Differential-coding scales and the Actionality Hierarchy (comments on Becker & Malchukov 2022)

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

The journal WORD, and Greenberg and Jakobson in New York (1948-49)

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

From radical critique to constructive proposal: “Defining the word” (2023)

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

Boycotting our colleagues from Russia: An atmosphere of fear in German academia?

[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).
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