Against “allomorphy“ (and what to replace it with: morph variants  and suppletive morph sets)

Every linguist knows the term “allomorph”, but we cannot agree on what it means. I will argue here that this is a terminological issue, not a substantive issue. Of course, we disagree on many substantive issues (and in particular, on strategic issues), but there is no reason to “disagree” on terminological issues – this is merely a matter of convenience, and just as we agree on the IPA, we could easily agree on morphosyntactic notation/terminology if we wanted. Continue reading

Why flags are bound forms: A discussion with Bill Croft

A flag is a cover term for an adposition or a case-marker, as I explain in my recent 2019 paper on flagging and indexing (in the journal Te Reo, run by the Linguistic Society of New Zealand). All comparative linguists know that in many cases, it is not quite clear whether we should treat an element (such as the Japanese accusative marker o, or the Arabic dative marker li) as an affix and thus a case-marker, or as an adposition (i.e. a form that is not an affix). The term flag serves as a convenient cover term for comparative linguists in situations where it does not matter. Continue reading

The General Category Fallacy: Why grammatical category-assignment does not give us more insights

Describing a language means finding recurring elements in texts: not only recurring phonemes and words, but also recurring constructions – and to describe a construction, one needs to have classes (= categories) of forms that can go into a constructional slot. Everyone knows this, so where is the problem, and what is the General Category Fallacy (described in my 2018 paper, in §1 and §7)? Continue reading

The “typology vs. theory“ mistake: Why “comparative linguistics“ is the best label

There is a misleading but widespread stereotype in linguistics: that “language typology” is somehow opposed to “linguistic theory”. Dryer (2006) has explained why this is wrong, but the stereotype keeps being repeated, so I feel that I need to write again about it. And in the end, I think that the “typology” label has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced by “comparative linguistics” – also because in other disciplines, the label has completely different associations. Continue reading

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

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 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