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Two seminars were given last week at Sydney University on languages in contact - Helen Fulton (University of Wales, Swansea) on "Language on the Borders : Contacts between Welsh and English in the Marches of Wales after 1066", and Ian Smith's (currently visiting the Linguistics Department for a year) Linguistics department seminar "Wesleyan missionaries and the conversion of Sri Lanka Portuguese", on the new languages in Sri Lanka that developed from contact with Portuguese, Dutch and then English. In both cases aspirations for heavenly and worldly advancement provided motivations for language shift and language maintenance, sometimes in competition and sometimes in collaboration.

Helen Fulton, a Welsh mediaeval literature specialist,started with the co-existence of Anglo-Saxon and the Celtic languages in Britain. There's evidence of this from place-names that have morphemes from both languages, e.g. Carlattan 'Lattan's fort' where Lattan is an Anglo-Saxon personal name and caer is a British Celtic word. However, she suggested that in the Anglo-Saxon dominated lands, the upwardly mobile Briton probably shifted to speaking Anglo-Saxon in order to get ahead. In Wales, the Welsh maintained a Welsh-speaking court for longer and a high literary poetic tradition - until well after the Norman conquest - and the Anglo-Saxon speakers required interpreters when they went to Wales. But if upward mobility in a were the main cause of language shift, this would not explain how the Welsh have managed to hang on to their language longer than the Irish and the Scots, despite much longer rule by the English? Maybe the high poetic tradition and the anti-Anglo-Saxon rhetoric of early Welsh writers helped - but the best guesses seemed to be that the survival of Welsh was helped by the long association of the Welsh language with the Bible (first translated into Welsh in 1588), and with Protestant churches. The Catholic Irish and Highland Scots were stuck with Latin Bibles and liturgies, and, unlike the Welsh, suffered mass depopulation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, caused by the potato famines and the clearances (the dispossession of the small farmers).

Upward mobility and Protestantism played a role in the development of Sri Lankan Portuguese too. In the nineteenth century it was the language of the burgher middle class of Sri Lanka. Most probably spoken nineteenth century Sri Lankan Portuguese, like its Tamil ancestor, was SOV. But much of the written evidence from the nineteenth century suggests an SVO structure with prepositions (for example, in Wesleyan missionary temperance articles -I wondered how the blue ribbon symbol of total abstinence translated into local colour symbolism). This 19C material also includes material written by a presumed native speaker, and so can't be dismissed as the "Me- Tarzan, you - Jane" pidgin that is sometimes passed off as local languages by 19C outsider writers. Ian argued that the effect of the arrival of the British (1795-1948), including English-speaking missionaries, was to create a high register, which was SVO. Since upwardly mobile Sri Lankans wanted to learn English to advance themselves economically and socially, they adapted some of the structures in their own Sri Lankan Portuguese to conform to an English structure, which then formed the high register. He made the interesting claim that diglossic use of a high SVO register and a low SOV register might have developed easily in Sri Lanka, since other Sri Lankan language communities are diglossic.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.

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