Linguistic terminology is often confusing, and this may also apply to labels for subcommunities. There is a sizable community of “formal linguists”, and the term has been productive over the last few decades, as can be seen in the list below (the year in parentheses gives the starting date for the series). But what is “formal linguistics”? (Don’t all linguists study the forms of languages?) Continue reading
The idea that inflectional features like tense and number often have two contrasting values which are somehow systematically asymmetric goes back to Jakobson (1932; 1957), and his idea that often one value is marked and the other unmarked has been very influential, especially in structural/generative linguistics. The term “markedness” has also been used in many other ways, leading to a lot of confusion, and I recommended doing without it entirely (Haspelmath 2006). Continue reading
Serial verb constructions: A critical assessment of Haspelmath’s interpretation
In my (2011) paper on the indeterminacy of word segmentation, I despaired of the task of distinguishing between “words” and “affixes”, but in the meantime, I have become more optimistic. I am now ready to answer the above question (“What is an affix?”) by a proposal for a definition. 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
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
It sometimes happens that different scholars arrive at similar conclusions more or less independently, and such cases are probably particularly good indications that they are on the right track. It seems that Scott Grimm’s recent study of count-mass, singular-plural and singulative-collective noun pairs (published in 2018) is a good example of this, as its results converge amazingly with a study published by Andres Karjus and myself in 2017. 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
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
Jae Jung Song (1958-2017) published two typology textbooks, one in (2001) and another one earlier this year (which must have been finished just before his death), containing mostly new material. In particular, Chapter 7 of the new book deals with grammatical coding asymmetries and other “typological asymmetries”, as well as “markedness” and explanations in terms of iconicity, economy and frequency. Song makes extensive reference to some of my earlier work (Haspelmath 2006; 2008; Haspelmath et al. 2014), so it may be worth putting together a blogpost with some reactions. Continue reading
Cross-linguistic split flagging patterns (= patterns of case and adpositional marking) have often been described in terms of referential-prominence scales such as those in (1a-c), which have sometimes been put together as the “extended animacy scale” in (2). Continue reading
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
I recently saw an interesting article that asks about biases in evolutionary biology introduced by the fact that it is studied by humans. In linguistics, there is no shortage either of biases introduced by big languages such as Latin and English, and all linguists are at least aware of this possibility. But are we taking the potential problem seriously enough? Continue reading
Everybody knows that subject person indexing (“subject agreement”) derives from earlier personal pronouns which were reduced and came to be used alongside full nominals, which were originally in a special topic position (Givón 1976):Continue reading