LT: Category Check

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Mon Dec 17 13:24:18 UTC 2012

This is an excellent proposal, if by "category check" one means "term 
check". The grammatical terms that we use are often confusing, because 
they have different meanings in different authors or in different 
traditions. Terminological reflection can help remedy this situation.

But I think one should be careful to avoid the impression that the 
grammatical terms we use are anything other than convenient tools used 
by linguists. Categories of languages are language-specific entities, 
and they cannot be "polysemous" or "homonymous".

Here are some further comments on the "Diversity Linguistics Comment" 


On 16/12/2012 18:48, Plank wrote:
> We invite submissions for a new regular feature of LT, CATEGORY CHECK. 
>  The remit is a dual one:  (i) to acquaint the typological and wider 
> public with the more unfamiliar categories from the languages of the 
> world, be they phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, 
> semantic, or pragmatic;  and/or (ii) to explain categories, familiar 
> or unfamiliar, that are polysemous or homonymous or just unclear in 
> current descriptive and theoretical practice.
> Contributions must be theoretically informed and crosslinguistically 
> firmly grounded.   Also, we expect an awareness that comparability 
> across languages and theory-dependence are real issues.
> Although contributions should be concise, and authoritative rather 
> than argumentative in style, they will be more detailed than the 
> typical entry in a linguistic dictionary or encyclopedia.  Without 
> rendering conventional scholarly research redundant, crowdsourcing 
> (e.g., through lingtyp) can be useful to ascertain crosslinguistic 
> distributions.
> Submissions are welcome at any time, and they will be peer-reviewed 
> like all submissions to LT.
> Many previous contributions to LT have effectively served some such 
> purpose:  remember mirativity, interrogative verbs, delocutive verbs, 
> senary base (numeral systems with base 6), the labial flap?  There's 
> lots more that one could think of, and that some languages have 
> thought of.  Categories some of us have been thinking of as candidates 
> for CATEGORY CHECK include these -- and feel free to expand the list:
> allotive [sic;  with epenthetic /t/: "opérateur d'altérité")
> aorist
> associative
> avertive, frustrative, apprehensional
> case assimilation
> collective
> conative
> conjunct/disjunct
> deponent
> diphthong
> endoclitic
> equative
> floating tone
> generic
> gerund
> imprecative/optative
> inchoative, inceptive, ingressive;  terminative, cessative, 
> completive;  continuative
> initial mutation
> interrogative inflection
> inverse
> inverse number marking
> laryngeal
> lenis/fortis
> logophor
> metathesis as a grammatical device
> oblique
> obviative
> polarity
> prospective, proximative;  retrospective
> remote/immediate (past, future, imperative;  hesternal, hodiernal etc.)
> supine
> template, templatic morphology
> tonal case marking
> trills
> Over categories that want checking don't forget the other periodical 
> features of LT, other than regular articles and book reviews:  Debate, 
> Target Articles with Peer Commentary, the Universals Register, 
> Language Profiles, Family Portraits, Area Surveys.  Only the 
> opportunities for Obituaries come uncalled for.
> for the Editorial Board of LT
> Frans Plank
> Frans Plank
> Sprachwissenschaft
> Universität Konstanz
> 78457 Konstanz
> Germany
> Tel  +49 (0)7531 88 2656
> Fax +49 (0)7531 88 4190
> eMail frans.plank at <mailto:frans.plank at>

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
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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