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‘Ill-bred sons’, family and friends: tracing the multiple affiliations of Balkan Slavic

English title ‘Ill-bred sons’, family and friends: tracing the multiple affiliations of Balkan Slavic
Applicant Sonnenhauser Barbara
Number 176378
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Slavisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Other languages and literature
Start/End 01.07.2018 - 30.06.2022
Approved amount 806'781.00
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Keywords (7)

variation ; non-standardised data; Balkan linguistics; corpus methodology; dialectology; areal-typology; Torlak

Lay Summary (German)

Barbara Sonnenhauser
Lay summary
Das südslavische Dialektkontinuum ist durch das Zusammenspiel verschiedener Zugehörigkeiten gekennzeichnet: in genetischer Hinsicht zum West- vs. Ost-Südslavischen, in arealer Hinsicht zum Süd- vs. Balkanslavischen. Die daraus resultierende Variation sprachlicher Merkmale zeigt sich am deutlichsten in der Dialektgruppe des Torlakischen. Eine Beschreibung dieser Dialekte erfordert daher die Kombination von dialektologischen und arealtypologischen Ansätzen, um so zu untersuchen, wie die arealen Innovationen mittels Sprachkontakt diffundieren und mit ererbten Strukturen interagieren.  
In diesem Projekt wird das Torlakische in Bezug auf ausgewählte morphosyntaktische Strukturen – zunächst postponierte Definitheitsmarkierung, Objektverdoppelung und Präteritalsystem – mit den benachbarten slavischen und nicht-slavischen Varietäten und älteren (weitgehend) volkssprachlichen Dokumente verglichen. Dieses Vorgehen erlaubt Einblicke in die Geschichte des Balkanslavischen, verspricht tiefergehendes Verständnis von dialektalem und arealem Kontakt und Wandel, sowie den begleitenden konvergierenden und divergierenden Entwicklungen.
Für die Analyse werden feinkörnig annotierte Korpora erstellt. Damit wird es möglich, Korrelationen zwischen Merkmalen und Strukturen und folglich auch möglichen Verwendungsbedingungen aufzudecken, kon- und divergierende funktionale Entwicklungen zu zeigen sowie die Daten über Georeferenzierung räumlich und zeitlich zu visualisieren. Mit diesem methodischen Ansatz trägt das Projekt zugleich auch zur Entwicklung von Sprachtechnologie für Sprachen und Varietäten bei, für die in dieser Hinsicht bisher erst wenige und eingeschränkte Möglichkeiten vorhanden sind.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 29.03.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
166419 Variation in space and time: clausal complementation in South Slavic 01.02.2016 International Exploratory Workshops
162970 Sprachbeschreibung als Filter und Prisma: Die ‘Individualität’ des Slovenischen 01.04.2016 Project funding (Div. I-III)


The South Slavic dialect continuum is characterised by an intricate encounter of affiliations: genealogically, it is intersected by an old bundle of isoglosses differentiating West and East South Slavic, areally, parts of it - the ‘ill-bred’ sons, as Schleicher (1850) called them - share a number of morpho-syntactic innovations with their neighbouring non-Slavic languages. The resulting variation becomes visible most distinctly in the Torlak dialects. Being located at the peripheries of contemporary Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, they are transitional between West and East South Slavic. Yet, spoken at the outskirts of the spread zones of Balkan innovations, they are transitional between Balkan Slavic (BS) and non-Balkan South Slavic as well. A linguistic description and analysis of Torlak thus calls for bringing together insight from dialectology and areal-typology in order to study the interaction of innovations diffused through language contacts with the inherited genealogical features.The project focuses on a set of morpho-syntactic BS innovations and their diffusion and integration into the South Slavic system from a diatopic and diachronic perspective by contrasting Torlak with the surrounding varieties and by drawing on evidence from pre-standardised vernacular sources. Systematically analysing the co-occurrence of areal innovations with inherited features will facilitate a principled description and analysis of Torlak, provide new insight into the history of Balkan Slavic and contribute to a better understanding of dialectal and areal contact and the concomitant processes of convergence and divergence. The combination of a diachronic and diatopic perspective necessitates the comparison of non-standard data along two dimensions: (i) eastern BS with western BS varieties, and both with non-BS Serbian in order to trace the geographical extension of the relevant structures in their formal and functional aspects, (ii) contemporary data with earlier stages displayed in 18th/19th c. literary sources in order to gain insight into the diachronic diffusion of BS innovations. The focus will be on three features: (1) clitic doubling, (2) postponed definiteness marking, (3) existence of analytic and synthetic past tenses. These features are also found in languages outside the BS and Balkan area, which places the project in the larger context of (1’) conditions on clitic doubling in neighbouring non-Slavic languages, (2’) postponed definiteness markers in North Russian, (3’) development of (former) perfects in Slavic. This in turn opens up a broader contact linguistic and areal-typological perspective, concerning in particular (1’’) Slavic - Albanian/ Romance, (2’’) Slavic - Baltic - Finno-Uralic, and (3’’) Slavic within the linguistic Europe. The analysis will be based on annotated corpora for each of the varieties to be compared. Providing more fine-grained data, it becomes possible to establish correlations between features and structures and hence reveal usage conditions, illustrate converging and diverging developments, in particular as concerns their functions, and to map the data in time and space by geo-referencing and visualising them with GIScience technology. To this end, existing processing tools will be improved in such a manner that they can be applied to these still under-resourced languages. This methodological aspect adds a further dimension to the project, beyond its contribution to (Slavic) dialect syntax and the linking of dialectology and areal typology.