Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Language Contact In the Field

Language Contact In the Field

Primary investigator:
John Lipski (

Graduate students who have participated:

Estilita Cassiani Obeso
Javier López Seoane
Deyanira Sindy Moya
Sonya Trawick

Isabel Deibel
Johan de la Rosa
Colleen Balukas
Nicole Benevento
Abigaíl Carretero (University of Querétaro, Mexico)
Amelia Dietrich
Yolanda Gordillo
Diana Kobel (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Wilmar López Barrios (University of Massachusetts)
Lauren Perrotti Halberstadt
Emily Sabo (University of Michigan)
Diego Sevilla
Hiram Smith

Undergraduate students who have participated:

Kellie Alexandra
Gabby Herman
Madison Krieger
Daniel Miller
Sara Ostergren
Maggie Rose Pellela
Natalie Wenger

Luisa Arroyave (University of Antioquia, Colombia)
Rebecca Barnes
Melinda Dennis
Lina Duiker
Sarah Heeter
Daniel Magerman
Miguel Muñoz (University of California, Riverside)
Dorothy Schaadt
Mary Beth Spang
Miriam Villazón (University of California, Riverside)

Colleagues who have participated:
Colleen Balukas (Ball State University/The University at Buffalo)
Giuli Dussias
Mike Putnam

Field research in linguistics is generally associated with ethnographic and sociolinguistic inquiries, while psycholinguistic experiments have traditionally been conducted in controlled laboratory settings, typically at universities and advanced research centers. Participants are usually literate with considerable formal education (e.g. university students). In recent years, there has been a move in psycholinguistics to broaden the scope of inquiry to include less commonly-studied and typologically diverse languages, beyond the “WEIRD” (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic), languages and societies that have formed the core of psycholinguistic research.* In partial response to this goal, “lab in the field” studies are receiving greater attention, and the range of languages and research techniques is steadily increasing. At the same time there is a growing awareness that it is not sufficient to simply expand the list of languages and typologies without taking into account the cultural and ecological settings in which the languages are used, and even the contexts in which the experimental research is conducted, since another source of bias are LOL (Literate, Official, and with Lots of users) languages.**

The thread that unites the individuals here is an interest in extending ethnographic, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic research to in situ language contact settings where the effects of prescriptivism, formal schooling, and linguistic insecurity are minimal, and ideally to include languages and communities that are neither WEIRD nor LOL. Although individually and collectively we have collected data in many locations, my primary research sites (and where most of the individuals listed here have worked with me) are:

The Afro-Colombian village of San Basilio de Palenque (a PIRE undergraduate and graduate research site), where the ancestral creole language Palenquero is spoken together with Spanish.

NE Argentina (Misiones province) along the border with Brazil, where vernacular Portuguese and Spanish—sometimes coalescing into “Portuñol”—predominate.

Northern Ecuador, where Quichua (the language of the former Inca empire), is in contact with Media Lengua, a mixed language much like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” in which all Quichua roots have been replaced by Spanish roots while maintaining the rest of Quichua grammar.


* Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61-135.

** Dahl, Ö. (2015). How WEIRD are WALS languages. MPI-EVA, Leipzig. Presented at the Diversity Linguistics: Retrospect and Prospect, Leipzig.