmost part of the Tersko dialect.

Heteromorphy and isomorphy, indirect and direct affix borrowing

In the context of his analysis of word-formational types of toponyms in valleys of Torre, Merkù (1996) defines complex words as either heteromorphic and isomorphic based on the origin of their morphemes.[3] Isomorphic complex words are entirely formed with morphemes native to an idiom. On the other hand, heteromorphic complex words are formed with both native and borrowed morphemes; they are either formed using  a borrowed stem and a native affix, e.g. báːnk-ić ‘a small bench with a trunk’[4] or frambuìːsca ‘an area where raspberries grow’[5], or formed using a native stem and a borrowed affix.

Based on the stability of use and the perception of a morpheme as native or borrowed in the eyes of the speakers, heteromorphic complex words can become isomorphic. Because the word míːza ‘bench’[6] is recognized as native by today’s speakers, the derivative míːz‑ica ‘small bench’ is isomorphic; likewise, derivatives with the suffix -ar are also isomorphic, since, due to the temporal distance from the time of its borrowing, the suffix is recognized as native.[7]

As expected, a majority of complex words in the Tersko dialect are isomorphic. A large number of borrowed stems participate in the formation of heteromorphic complex words with native affixes – in most cases, the borrowings are loanwords from Friulian. Cases of heteromorphic complex words with native stems and borrowed affixes are much rarer, but that much more telling in regard to language contact between Slovene and Friulian.

Word-formational affix borrowing can either be indirect or direct. With indirect borrowing, the recipient language first borrows a larger number of complex words with the same affix from donor language. Such loanwords are linked by a common morphemic structure and word-formational meaning. As a consequence, in time – possibly multiple speaker generations later – speakers of the recipient language come to analyse them as complex words in their own language and proceed to use the affix to form new complex words with native stems (Seifart 2015). Such was the case with the English suffix -able, originally borrowed from (Norman) French: originally French words, such as profit-able, honour-able, deceiv-able, were borrowed into English as non-complex loanwords; eventually, the affix came to be productively used on native stems, such as know-able, speak-able, work-able (ibid.). Direct borrowing occurs without an intermittent phase. Speakers of the recipient language borrow the morpheme from the donor language and use it to from complex words in their own language using native stems without first borrowing a larger number of complex loanwords. A necessary condition for direct borrowing is the recipient-language speakers’ bilingualism; their proficiency in the donor language needs to be sufficient for them to be able to analyse the structure of complex words within the donor language (ibid.). In the Tersko dialect, one can identify heteromorphic complex words with affixes borrowed according to both models of affix borrowing.

A case of indirect borrowing: the suffix -in

A potential case of a still undergoing indirect borrowing of an affix still is the suffix -in. In truth, this is not a clear case of borrowing but possibly a case of borrowing combined with leaning on an existing, if unproductive suffix of Slavic origin (Sławski 1976: 120–123). The dialectal material gathered shows three nouns with the suffix -in: jáːblin ‘apple tree’, ospoˈdin ‘head of the household’, peteˈlin ‘rooster’. In the first case, its complexity is evident in comparison with the noun jáːbuk ‘apple’, and in the second, with the feminine noun ospodíːńa ‘mistress of the household’; the third noun synchronically functions as a non-complex word.

The lexical set of words with the suffix -in is, however, expanded by a significant number of Friulian loanwords:

  • Friulian complex words with the homophonous suffix -in, e. g. bokìːn ‘calf’ ← Friul. bochin, kunìːn ‘rabbit’ ← Friul. cunin, pọ̀ːdin ‘bucket’← Friul. podin, saìːn ‘lard’ ← Friul. saìn, sapìːn ‘pick’← Friul. sapin …;
  • Friulian nouns ending in -i, onto which -n is added in the dialect,[8] e.g. lìːbrin ‘book’ ← Friul. libri, làːbrini ‘lips’ ← Friul. labri, spàːlin ‘twine’ ← Friul. spali ‘rope’, tìːmplin ‘temple, brow’ ← Friul. timpli

An active recognition of the Friulian morphemic structure of such lexis (and perhaps an initial stage of the suffix’s integration into the dialectal system) is evident from a word-formational parallel to the loanword bok‑ìːn ‘calf’, i.e. the feminine noun of the same stem formed using the native suffix -ica: bọ̀ːk‑ica ‘female calf’ (cfr. Friul. bochete with the same meaning).

