Trapezity: a modest proposal for a new typological category

“that temple wherein earnest young people are taught not the language itself, but the method of teaching others to teach that method” (V. Nabokov, Pnin, p. 3)

A success of the functionalist approach to linguistics is to increasingly uncover grammatical categories. To ‘tense’ and ‘mood’ of the ancients accrued ‘aspect’ (Comrie 1976), ‘evidentiality’ (Aikhenvald 2004), ‘mirativity’ (DeLancey 1997), ‘impulsative’ (Cathcart 2011), ‘state’ (Mettouchi and Frajzyngier 2013), ‘speaker expectation of interlocutor knowledge’ (Hyslop 2014), ‘allocutivity’ (Antonov 2015), and ‘egophoricity’ (Floyed et al. In press) among many others. The observation that history moves ever quicker holds true with regard to the proliferation of typological categories. It is perplexing that so many of these categories went unrecognized for so long and one may eagerly await the further discovery of categories as vast in number as the grains of sand that would fill all space. I propose here to midwife one such modest grain onto the pile.

Many languages express a semantic category that refers to a flat stationary object which holds up other objects. Foodstuffs appear to to be the paradigmatically typical objects so upheld. This category, which I shall call ‘trapezity’ is expressed in English with the noun table, in German with the noun Tisch, and in Spanish with the noun mesa. English borrows the word table from French table; this borrowing shows that a language may gain trapezity through contact. In the languages considered here trapezity is encoded via the lexicon, but further research will perhaps show that in some languages trapezity can be grammaticalized.


Antonov, Anton (2015). “Verbal allocutivity in a crosslinguistic perspective.” Linguistic Typology 19.1: 55–85.

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2004). Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cathcart, MaryEllen (2011). Impulsatives The syntax and semantics of involuntary desire. University of Delaware PhD thesis.

Comrie, Bernard (1976). Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

DeLancey, Scott (1997). “Mirativity: the grammatical marking of unexpected information.” Linguistic Typology 1: 33-52.

Floyd, S., E. Norcliffe & L. San Roque, eds. (in press). Egophoricity. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Hyslop, Gwendolyn (2014). “On the category of speaker expectation of interlocutor knowledge in Kurtöp”. Proceedings of the fortieth annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 201-214.

Mettouchi, Amina and Zygmunt Frajzyngier (2013). “A previously unrecognized typological category: the state distinction in Kabyle (Berber).” Linguistic Typology 17.1: 1–20.

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