Comparative linguistics does not need “causation” or “grammatical theory”

In a 2017 discussion note (in the Journal LT), Randy LaPolla confesses that he was “shocked” when he heard that some comparative linguists base their comparisons on the phenomena found in languages, not some underlying “causal” level of language (2017: 553). For example, in classifying Mandarin Chinese as an SVO (or A-V-P) language, they make use of the comparative concepts A and P, rather than the notion of Mandarin Topic, which is required to state the rules of Mandarin word order (and is in this sense a causal factor determining word order in the language). Continue reading

Right and wrong in typology: Chappell & Creissels versus Stassen on predpossessive constructions

In an excellent recent paper in Linguistic Typology that I recomment to all linguists, Hilary Chappell and Denis Creissels argue against Leon Stassen’s (2005; 2009) classification of Mandarin Chinese predpossessive constructions as in (1).

(1) 她有书 Tā yŏu shū. [3SG have/exist book] ‘She has a book.’ 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

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

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

Unity of science: Why linguistics faces bigger challenges than the replication crisis

Over the last few years, psychologists and scientists in some other field have been talking (and worrying) a lot about problems of replicability and reproducibility. In psychology, people even talk about a “replication crisis”, and linguists have been thinking about replicability (e.g. of cross-linguistic generalizations, Plank (ed.) 2006) and reproducibility as well (see Berez-Kroeker et al. 2018, a position paper on reproducibility of linguistic data). Continue reading

No progress on differential object marking: Comments and reflections on Kalin (2018)

From my perspective, differential object marking (DOM) – the universal tendency for prominent objects to get special marking – has been well-understood since the 1980s, but even though the explanation was clearly stated in Comrie (1989) (and also formulated clearly in Croft (1988) and Bossong (1991)), many linguists seems to have forgotten about it. Continue reading

Is generative syntax simply a useful descriptive tool?

In the late 20th century, the general view of generative syntax was that it made claims about the innate universal grammar, and that by investigating the principles and parameters of grammar, it did three things simultaneously: (i) explain the possibility of language acquisition despite the poverty of the stimulus, (ii) explain limits on cross-linguistic diversity, and (iii) provide a framework for the elegant description of particular languages (e.g. Baker 2003).

The confidence in the existence of a rich UG and parameters seems to have waned in the 21st century Continue reading

Chomsky now rejects universal grammar (and comments on alien languages)

That our colleague Noam A. Chomsky no longer argues for a rich innate universal grammar (UG), containing many dozens (or even hundreds) of substantive features or categories, is old news. In Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch (2002), the authors say that the domain-specific faculty of language (=FLN) comprises only the property of recursion, nothing more. Continue reading

Morphists and adaptationists in 19th century biology, and in modern linguistics: Some intriguing parallels

Recently I’ve been reading up on various aspects of the history of biology, and I noted some similarities between biology and linguistics that I found quite amazing. Maybe historians of science will dispute my interpretations, but I cannot resist the temptation to draw some parallels between what I call “morphists” (scholars who emphasize pure “form”) and adaptationists in both biology and linguistics. Continue reading