A case of direct borrowing: the morpheme -at- in compound suffixes

In the cases of complex words sin‑àːt‑ić and scer‑áːt‑ica one can identify the morpheme -at-. The words’ lexical families can be characterized as follows:

  • sìːn ‘son’ and ‘young man’ – siˈnić ‘boy’ – sinàːtić ‘young boy’ and
  • sćìː ‘daughter’ and ‘young woman’ – sceríːca ‘girl’ – sceráːtica ‘young girl’.

The morpheme -at- thus (originally) carries a diminutive word-formational meaning, which must have occurred after the complex words siˈnić and sceríːca lost their diminutive meanings. The interpretation that in the complex words there should be non-recorded adjectival stems formed using the adjectival suffix ‑at,[9] is not very likely; a more plausible explanation is that we are dealing with the Friulian suffix -at, originating from the Latin -ATTUS. Said suffix is used in Friulian to form pejoratives and, to a lesser extent, nouns denoting male counterparts in animal species. However, within the context of human offspring, the suffix has lost its original pejorative connotation and is used to denote (very) young persons (de Leidi 1984: 60–62), e.g. Friul. fant‑at ‘boy’ ← fant ‘young man’, frut‑at ‘young child’ and ‘young boy’ ← frut ‘child’ and ‘boy’, frut‑ate ‘young girl’ ← frute ‘girl’.

Other dialectal complex common nouns with the morpheme -at- have not been recorded. Merkù (1996), however, notes multiple examples of place names in the adjacent area, formed using a native stem and the discussed affix, out of which two feature the compound suffix -at-ić: Dolinata, Meát, Meata, Njiváta, Oráta, Patokat ter Lazat in Robat. The fact that there are no recorded cases of Friulian loanwords with the same suffix is a strong evidence for direct borrowing.

Borrowing of word-formational meaning by mixing of suffixes: the suffix -ar

All of the recorded derivatives with the suffix -ar are formed from nominal stems. Two word-formational meanings can be identified: nomen actoris/nomen relationis[10], which is predominant, and the more marginal nomen loci, which can be more adequately characterised as ‘the place where that, which is expressed by the stem, is kept or stored’.

nomen relationis, nomen actorisnomen loci
ćùːc‑ar ‘locksmith’ ← ćúːc ‘key’cel‑àːr ‘beehive’ ← cèːla ‘bee’
koń‑áːr ‘horse merchant’ ← koń ‘horse’kokos‑áːr ‘coop’ ← kóːkos ‘hen’
kràːv‑ar ‘cowherd’ ← kráːva ‘cow’òːu̯c‑ar ‘sheep barn’ ← óːu̯ca ‘sheep’
mlìẹk‑ar ‘dairyman’ ← mliẹ́ko ‘milk’prasc‑áːr ‘pigsty’ ← práːsac ‘pig’
mlìːn‑ar ‘miller’ ← mlin ‘mill’stèː‑ar ‘litter storage’ ← stéːa ‘litter, animal bedding’
Derivatives with the suffix -ar according to their word-formational meaning (the first column features not all, but only select examples).

