Gideon Goldenberg msgidgol at MSCC.HUJI.AC.IL
Mon Aug 18 23:13:52 UTC 2003

Dear typologists,
Martin has come to fill a gap in the terminology of Aktionsarten by
providing us with readily available terms for distinguishing between
single repetition and many repetitions. Although in English "iterate"
now usually implies one repetition after another, its original sense is
"do again", and "iterative" can consequently be mileading. "Pluractional",
or a similar term, will be clearer and literally close to the Russian
term "mnogokratnyj" used for such a category. "Repetitive" is not an
ideal term, since "repeat" may apply to what is said or uttered or done
again, whether once or "repeatedly", but it can be adopted with some
clarification since it does not markedly imply, like "(re)iterate",
manifold repetitions. The distinct terms, both different from
"frequentative", are necessary, the more so for contrastive and
typologigal linguistics. So also IPA symbols were made to provide
letters or diacritical marks to distinguish between even the closest
sounds or variants to be used in narrow transcriptions or in scientific
investigations, although in broader transcriptions and for the study
of individual languages some differences can be ignored and phonemic
representation can be adopted. I can understand that for a specific term
one might suggest another one as more accurate, clear or elegant (or
already established), but I fail to follow arguments against making
distinct categoried properly reprsented by distinct terms.
                                             Yours,       Gideon.

>Dan Everett wrote:
>>> My conclusion from this state of affairs is that the term "iteratives"
>>> should not be used at all -- once a term has been widely and prominently
>>> used in two different senses, it is usually better to give it up and use
>>> alternatives (e.g. just "pluractional" and "repetitive").
>>> Martin
>> I don't think I agree with Martin on this suggestion. Terms are always
>> going to be used and misused in various ways and to abandon a term
>> because it has become confusing will simply increase confusion
>> exponentially. I suggest that terms be defined when they are used. If
>> one wishes to use the term 'iterative' for an action which occurs only
>> once, that is fine, so long as the linguist defines the term clearly
>> at the outset of his/her study. If there is a contrast in a single
>> language between multiply repeated events vs. simple, single repeats,
>> then different terms should be used and defined.
>> Much the same ambiguity is found already in IPA symbols. A [p] in
>> Piraha, for example, is not a [p] in Portuguese. They are similar, but
>> not identical. I wouldn't be helping my fellow linguists if I failed
>> to note this distinction. But I would also be remiss if I invented
>> another symbol, since the two [p]s both fall under the broad intention
>> of the IPA symbol, [p]. (They are both voiceless bilabial stops, but
>> in Piraha the lips are flatter.)
>> All of our terminology is simply a set of approximations, always in
>> need of fine-tuning on a case-by-case basis. The failure to recognize
>> this and to believe that a single term can be used in a more or less
>> constant sense across languages is one of my pet peeves with
>> typological research in general.
>Dan makes two different points here: One is that one should define ones
>terms in order to avoid confusion; the other one is that every language
>has different categories but one should still use the same terms for
>roughly similar categories.
>But the first point is not in contrast to my earlier point: Of course
>it's fine if one defines one's terms, but if one is not content with
>just being understood, if one has the additional goal of improving
>linguistic terminology (so that at one point in the future, we'll have
>terms that we all understand in roughly the same way), then one should
>proceed as I suggested: simply not use a term that has been widely and
>prominently used in two different senses (because it will be  very
>difficult to get other linguists to agree precisely which of the two
>senses should be abandoned).
>And of course I agree with the second point: We shouldn't use new terms
>for each new language, but we should be aware that terms for
>language-particular categories are language-particular (e.g. by
>capitalizing them, as in the widely known Comrie-Bybee-Croft
>convention). I think typologists are more aware of this than
>non-typologists, so I'm not sure that Dan's remark about "typological
>research in general" is fair. I think that people who just work on a
>particular language are much moire likely to look for "the passive" or
>"the dative" or "the [p]" etc. in this language than people who look at
>lots of languages simultaneously.
>In practice, this means that the Lezgian category should be referred to
>as "Repetitive" (as I did in my grammar), the Zoque category should be
>referred to as "Repetitive" (as Jan Terje Faarlund is doing in his
>grammar), although there are no doubt differences between these two
>categories. And neither category should be called "iterative" or
>"Iterative", because with this term, we do not even approximately know
>what it is supposed to mean.
>Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at eva.mpg.de)
>Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6
>D-04103 Leipzig
>Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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