Language Contact and Stability of Basic Vocabulary: Croatian Loanwords for Body Parts in Vlashki/Zheyanski (Istro-Romanian)

Zvjezdana Vrzić, Filozofski fakultet – New York University, Rijeka – New York; Robert Doričić, Medicinski fakultet, Rijeka
Vlashki/Zheyanski, or Istro-Romanian, is a severely endangered Eastern Romance language spoken on the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. The language is now spoken by less than 120 fluent and active speakers, most of them over the age of 50. The Vlashki/Zheyanski-speaking communities are in the midst of the language shift to Croatian. Since cohabitation, population mix and bilingualism have characterized these communities for centuries, as a result of intense and long-term contact pressures, the language has undergone many lexical and structural changes under the influence of Croatian. In the lexical domain, the language has adopted many cultural borrowings, but also a significant number of core borrowings. The paper explores the extent of contact influence in the basic vocabulary of body part terms, a section of the lexicon assumed to be one of the most resistant to contact interference. Lexical equivalents of 46 body part meanings found in three different historical sources and in authors’ own field data are compared. The comparison shows that a significant number of body part words has been borrowed from dialectal Croatian, that the number of loanwords has doubled since the beginning of the 20th century, that standard Croatian has become a factor of contact influence recently, and that the Zheyanski dialect of the language has preserved a greater number of native body part words.
Key words
contact interference and lexical change; basic vocabulary; body part words; Istro-Romanian; Croatian loanwords
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