Metatypy (stress on second syllable: metátypy) is a type of morphosyntactic and semantic language change brought about by language contact involving multilingual speakers. The term was coined by linguist Malcolm Ross.

Malcolm Ross (1999: 7, 1) gives the following definition:

[Metatypy is a] change in morphosyntactic type and grammatical organisation [and also semantic patterns] which a language undergoes as a result of its speakers’ bilingualism in another language. This change is driven by grammatical calquing, i.e. the copying of constructional meanings from the modified language and the innovation of new structures using inherited material to express them. A concomitant of this reorganisation of grammatical constructions is often the reorganisation or creation of paradigms of grammatical functors.... Usually, the language undergoing metatypy (the modified language) is emblematic of its speakers’ identity, whilst the language which provides the metatypic model is an inter-community language. Speakers of the modified language form a sufficiently tightknit community to be well aware of their separate identity and of their language as a marker of that identity, but some bilingual speakers, at least, use the inter-community language so extensively that they are more at home in it than in the emblematic language of the community.

Ross (2002) identifies the following metatypic changes:

  1. "reorganization of the language's semantic patterns and ‘ways of saying things’"
  2. "restructuring of its syntax, i.e. the patterns in which morphemes are concatenated to form
    • (i) sentences and clauses,
    • (ii) phrases, and
    • (iii) words."

Ross finds that semantic reorganization occurs before syntactic restructuring. The syntactic changes occur in the order of (i) sentence/clause, (ii) phrase, and, finally, (iii) words.

Below are some languages that have undergone metatypy:

Modified Language Inter-community Language
Takia (Oceanic) Waskia (Trans-New Guinea)
Anêm (East Papuan) Lusi (Oceanic)
Arvanitic (Albanian, Indo-European) Greek (Indo-European)
Mixe Basque Gascon (Italic)
Phan Rong Cham (Malayo-Polynesian) Vietnamese (Mon-Khmer)
Asia Minor Greek (Indo-European) Turkish (Turkic)
Ilwana (Benue-Congo) Orma (Cushitic)
Kannada (Dravidian) Kupwar Marathi (Indo-Iranian)
Tariana (Maipurean) Tucanoan languages
Kupwar Urdu (Indo-Iranian) Kupwar Marathi (Indo-Iranian)

Example: Papuanised Takia and Waskia

The example given by Ross (1999) is the "papuanisation" of the Takia language (of the Oceanic family, western branch) due to influence from the neighboring Waskia language (of the Madang family, hypothetical Trans-New Guinea). Here, in Ross' terminology, Takia is the modified language and Waskia is the inter-community language. Waskia, however, does not seem to have been significantly influenced by Takia. Both languages are spoken on Karkar Island.

The end result of the metatypic change leaves Takia usually having a word-for-word Waskia translation, such as the following:

English transl.: "the man is hitting me"
Takia: tamol an ŋai i-fun-ag=da
man DET me he-hit-me=IMP
Waskia: kadi mu aga umo-so
man DET me hit-PRES.he

This pairing of syntactic and semantic structures makes this word-for-word translation possible. Some of the grammatical changes that Takia has undergone include:

Metatypic Change Early Western Oceanic   Papuanised Takia
word order: SVO SOV
non-deictic determiner: precedes head noun follows head
attributive noun: precedes head follows head
conjoined noun phrase: Noun Phrase + Conjunction + Noun Phrase Noun Phrase + Noun Phrase + Postposition
adposition: preposition postposition

The diffusional changes of Takia are only in terms of metatypy. This means that Takia has not altered its phonology and has virtually no loanwords borrowed from Waskia.

See also


  • Haspelmath, Martin (2004). "How hopeless is genealogical linguistics, and how advanced is areal linguistics?". Studies in Language 28 (1): 209–223.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (1996). The comparative method reviewed: Regularity and irregularity in language change. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (1997). Archaeology and language 1: Theoretical and methodological orientations. London: Routledge.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. Exploring metatypy: How does contact-induced typological change come about?. (1999). Retrieved on 2007-10-24..
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (2001). Areal diffusion and genetic inheritance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Ross, Malcolm D. Constructions: Continuity and contact. (2002). .
  • Ross, Malcolm D. (2003). Motivations for language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • In Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2006). Elsevier. ISBN 9780080442990
  • Ross, Malcolm D.; John Natu Paol (1978). A Waskia grammar sketch and vocabulary. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.

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