Why there are no zero markers in grammar

Many grammatical constructions in the world’s languages contain (grammatical) markers, i.e. (generally quite short) forms that cannot stand on their own (i.e. they are bound forms), that cannot be focused (i.e. that cannot be the crucial aspect of an answer to a content question), and that are generally said to (help to) express grammatical meanings. For example, many languages have case-markers, tense markers, relative-clause markers (relativizers), person markers (indexes), number markers, definiteness markers (articles), and so on. Continue reading

Maddieson (2018), Kiparsky (2018), and the nature of phonological comparison

In the recent volume on Phonological typology (Hyman & Plank (eds.) 2018), the editors complain that phonology is not given sufficient attention by morphosyntax-heavy mainstream typology, so it may perhaps be reassuring to note that “phonology is not different” in one respect: The nature of the things to be compared is often unclear. Continue reading

A conversation between Gillian Ramchand and Martin Haspelmath, on different perspectives in linguistics

Martin: Many thanks, Gillian, for contributing a substantive comment on a recent blogpost about describing and comparing languages and framework-free theory. Instead of leaving your comment simply as it, here are some reactions of mine in a dialogue form (and thanks for adding a few more points, marked in italics below). Continue reading

A discussion with Edith Moravcsik about singulative markers and individualizers

Martin Haspelmath: Edith, we have a long history of interacting, starting with the first course on universals that I attended at the University of Vienna (back in 1982, as I noted here). So I’m really glad that you took an interest in some of my recent work on singulative marking (Haspelmath & Karjus 2017). Continue reading

Confusing p-linguistics and g-linguistics: Philosopher Ludlow on “framework-free theory”

This post was prompted by a recent paper by Peter Ludlow (a Michigan/Illinois-based philosopher) on “the philosophy of generative linguistics” (2019), where he targets a 2010 paper of mine for criticism, and (quite flatteringly) pits me against Darwin. But he confuses general linguistic theory with language-particular theory, and as this confusion seems to be more widespread, it probably deserves some discussion. Continue reading

A discussion with John A. Hawkins about frequency explanations of coding asymmetries

Martin Haspelmath: Many thanks, John, for reading my paper “Explaining grammatical coding asymmetries” so carefully as a reviewer for a journal. We have known each other for a long time, so there is no reason not to have this discussion in the open. I have  learned a lot from your three books (1994; 2004; 2014), and your work has been a constant inspiration. So what do you think about the theory of frequency-induced coding efficiency that I summarize in that paper? Continue reading

Explaining special patient and agent marking: Is there a serious challenge to the theory of efficient coding? (A discussion of Chappell & Verstraete 2019)

Many languages have special patient marking when the patient is referentially prominent (definite, animate, or a personal pronoun), and special agent marking when the agent is non-prominent. Typologists have been aware of this since the 1970s (e.g. Silverstein 1976; Moravcsik 1978), and the first type of phenomenon (typically called differential object marking, or DOM) is very widely known, as it occurs in well-known languages such as Spanish, Russian and Hindi-Urdu. Continue reading

Ist gendern bio?

von Frans Plank, Universität Konstanz

[This post continues the discussion of gender equality in German on this blog, begun by M. Haspelmath and J. Bayer]

Wie jetzt bloß richtig gendern? – als ob sonst nichts los wäre, das ist Thema Nr. 1 im deutschen Blätterwald.  Allein die NZZ tritt auf die Bremse, in Sorge, was dem Idiom der Eidgenossen da womöglich auch bald noch drohe.  Unter Vermischtes aus dem Ausland lässt sie einen Emeritus aus Konstanz (für Sprachbiologie?) resigniert raten, es doch bitte bleiben zu lassen:  alle Liebesmüh um die Gender-gerechte Nachbesserung der deutschen Sprache sei sowieso vergeblich, weil gegen die Natur, eben nicht bio. Continue reading

Against traditional grammar – and for normal science in linguistics

I was recently invited to give a talk for the IGRA doctoral programme during a retreat workshop in beautiful Hohenstein-Ernstthal. I am grateful to the organizers (Gereon Müller and Jochen Trommer) for the talk invitation, and to the participants for a very good discussion after the talk. Here is the gist of what I said. Continue reading

Ist die Gender-Grammatik biologisch vorherbestimmt? Eine Klarstellung

von Josef Bayer, Universität Konstanz

In einer Antwort auf meinen Artikel in der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung vom 11. April 2019 fragt Martin Haspelmath Ist die Gender Grammatik biologisch vorbestimmt? und beantwortet die Frage anschließen negativ. Zwar hätten Menschen die biologischen Voraussetzungen für Sprache, aber die “grammatischen Regeln” seien nicht Teil der Biologie. Weil sie über die Sprachen hinweg variieren, müssen sie, so Haspelmaths Schlussfolgerung, kulturell sein. Continue reading

Ist die Gender-Grammatik biologisch vorherbestimmt? Eine Antwort auf Josef Bayer

[This post is in German, because it is about a topic of German grammar that is currently being hotly discussed in various circles. – Update: There is now also a reply by Josef Bayer.]]

Ist es aus Gründen der Gender-Gerechtigkeit besser, im Deutschen von “Geflüchteten” und “Besuchenden” zu sprechen (statt von “Flüchtlingen” und “Besuchern”)? Soll man Gendersternchen oder andere Formen der Genus-Neutralisierung verwenden? Über diese Fragen wird seit den 1980er Jahren diskutiert, und in letzter Zeit hat sich die Diskussion verschärft, nachdem 2018  der Rechtschreibrat die Empfehlung des Gendersterns diskutiert hat, Continue reading

What is the difference between a clause and a sentence?

“Clause” and “sentence” are two terms that linguists use all the time, but they have a hard time explaining what they mean. I recently posted a question about this on Facebook, and my feeling was confirmed that there is a lot of uncertainty about these two terms. They are almost never discussed, but I think that it’s worth attempting to use precise terminology in linguistics, so here are some thoughts and proposals (also about the term main clause, which also causes confusion). Continue reading