Areal feature (linguistics)

Areal feature (linguistics)

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In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, an areal feature is any feature (including cognates, false cognates, and false friends) shared by languages within the same geographical area as a consequence of linguistic (and other cultural) diffusion.

Resemblances between two or more languages (whether typological or in vocabulary) can be due to genetic relation (descent from a common ancestor language), or due to borrowing
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

 at some time in the past between languages that were not necessarily genetically related. When little or no direct documentation of ancestor languages is available, determining whether a similarity is genetic or areal can be difficult.

Genetic relationships are represented in the family tree model
Tree model
A language tree, or family tree with languages substituted for real family members, has the form of a node-link diagram of a logical tree structure. Additional linguistics terminology derives from it. Such a diagram contains branch points, or nodes, from which the daughter languages descend by...

 of language change, and areal relationships are represented in the wave model
Wave model (linguistics)
In historical linguistics, the wave model or wave theory is a model of language change in which new features of a language spread from a central point in continuously weakening concentric circles, similar to the waves created when a stone is thrown into a body of water. According to the model,...

. Labov in 2007 reconciled these models in a general framework based on differences between children and adults in their language learning ability. Adults do not preserve structural features with sufficient regularity to establish a norm in their community, but children do. Linguistic features are diffused across an area by contacts among adults. Languages branch into dialects and thence into related languages through small changes in the course of children's learning processes which accumulate over generations, and when speech communities do not communicate (frequently) with each other, these cumulative changes diverge. Diffusion of areal features for the most part hinges on low-level phonetic shifts, whereas tree-model transmission includes in addition structural factors such as "grammatical conditioning, word boundaries, and the systemic relations that drive chain shifting."

In some areas with high linguistic diversity, a number of areal features have spread across a set of languages to form a sprachbund
A Sprachbund – also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related...

 (also known as a linguistic area, convergence area or diffusion area). Some examples are the Balkan sprachbund, the East Asian languages
East Asian languages
East Asian languages describe two notional groupings of languages in East and Southeast Asia:* Languages which have been greatly influenced by Classical Chinese and the Chinese writing system, in particular Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese .* The larger grouping of languages includes the...

, and the languages of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...



  • the use of the plural pronoun as a polite word for you in much of Europe (the tu-vous distinction
    T-V distinction
    In sociolinguistics, a T–V distinction is a contrast, within one language, between second-person pronouns that are specialized for varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee....

  • the spread of the guttural R
    Guttural R
    In linguistics, guttural R refers to pronunciation of a rhotic consonant as a guttural consonant. These consonants are usually uvular, but can also be realized as a velar, pharyngeal, or glottal rhotic...

     from French to several West European languages.
  • the tendency to use a habeo (transitive, e.g. "I have") construction for possession in much of Europe, instead of a mihi est
    Dative case
    The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

    (to me is) construction, which is more likely the original possessive construction in Proto-Indo-European
    Proto-Indo-European language
    The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

    , considering the lack of a common root for "have" verbs
  • the development of a perfect tense using "have" + past participle in many European languages (Romance, Germanic, etc.)
  • presence of /ɫ/ (dark L), usually contrasting with palatalized /lʲ/ in Slavic, Baltic and Turkic languages of Eastern Europe
  • possibly the Satem sound change
  • postposed article
    Article (grammar)
    An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

    , avoidance of the infinitive
    In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

    , merging of genitive and dative, and superessive number
    Grammatical number
    In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

     formation in some languages of the Balkans
    The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

  • development of a three-tone system with no tones in words ending in -p, -t, -k, followed by a tone split; many other phonetic similarities; a system of classifiers/measure words; the tendency for the relative clause
    Relative clause
    A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...

     to precede the noun (also in South Asia) etc. in East Asian languages
  • retroflex consonants in the Burushaski, Nuristani
    The Nuristani people are an ethnic group Aryan-Iranian to the Nuristan region of northeastern Iran and Afghanistan. The Nuristanis are a people whose ancestors practiced what was apparently an ancient Indo-Iranian polytheistic religion until they were conquered and converted to Islam in the late...

    , Dravidian
    Dravidian languages
    The Dravidian language family includes approximately 85 genetically related languages, spoken by about 217 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and...

    , Munda
    Munda languages
    -Anderson :Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows. Individual languages are highlighted in italics.*North Munda **Korku**Kherwarian***Santhali***Mundari*South Munda **Kharia–Juang***Juang***Kharia...

    , and Indo-Aryan
    Indo-Aryan languages
    The Indo-Aryan languages constitutes a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, itself a branch of the Indo-European language family...

     families of the Indian subcontinent.
  • the occurrence of click consonant
    Click consonant
    Clicks are speech sounds found as consonants in many languages of southern Africa, and in three languages of East Africa. Examples of these sounds familiar to English speakers are the tsk! tsk! or tut-tut used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the...

    s in Bantu languages of southern Africa, which originated in the Khoisan languages
    Khoisan languages
    The Khoisan languages are the click languages of Africa which do not belong to other language families. They include languages indigenous to southern and eastern Africa, though some, such as the Khoi languages, appear to have moved to their current locations not long before the Bantu expansion...

  • the lack of fricatives
    Fricative consonant
    Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

     in Australian languages.
  • the spread of a verb-final word order to the Austronesian languages
    Austronesian languages
    The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the...

     of New Guinea
    New Guinea
    New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

  • the prevalence of ejective
    Ejective consonant
    In phonetics, ejective consonants are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated or tenuis consonants...

     and lateral fricatives and affricates in the Pacific Northwest of North America

See also

  • Linguistic typology
    Linguistic typology
    Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

  • World Atlas of Language Structures
    World Atlas of Language Structures
    The World Atlas of Language Structures is a database of structural properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials. It was first published by Oxford University Press as a book with CD-ROM in 2005, and was released as the second edition on the Internet in April 2008...

  • Sprachbund
    A Sprachbund – also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads – is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related...

  • Comparative method
    Comparative method
    In linguistics, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with common descent from a shared ancestor, as opposed to the method of internal reconstruction, which analyzes the internal...

  • Mass lexical comparison
    Mass lexical comparison
    Mass comparison is a method developed by Joseph Greenberg to determine the level of genetic relatedness between languages. It is now usually called multilateral comparison...

  • Language contact
    Language contact
    Language contact occurs when two or more languages or varieties interact. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics.Multilingualism has likely been common throughout much of human history, and today most people in the world are multilingual...


  • Campbell, Lyle. 2006. "Areal linguistics: A closer scrutiny". In Yaron Matras, April McMahon & Nigel Vincent (eds.), Linguistic areas: Convergence in historical and typological perspective, 1–31. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (In press). Areal linguistics. In K. Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.). Oxford: Elsevier. (Online version: