University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


Borrowing is often seen as a threat by speakers of minority or endangered languages (King 2008, Dubois and Melançons 1997) but linguists may be more likely to see it as a natural, and potentially revealing, resource of bilingual speakers. This paper uses the sociolinguistic construct of apparent time to explore borrowing in an endangered language further. If borrowing is an index of communal language shift, we might expect to find differences in apparent time (cf. Labov 2008, Meakins 2011). Data comes from Hog Harbour, a community in Vanuatu, where the 1000 speakers are concerned about the continued vitality of their local language and point to the borrowing of Bislama words as a sign of its decline. We show that there is no clear sociolinguistic evidence that borrowing is increasing over time in the community: it is possible that younger speakers’ use of Bislama words may be a developmental phenomenon, not communal change in progress. We suggest that Matras’ (2012) analysis of interactional and cognitive pressure points in conversation accounts very well for the patterns observed.