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Areal feature

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In geolinguistics, areal features are elements shared by languages or dialects in a geographic area,[1] particularly when such features are not descended from a proto-language, i.e. a common ancestor language. That is, an areal feature is contrasted with lingual-genealogically determined similarity within the same language family. Features may diffuse from one dominant language to neighbouring languages (see "sprachbund").

Genetic relationships are represented in the family tree model of language change, and areal relationships are represented in the wave model.


Resemblances between two or more languages (whether in typology or in vocabulary) have been observed to result from several mechanisms, including lingual genealogical relation (descent from a common ancestor language, not principally related to biological genetics); borrowing between languages; retention of features when a population adopts a new language; and chance coincidence. When little or no direct documentation of ancestor languages is available, determining whether the similarity is genetic or merely areal can be difficult. Edward Sapir notably used evidence of contact and diffusion as a negative tool for genetic reconstruction, treating it as a subject in its own right only at the end of his career (e.g., for the influence of Tibetan on Tocharian).[2]

Major models

William Labov in 2007 reconciled the tree and wave models in a general framework based on differences between children and adults in their language learning ability. Adults do not preserve structural features with sufficient regularity to establish a norm in their community, but children do. Linguistic features are diffused across an area by contacts among adults. Languages branch into dialects and thence into related languages through small changes in the course of children's learning processes which accumulate over generations, and when speech communities do not communicate (frequently) with each other, these cumulative changes diverge.[3] Diffusion of areal features for the most part hinges on low-level phonetic shifts, whereas tree-model transmission includes in addition structural factors such as "grammatical conditioning, word boundaries, and the systemic relations that drive chain shifting".[4]


In some areas with high linguistic diversity, a number of areal features have spread across a set of languages to form a sprachbund (also known as a linguistic area, convergence area or diffusion area). Some examples are the Balkan sprachbund, the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, and the languages of the Indian subcontinent.[citation needed]


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Phonetics and phonology


  • Vowel alternation patterns in reduplicatives.[9]



  • The tendency in much of Europe to use a transitive verb (e.g. "I have") for possession, rather than a possessive dative construction such as mihi est (Latin: 'to me is') which is more likely the original possessive construction in Proto-Indo-European, considering the lack of a common root for "have" verbs.[10]
  • The development of a perfect aspect using "have" + past participle in many European languages (Romance, Germanic, etc.). (The Latin habeo and Germanic haben used for this and the previous point are not in fact etymologically related.)
  • A perfect aspect using "be" + past participle for intransitive and reflexive verbs (with participle agreement), present in French, Italian, German, older Spanish and Portuguese, and possibly even English, in phrases like "I am become death, destroyer of worlds" and "The kingdom of this world is become".
  • Postposed article, avoidance of the infinitive, merging of genitive and dative, and superessive number formation in some languages of the Balkans.
  • The spread of a verb-final word order to the Austronesian languages of New Guinea.
  • A system of classifiers/measure words in the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area.


  • The use of the plural pronoun as a polite word for you in much of Europe (the tu-vous distinction).

See also


  1. ^ " areal (adj.)".
  2. ^ Drechsel, Emanuel J. (1988). "Wilhelm von Humboldt and Edward Sapir: analogies and homologies in their linguistic thoughts", in Shipley, William, ed. (December 1988). In Honor of Mary Haas: From the Haas Festival Conference on Native American Linguistics. the Hague: de Gruyter Mouton. p. 826. ISBN 978-3-11-011165-1. p. 254.
  3. ^ Labov, William (2007). "Transmission and diffusion" (PDF). Language. 83 (2): 344–387. CiteSeerX doi:10.1353/lan.2007.0082. Retrieved 18 Aug 2010.
  4. ^ Labov 2007:6.
  5. ^ Berger, H. Die Burushaski-Sprache von Hunza und Nagar. Vols. I-III. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1988
  6. ^ Tikkanen, Bertil (1999). "Archaeological-linguistic correlations in the formation of retroflex typologies and correlating areal features in South Asia". In Blench, Roger; Spriggs, Matthew (eds.). Archaeology and language. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780203208793.
  7. ^ G. Morgenstierne, Irano-Dardica. Wiesbaden 1973
  8. ^ The Munda Languages. Edited by Gregory D. S. Anderson. London and New York: Routledge (Routledge Language Family Series), 2008. ISBN 978-0-415-32890-6
  9. ^ Ido, Shinji (2011). "Vowel alternation in disyllabic reduplicatives". Eesti ja Soome-Ugri Keeleteaduse Ajakiri. 2 (1): 185–193. doi:10.12697/jeful.2011.2.1.12.
  10. ^ Winfred Philipp Lehmann, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, Routledge, 1992, p. 170


  • Abbi, Anvita. (1992). Reduplication in South Asian Languages: An Areal, Typological, and Historical Study. India: Allied Publishers.
  • Blevins, Juliette. (2017). Areal sound patterns: From perceptual magnets to stone soup. In R. Hickey (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics (pp. 88–121). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Campbell, Lyle (2006). "Areal linguistics: A closer scrutiny". In Matras, Yaron; McMahon, April; Vincent, Nigel (eds.). Linguistic areas: Convergence in historical and typological perspective. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1–31. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  • Campbell, Lyle (2006). "Areal linguistics". In Brown, Keith (ed.). Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.). Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 1.455–460. Archived from the original on 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2010-09-25.
  • Chappell, Hilary. (2001). Language contact and areal diffusion in Sinitic languages. In A. Y. Aikhenvald & R. M. W. Dixon (Eds.), Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics (pp. 328–357). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Enfield, N. J. (2005). Areal Linguistics and Mainland Southeast Asia. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 181–206.
  • Haas, Mary R. (1978). Language, culture, and history, essays by Mary R. Haas, selected and introduced by Anwar S. Dil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Haas, Mary R. (June 1978). Prehistory of Languages. The Hague: de Gruyter Mouton. p. 120. ISBN 978-90-279-0681-6.
  • Hickey, Raymond, ed. (2017). The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kirby, James & Brunelle, Marc. (2017). Southeast Asian Tone in Areal Perspective. In R. Hickey (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics (pp. 703–731). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Matisoff, J. A. (1999). Tibeto-Burman tonology in an areal context. In Proceedings of the symposium Crosslinguistic studies of tonal phenomena: Tonogenesis, Japanese Accentology, and Other Topics (pp. 3–31). Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa.
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