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

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

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

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

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 Edith Moravcsik about singulative markers and individualizers

Martin Haspelmath: Edith, we have a long history of interacting, starting with the first course on universals that I attended at the University of Vienna (back in 1982, as I noted here). So I’m really glad that you took an interest in some of my recent work on singulative marking (Haspelmath & Karjus 2017). 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

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