I just saw your recent paper on universals (“General linguistics must be based on universals (or nonconventional aspects of language)”). One immediate reaction I had was that a lot (perhaps most) of the phenomena that keep typologists busy are not universal but rather things that show up in some but not all languages. Just two examples (you’ll find more of them among the WALS chapters): classifiers and tone systems. You could perhaps say that they are universal in a very weak sense, viz. that hey are manifested in languages that have nothing to do with each other. In most cases, we have very vague ideas about the causal mechanisms behind them. What I wonder is whether linguistics isn’t unique among human and social sciences in its focus on universals. Continue reading
Martin Haspelmath: David, thanks for engaging in various discussions on Facebook over the years. Most recently, I had a conversation with Elena Anagnostopoulou about innate principles, and she mentioned parasitic gaps as a convincing example of something that is explained by innate principles. Then I was asked how I would deal with the universal properties of parasitic gaps, and I replied that I wasn’t sure what exactly a parasitic gap is. To test the universality of the phenomenon, I‘d need a definition that applies equally to all languages, using the same criteria. Continue reading
Martin Haspelmath: Elena, it was only last week that I became aware of your 2017 paper on the Person Case Constraint in the Companion to Syntax. (The “PCC” refers to the unacceptability of clitic combinations as in French *il me lui présente ‘he introduces me to her’.) I’d like to thank you for discussing my 2004 paper (“The Ditransitive Person Role Constraint”) in such great detail in that overview article – that’s really wonderful, and exceptional for a generative paper. Continue reading
Martin Haspelmath: Scott, you have been spending a lot of time in Northeastern India over the last years, and you are currently working on a description of Bodo, a Trans-Himalayan language of Northeast India. In a few weeks’ time, you will attend the NEILS conference in Kokrajhar (Bodoland Territorial Region, Assam, India). As an experienced fieldworker, how do you see the relationship between language-particular description and typological comparison? Should each language be described in its own terms? Continue reading
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
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
Martin Haspelmath: Yakov, you have been following theoretical and comparative research in morphosyntax over more than four decades (we first met in Moscow in 1986), and you have been discussing these things with me on and off (for completeness, let me add that you are at the RAS Institute of Linguistics and at Russian State University for the Humanities). Most recently, you gave an initial opinion on my question of what “formal linguistics“ is – see this earlier blogpost. You seemed to agree that “formal linguistics“ is widely understood in the narrower sense of ”an approach that accepts (explicitly or tacitly) Noam Chomsky’s philosophy of language”. Continue reading
José-Luis, I’d like to thank you for writing a detailed comment on one of my recent posts (on differential object marking) on your own blog (Philosophy of Linguistics). I’d like to discuss some of the general issues in more detail.
Thank you very much, Martin, for your interest in my opinions. Continue reading
David, you criticized a blogpost that I wrote a while ago, where I said that Chomsky apparently changed his mind and no longer assumes a rich universal grammar (UG). I didn’t quite understand what you meant in your brief Twitter comments. I have been under the impression that in at least 20th century Principles & Parameters linguistics, the idea was that innate grammatical knowledge explains limits on diversity, and therefore analyses of particular languages should make use of the innate grammatical categories that we have hypothesized to exist (e.g. V, N, A according to Baker (2003), or the various functional heads hypothesized to be innate by Cinque (1999), and the various operations such as head movement and vocabulary insertion that are routinely used by MGG practitioners). Continue reading
Martin Haspelmath: Dan, you have shown an interest in my distinction between comparative concepts and descriptive categories, and you told me that you recently read my new paper “How comparative concepts and linguistic categories are different”. Can you say what you liked about it and how it relates to your own work?
Dan Slobin: I read your paper with great enthusiasm and pleasure. It makes your familiar argument precise, elegant, and, in my opinion, strongly convincing. Continue reading
(The following is a slightly edited conversation that took place on Facebook recently, on Roberta D’Alessandro’s page. There’s also one comment by Roberta. It’s reproduced here with permission.)
Martin Haspelmath (Reacting to a Facebook comment that it’s hard to understand the syntax of human languages): Syntax suddenly starts working if it’s framework-free! But I admit it may not be so cool…
Richard Larson: Same is true for physics! It suddenly “starts working” if you toss out all this silly theorizing about forces, particles and least effort principles! 🙂
Martin Haspelmath: Have you read my paper about framework-free theory, Richard? I’d be curious to hear what you’d say about it. I find the reasoning quite compelling, and I’d like to hear counterarguments. Continue reading