Navigation auf


Areal morphology LiMiTS

Matter versus pattern borrowing in morphology

Workshop proposal for the 50th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea, Zurich, 10­­­–13 September 2017


When languages are in contact, the morphology of one language can influence the morphology of another. There are two fundamentally distinct ways in which this can occur. Speakers of a recipient language can borrow from a source language either morphological material, that is, actual morphemes, or morphological techniques, that is, structural patterns but no forms. These fundamental types, exemplified in (1) vs. (2), are frequently referred to as ‘matter borrowing’ as opposed to ‘pattern borrowing’ (Sakel 2007; Matras & Sakel 2007).


(1) matter-borrowing

a. Turkish
yengeç vari

b. Persian

(2) pattern-borrowing

a. Basque
aztertu 'examine'
berr-aztertu 're-examine'

b. Spanish
examinar 'examine'
re-examinar 're-examine'

In Turkish, the adjectivizer vari, borrowed from Persian (1b), can occur on Turkish native bases, such as yengeç ‘crab’ (1a) (Gardani forthc.). In Basque (2a), the native morpheme bir (or its allomorph berr ), meaning ‘repetition’ or ‘emphasis’, replicates a Romance pattern to form deverbal verbs through the prefix re (2b) (Jendraschek 2006: 158–159).

These two phenomena, however, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A third type of contact-induced morphological change is attested, in which matter borrowing and pattern borrowing are combined (Gardani forthc.). Modern Persian is a case in point. Here, some nouns with native Indo-European etyma, realize their plural forms just as Arabic, the long-standing contact language, does. For example, farmān ‘order’ (3a) yields a plural farāmīn, not only replicating a Semitic non-concatenative morphological technique, CVCV:CV:C, but also resorting to the same set of vowels, CaCa:Ci:C, which occurs, e.g., in Arabic ṣanādīq ‘boxes’ (3b) (data from Jensen 1931: 45; see also Mumm 2007: 41).

(3) Modern Persian

farmān ‘order’
farāmīn ‘orders’


ṣandūq ‘box’

ṣanādīq ‘boxes’

In all of these cases, the morphological design of a recipient language has become closer to that of its source language in terms of either form identity or similarity (i.e., matter-borrowing), or structural re‑arrangement and convergence (i.e., pattern-borrowing), or a combination of both.

As is generally acknowledged, morphology is relatively resistant to borrowing (Gardani et al. 2015a). This fact makes the study of morphological borrowing a valuable heuristic tool in investigations of the genealogical relatedness of languages or language groups (good examples are Law 2013, 2014; Robbeets 2015). While the topic of morphological matter borrowing has recently received slightly more attention in contact linguistics (Gardani 2008, 2012; Gardani et al. 2015b; Seifart 2013, 2015), the phenomenon of morphological pattern borrowing and in particular, its cross-linguistic diffusion and areal dimensions, are still largely understudied. The workshop matter borrowing vs pattern borrowing in morphology endeavors to fill this gap and aims to provide a cross-linguistic survey of matter borrowing and pattern borrowing, in order to seize their global extension and incidence in the evolution of morphology. We are especially interested in the following questions (but potential contributors should not feel restricted by them):

  1. Which areas of morphology are more frequently affected by which type of borrowing?
  2. What are the conditions that promote or inhibit the spread of which type of morphological borrowing?
  3. Are the processes that underlie pattern borrowing the same that underlie contact-induced grammaticalization (Heine & Kuteva 2003)?
  4. To what extent are abstract paradigmatic structures, such as morphomes (Maiden 2005), borrowed?
  5. How can the study of pattern borrowing relate to phylogenetic patterns and contribute to the study of areal patterns in morphology?



Gardani, Francesco. 2008. Borrowing of inflectional morphemes in language contact. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Gardani, Francesco. 2012. Plural across inflection and derivation, fusion and agglutination. In Lars Johanson & Martine I. Robbeets (eds.), Copies versus cognates in bound morphology, 71–97. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Gardani, Francesco. forthc. Morphology and contact-induced language change. In Anthony Grant (ed.), The Oxford handbook of language contact. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gardani, Francesco, Peter Arkadiev & Nino Amiridze. 2015a. Borrowed mophology: An overview. In Francesco Gardani, Peter Arkadiev & Nino Amiridze (eds.), Borrowed morphology (Language Contact and Bilingualism 8), 1–23. Berlin, Boston & Munich: De Gruyter Mouton.

Gardani, Francesco, Peter Arkadiev & Nino Amiridze (eds.). 2015b. Borrowed morphology (Language Contact and Bilingualism 8). Berlin, Boston & Munich: De Gruyter Mouton.

Heine, Bernd & Tania Kuteva. 2003. On contact-induced grammaticalization. Studies in Language 27(3). 529–572.

Jendraschek, Gerd. 2006. Basque in contact with Romance languages. In Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald & Robert M. W. Dixon (eds.), Grammars in contact: A cross-linguistic typology, 143–162. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jensen, Hans. 1931. Neupersische Grammatik: Mit Berücksichtigung der historischen Entwicklung. Heidelberg: Winter.

Law, Danny. 2013. Inherited similarity and contact-induced change in Mayan Languages. Journal of Language Contact 6(2). 271–299.

Law, Danny. 2014. Language contact, inherited similarity and social difference: The story of linguistic interaction in the Maya lowlands. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Maiden, Martin. 2005. Morphological autonomy and diachrony. In Geert Booij & Jaap van Marle (eds.), Yearbook of morphology 2004, 137–175. Dordrecht: Springer.

Matras, Yaron & Jeanette Sakel. 2007. Introduction. In Yaron Matras & Jeanette Sakel (eds.), Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective, 1–13. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Mumm, Peter-Arnold. 2007. Strukturkurs Neupersisch. Universität München.

Robbeets, Martine. 2012. Shared verb morphology in the Transeurasian languages: Copy or cognate? In Lars Johanson & Martine I. Robbeets (eds.), Copies versus cognates in bound morphology, 427–446. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Robbeets, Martine. 2015. Diachrony of verb morphology: Japanese and the Transeurasian Languages (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 291). Berlin & Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Sakel, Jeanette. 2007. Types of loan: Matter and pattern. In Yaron Matras & Jeanette Sakel (eds.), Grammatical borrowing in cross-linguistic perspective, 15–29. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Seifart, Frank. 2013. AfBo: A world-wide survey of affix borrowing. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Available online at

Seifart, Frank. 2015. Direct and indirect affix borrowing. Language 91(3). 511–532.


Weiterführende Informationen

Further information


Unterseiten von Matter v pattern borrowing