Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Language Contact and Cultural Contact

Language Contact and Cultural Contact


Index# 10024

Professor Azzan Yadin-Israel

M/W 2:50-4:10

HC S124 College Ave Campus

Will NOT Count Towards SAS – Jewish Studies MAJOR
Will NOT Count Towards SAS – Jewish Studies MINOR

The course has two goals: to introduce the concept of language evolution in the sense used by Salikoko Mufwene in his critique of traditional (historical linguistic) view of language contact, and to explore ways in which this concept can be adapted to describe cultural contact more broadly. Briefly stated, classical historical linguistics holds that languages are born of a single parent, e.g., the Romance language of Latin. And while scholars acknowledge that languages “borrow” from other languages, these phenomena are held to be immaterial to the essential characterization of the language.  This is the view that undergirds the famous representation of the language tree—a single trunk from which descendent languages branch out. This approach has predictably struggled to deal with Creoles, which cannot plausibly be classified as stemming from only one language. In his seminal works, Salikoko Mufwene has critiqued the conceptual foundations of historical linguistics, and put forth an alternative model, one that brings to the fore the importance of language contact, both between languages and between speakers, and frames language change as an ecological process of mutual influence between speaker and the cultural-linguistic environment. Aside from its importance in reassessing the importance of creoles and its trenchant critique of historical linguistics (especially its commitment to so-called monoparental descent), Mufwene’s approach can, I believe, offer an exciting model for understanding cultural contact more broadly—a project with which I am currently engaged.

About Professor Yadin-Israel

Professor Yadin-Israel has a B.A. from the Hebrew University and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union. A Professor of Jewish Studies and Classics at Rutgers, he teaches courses on rabbinic literature, classical Jewish philosophy, the history of Jewish mysticism, and Plato.