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Transfer and language contact: The case of Pirahã

Sakel, Jeanette



In this article the author argues that the language contact situation between Pirahã (Muran) and Portuguese can best be explained in a framework combining the theoretical approaches to language contact and transfer. In this contact situation, Portuguese elements are readily incorporated into Pirahã, while the society remains largely monolingual. Only some speakers have a limited command of Portuguese, which they employ when communicating with outsiders. The author refers to these speakers as gatekeepers, usually middle-aged men taking over the communication with the outside world. Their speech is lexically Portuguese, but shows considerable interference from Pirahã. This could be due to their limited proficiency in Portuguese, forcing the speakers to draw heavily on the structures of their L1 (the transfer perspective). On the other hand, it could also be analysed as heavy borrowing of Portuguese lexical elements into a Pirahã frame (the language contact perspective). The result of both perspectives is an interlingual variety, used for the purpose of communicating with outsiders. Focusing on expressions of quantities in the language of the gatekeepers, the author argues for a combination of the borrowing or transfer frameworks in the analysis of this contact situation. © The Author(s) 2011.


Sakel, J. (2012). Transfer and language contact: The case of Pirahã. International Journal of Bilingualism, 16(1), 37-52.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2012
Journal International Journal of Bilingualism
Print ISSN 1367-0069
Electronic ISSN 1756-6878
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 1
Pages 37-52
Keywords transfer, language contact, Pirahã
Public URL
Publisher URL


2_IJB_Piraha article.doc (117 Kb)

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