Almost as well-known as Jespersen’s Cycle is “Givón’s Cycle”, the change from independent personal pronoun to grammatical person marker (= person index) to zero, with subsequent renewal: Continue reading
Category Archives: Articles
Are clitics intermediate between lexemes and affixes in grammaticalization?
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
Sustainable dictionaries of low-resource languages: The “Dictionaria” series and its user-friendliness
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
Grammaticalization two decades later: A personal view
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
A bit less “radical”: Roots as solitary contentful morphs
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
What kinds of “null argument” or “argument ellipsis” phenomena are there? Argument omission as a central question of valency research
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”?
Revisiting the serial verb construction concept – is it relevant for cross-linguistic comparison?
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
Where I went wrong (I): “Iconicity” in basic-derived relations in morphology
In this post and in a few that are planned for the future, I will highlight some things that (I now think) were wrong in my earlier scientific writings. Science is supposed to be self-correcting, and these posts will demonstrate that this can happen also within a scholar’s career (not only when a new generation takes over, as is expressed by “Planck’s principle”: “Science progresses one funeral at a time”). Continue reading
What is “phonological fusion”? A plea for clear concepts such as boundness or welding
Many linguists have the intuition that affixes are “attached” to their bases, and we often informally use metaphorical terms such as “fused”, “cohering” and “tightly linked”. There is nothing to be said against metaphors in technical terminology, but do these expressions have a precise meaning? Since my 2011 paper in which I expressed doubts about the “word” concept, I have been thinking about better ways of capturing key distinctions of morphosyntax terminologically. Even earlier, I questioned the well-known “agglutination vs. flection” distinction (in Haspelmath 2009; originally presented in 1999), which has its roots in racist ideas about the superiority of Indo-European (“Aryan”) languages that were popular in German Romanticism. Continue reading
Non-Structuralist Linguistics (guest post by Randy LaPolla)
Guest post by Randy J. LaPolla (罗仁地), Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai
[The title of this post evokes and is meant as a tribute to Mickey Noonan’s 1999 paper, “Non-Structuralist syntax”. Although Noonan is arguing for a constructionist and integrative approach, he uses the term “syntax”, which doesn’t exist separately in a truly constructionist approach. Many claiming to be doing constructionist studies actually see the constructionist approach as just another form of syntactic analysis, but this is missing the whole non-componential nature of the constructionist approach (see Croft 2021 for discussion). The text was presented as a talk at Nankai University on 2022-05-25 as part of their “Experimental Linguistics” Online Forum, and is to appear (in Chinese) in the journal Experimental Linguistics.] Continue reading
After 40 years in the field, looking back
In early October 1982, exactly forty years ago, I formally entered the field of academic linguistics, by enrolling at the University of Vienna in the programmes of Indo-European linguistics and general linguistics. A lot of things have happened in linguistics (and in my career) since, so in this blogpost, my reflections will be limited to a very selective and very personal perspective. Continue reading
The first clear statement of the differential object marking (DOM) universal: Moravcsik (1978)
One of the most famous phenomena in argument flagging is differential object marking (DOM), or split P flagging: a situation where some P-arguments bear a special accusative flag and others don’t, typically depending on referential prominence (definiteness, animacy, topicality, etc.). The following examples are taken from my 2021 paper on split argument marking: Continue reading
Two senses of “lexicon”: The inventorium and the lexemicon
This blogpost proposes two new terms for what Mark Aronoff (1988) called “idiosyncratic-lexical” items and “categorial-lexical” items: the inventorium is the set of all morphs, constructions and phrasemes of a language (i.e. all idiosyncratic meaningful elements), and the lexemicon is the set of all lexemes of a language, i.e. the members of the major lexical categories noun, verb and adjective. I think that by using these two terms (and one further term, as discussed below), we can avoid confusions that have often been a problem. Continue reading
Marking atypical objects is efficient – does generative grammar challenge this functional explanation of DOM?
Since Caldwell (1856: 271), linguists have thought that the universal tendency of differential object marking (DOM) is explained by the pressure for languages to converge on efficient coding patterns, i.e. to concentrate their coding on the most atypical objects (namely referentially prominent, e.g. animate and definite, object nominals). This explanation was formulated clearly by Bossong (1991) (and also by Comrie 1989), and it seems that more and more evidence for it has been accumulating (e.g. Jäger 2007; Iemmolo 2011; Seržant & Witzlack-Makarevich (eds.) 2018). Even the OT-based formalization by Aissen (2003a) is explicitly functionally based. Continue reading
Defining is never “difficult” – the practical problem is the polysemy of terms
Linguists often begin their papers by noting that the technical terms they use are not immediately clear to everyone, but why is this so? Why don’t we all use our terms with the same meanings, so that we can talk about the substantive issues right away, without clarifying the terminology first? Continue reading