Structural analyses of grammatical patterns are often non-unique, as was classically observed by Chao (1934): Different analyses often work equally well, to all appearances. This would not be a problem if linguists did not typically work with the background assumption that there is only one true analysis, which will lead us to deeper insights about Human Language in general. Continue reading
According to George Lakoff, we should frame ourselves, because otherwise we will be framed by others. This is an interesting thought, and indeed, linguists of different orientations constantly frame others and themselves. I have not been happy with many of these framings, and here I’ll make another attempt. Continue reading
The best-known differential-coding scale is the well-known “extended animacy hierarchy” in (1)
(1) 1st/2nd > 3rd > human > animate > inanimate
This scale can be taken as a basis for two well-known generalizations about semantic-role coding, about differential (or split) object marking (DOM, e.g. Bossong 1991; Aissen 2003) and split (or differential) ergative marking (e.g. Dixon 1994). Informally and in a simplified way, they can be stated as in (2) and (3). Continue reading
I recently published a paper in WORD (“Defining the word”), and this made me curious about the fascinating history of this journal. It turns out that it has close links with the Greenberg-Jakobson connection that I have been interested in for quite some time. My long-standing interest in asymmetric coding patterns (e.g. Haspelmath 2021) was kindled by Croft’s (1990) “typological markedness”, which is based on Greenberg (1966), a major contribution to typology that was largely overlooked for a long time (unlike his 1963 paper, which became famous fast). In turn, Joseph Greenberg (1915-2001) was clearly influenced by Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), from whom he adopted the term “markedness”. Continue reading
What exactly is a word? How can we distinguish morphology (= word structure) from syntax? How do we tell phrases apart from complex words, and clitics from affixes? In my 2011 paper (“The indeterminacy of word segmentation”) I said that we don’t know: The various criteria that we typically use do not necessarily give the same results, and it could be that a notion of “word” plays no role in general grammar. Continue reading
[Normally this blog is reserved for strictly scientific issues. This post is an exception, about a situation when politics gets in the way of science.]
Over the last few months, several international conferences in Germany announced that they were forced to boycott participants from Russia because of a requirement imposed by their funders, the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany’s main funding agency for academic research).
It is a widespread stereotype that cliticization is an intermediate stage between free lexeme and affix status, and many overview texts and textbooks present a scale such as the following: Continue reading
Documentary and descriptive linguists often produce dictionaries of understudied languages, and speakers of these languages often show great interest in these dictionaries – typically a lot more interest than in grammatical analyses, which are much less accessible to untrained users. Like other aspects of language documentation, the results should be sustainable, which means that they conform to the FAIR principles for data: the data are findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. (Of course, this applies only to those languages whose speakers are happy to have descriptions of their languages made available to the whole world without restrictions.) Continue reading
The cold January of 1993 was the period during which I worked most intensively on my dissertation (at Freie Universität Berlin), a typological study of indefinite pronouns. I was living in a one-room apartment in the basement of Marthastraße 5 (Berlin Lichterfelde West), and had few distractions – thankfully, no teaching duties, and relatively light duties (during these winter months) in my part-time job as project assistant to EUROTYP project director Ekkehard König (who was also my PhD advisor). Continue reading
Recently I attended a nice conference in Paris on grammaticalization, held in a 17th century mansion with a view over the Seine, and while there were pleasant distractions (such as a memorable visit to the famous café Les Deux Magots on the last day), the conference also helped me reflect a bit about some developments over the last few decades. Continue reading
One of the most basic terms of grammar is the term root, referring to the indivisible content-bearing parts of words, e.g. the first element in dog-s, sunn-y, famili-ar-iz-ation. The term originally comes from Hebrew grammar and has been known to European grammarians since the 16th century – but for a long time, it mostly referred to the original elements of languages and was long associated with etymological speculations (this association is still felt in von der Gabelentz 1891: 188). Continue reading
There are several different situations where an argument that might be expected to be present is not present. They have been given a wide variety of terms: “null arguments”, “omission”, “ellipsis”, “deletion”, “implicit arguments”, and so on. The question is important, because some central grammatical notions such as “transitive verb” depend on this. For example is a sentence such as (1b) an intransitive sentence, or is it just as transitive as (1a) except that the direct object is not realized? And does (2) exhibit “valency-reduction”, because the agent argument was “removed”?
At an inspiring recent conference at the University of Mainz, quite a few talks discussed the notion of serial verb construction (SVC). I had written about SVCs in Haspelmath (2016), so I followed and took part in the discussion with interest. In this post, I share some of the thoughts that came up, in part presented in my talk (the handout is available here). Continue reading