While the first word-formational meaning is inherited and attested in all Slavic languages, the second is not typical of the suffix (Bajec 1950: 25, Sławski 1976: 21–23). The word-formational meaning of nomen loci is possibly a consequence of Friulian complex loanwords with the homophonous suffix -âr, used to derive complex words exhibiting both of the afore-mentioned meanings (de Leidi 1984: 46–52). Cases of both can be found in words borrowed into the dialect from Friulian (some of which might not function as complex word anymore already in the donor language): bećàːr ‘butcher’ ← Friul. becjâr, mulinàːr ‘miller’ ← Friul. mulinâr; ʒ́alinàːr ‘coop’ ← Friul. gjalinâr, solàːr ‘bedroom’ ← Friul. solâr ‘room in the attic’ (originally Lat. SOL-ARIUM ‘room filled with sunlight’).

Originally Friulian (and, hence, from the point of view of the dialect at least theoretically, non-complex) lexis can be identified by a falling tone (-àːr), whereas the native suffix is characterized by a rising tone (-áːr). However, the case of celàːr clearly shows that the borrowed morpheme is also recognized as a suffix and productive in word-formation. A certain extent of mixing between the native suffix -áːr and the (more recently) borrowed suffix -àːr can also be recognized in cases of kokosáːr and prascáːr, as one would, according to their word-formational meaning, expect the suffix to either be unstressed or to have a falling tone.

Complex word with the suffix -ar and the word-formational meaning nomen loci are, judging by dialectal names of barns pertaining to different animals provided in SLA 2, limited to the Tersko dialect; the above-noted word for beehive is not recorded in that source. The same source does, however, provide a record of similar complex words in the adjacent Rezijansko dialect: be̤čṳlȃr and bəčulȃr, etymologically the same as Tersko celàːr, and kokošȃr. Similar usage is not recorded in other Slovene dialects (SLA 2). The isolated incidence of such word-formational patterns to only the two dialects in closest contact with Friulian can (with certain reservations due to the limited availability of dialectal data) be taken as an additional argument in favour of the claim that the word-formational meaning discussed entered Slovene as a consequence of language contact with Friulian.

Summary: heteromorphic derivatives with borrowed suffixes

The only example of a heteromorphic derivative with a borrowed suffix cited by Merkù (1996: 256) is the word konjésa ‘mare’, recorded in Njivica/Vedronza. The word was recorded in the local variety of Ter/Pradielis and is used together with the synonymous (and synchronically non-complex, as far as the speakers’ instinct goes) word kobíːla. In that local variety, one can find more examples of such derivatives (some have already been mentioned):

  • koń‑ẹ́ːsa ‘mare’ ← koń ‘horse’ + Friul. ‑esse, it. ‑essa,
  • pian‑c‑èːla ‘female drunk’← piàːn‑ac ‘drunk’ + Friul. ‑ele, it. ‑ella,
  • cel‑àːr ‘beehive’ ← cèːla ‘bee’ + Friul. ‑âr,
  • cel‑ọ̀ːn ‘bumblebee’ ← cèːla ‘bee’ + dialect. Friul. ‑ôn,[11]
  • uc‑ọ̀ːn ‘ram’óːu̯ca ‘sheep’ + dialect. Friul. ‑ôn,
  • affix ‑at‑ in compound suffixes in the cases sinàːtić ‘young boy’ and sćeráːtica ‘young girl’.

The suffixes ‑ẹ́ːsa and ‑éːla, and the affix ‑at‑ in compound suffixes as noted in the final row above, are not found in any other dialectal forms and represent a clear example of direct affix borrowing (Seifart 2015).

What can such complex words tell us?

The presented examples of word-formational affix borrowing offer an insight into the nature of language contact of a Slovene dialect with the neighbouring Romance idioms, especially Friulian. The basis for indirect borrowing is an influx of a large number of words from the donor language, which hints at a longer-lasting coexistence of two speech communities, between which communication and exchange of culturally specific concepts and goods must take place. The examples of directly borrowed affixes necessarily suggest that the speakers of the Tersko dialect must have been bilingual, that is to say, sufficiently proficient in Friulian. But only a similar analysis of dialectal Friulian in one of the settlements bordering on the valleys of Torre can begin to show whether such an exchange was mutual or only one-sided.

  1. Bajec, A. (1950): Besedotvorje slovenskega jezika I: Izpeljava samostalnikov. Ljubljana: Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti.
  2. De Leidi, G. (1984): I suffissi nel friulano. Udine: Società filologica friulana.
  3. Erat, J. (2006): Furlanska slovnica. Gramatiche furlane. Self-published. (Accessed on: 25. 4. 2020)
  4. Bezlaj, F. (1976, 1982, 1995, 2005, 2007): Etimološki slovar slovenskega jezika I–V. Ljubljana: SAZU, Inštitut za slovenski jezik, Mladinska knjiga.
  5. Hickey, R. (2010): Language Contact: Reconsideration and Reassessment. In: Hickey, R. (Ed.): The Handbook of Language Contact. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 1–28.
  6. Ježovnik, J. (2018): Slovenski jezik v Terskih dolinah. In: Žele, A. (Ed.), Šekli, M. (Ed.): Slovenistika in slavistika v zamejstvu – Videm. Slovenski slavistični kongres, Videm, 27.–29. september 2018. Ljubljana: Zveza društev Slavistično društvo Slovenije. 95–107.
  7. Ježovnik, J. (in print): Samostalniške izpeljanke v terskem narečju (govor kraja Ter/Pradielis). Filološke pripombe/Philological Studies 18/1–2.
  8. Merkù, P. (1996): Interazione linguistica nell’alta valle del Torre: isomorfia, eteromorfia e polimorfia. In: Ellero, G. (Ed.): Tarcint e Valadis de Tôr. Udine: Società filologica friulana. 253–266.
  9. Seifart, F. (2015): Direct and Indirect Affix Borrowing. Language, 91/3. 511–532.
  10. Snoj, M. (2016): Slovenski etimološki slovar. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC.
  11. Skubic, M. (1997): Romanske jezikovne prvine na zahodni slovenski jezikovni meji. Ljubljana: Znanstveni inštitut Filozofske fakultete.
  12. Skubic, M. (2006): Slovenske jezikovne prvine v obsoški furlanščini. Ljubljana: Znanstvenoraziskovalni inštitut Filozofske fakultete.
  13. Škofic, J. (ur.), Šekli, M. (ur.) (2016): Slovenski lingvistični atlas 2. Kmetija. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU.
  1. The article is an abridged and partially modified version of an original scientific article to be published in Philological Studies (Ježovnik, in print). The transcription of dialectal forms is simplified and not appropriate for citation.[
  2. Linguistic features, brought about, or at the very least accelerated or strengthened, by language contact between Slovene and Romance idioms on the western border of the South Slavic linguistic area were described, especially on the lexical and syntactical levels, by Mitja Skubic. He analysed both the Romance linguistic elements in Slovene (Skubic 1997) and Slovene linguistic elements in Isontine Friulian (Skubic 2006).[
  3. A morpheme is a meaningful morphological unit of a language that cannot be further dividedLexico.[
  4. Derived from bank ‘a bench with a trunk’, borrowed from Friulian banc with the same meaning.[]
  5. Derived from fráːmbuj ‘raspberry’, borrowed from Friulian frambue with the same meaning.[]
  6. Borrowed from the Old Friulian [mẹza], itself derived from Latin MENSA, ESSJ I: 186, SES: 431[
  7. The Slovene suffix ‑ar developed from the Protoslavic *‑aŕь, itself borrowed from Gothic (‑āreis) Sławski 1976: 22.[
  8. It might be possible that the addition of -n occurred in dialectal Friulian before the borrowing took place.[]
  9. The suffix is not productive in the dialect nor in other varieties Slovene, and limited to few isolated, if often-used cases, e.g. boˈat ‘rich’, kosˈmat ‘hairy’.[]
  10. ‘Person or thing, in some way related to what the stem expresses’[]
  11. It is evident by the quality and the falling tone of the stressed vowel that we are not dealing with a native suffix, a reflex of the Protoslavic *‑onъ (Sławski 1974: 132–133).[