[Lingtyp] wordhood: bonded vs. bound

Dryer, Matthew dryer at buffalo.edu
Mon Dec 4 21:48:04 EST 2017


Now that the Lingtyp list has been quiet for a while on the discussion of words, I want to comment on the following statement of Martin’s.

Linguists are also free to use terms in whatever way they want, but if we want to talk TO each other (not only PAST each other), we need to agree what key terms mean – and for me, this includes "retrodefining" terms.

I disagree with Martin that this is an effective way to get linguists to stop talking past each other. There are thousands of perfectly reasonable comparative concepts and it is completely impractical to invent a new label for each one. For any familiar notion like affix, there are dozens of perfectly reasonable comparative concepts, varying depending on one’s interests and the type of research one is engaged in. For my research that involves coding languages according to grammatical descriptions, I am primarily interested in comparative concepts that can be defined in terms of things one can identify in grammars. Thus Martin’s notion of bound is not a useful comparative concept for my research, since very little information is available in grammars on what words can occur in isolation. I emphasize that this is not criticism of his notion of bound, just that it is not useful for my research. For others, it might be very useful. While Martin may object to disjunctive comparative concepts, it is clear that there are many typologists who have no problem with them and we have to accept the diversity of questions linguists ask and the diversity of ways different linguists view linguistic phenomena. It makes no sense to talk about agreeing what key terms mean. The best way to avoid talking past each other is to recognize that it is always the case that different linguists will use terms in different ways.

What I propose as a more effective way to get linguists to stop talking past each other is to demand that linguists be clear how they are using particular terms, whether it is by citing operational criteria for their use or citing someone else’s use (like “affix in the sense of Haspelmath (2018)”).

Compare Martin’s approach to mine in the context of some young scholar using the term ‘affix’ in a paper. Under Martin’s approach, we have no way of knowing whether the young scholar is using the term in the “agreed upon” sense. Under my approach, if they use the term without explaining what they mean, that is a red flag that it is not clear what they mean.

Martin’s claim might make sense if we were talking about crosslinguistic categories. But since there is no set of natural kinds that comparative concepts correspond to, there is no reason to expect different linguists to use the same comparative concepts. None of us can expect other linguists to use the same labels that we use. But we should expect other linguists to be clear just how they are using particular labels.

Matthew

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> on behalf of Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>>
Date: Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 3:51 PM
To: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] wordhood: bonded vs. bound

Sorry, I meant "some key terms".

Linguists are also free to use terms in whatever way they want, but if we want to talk TO each other (not only PAST each other), we need to agree what key terms mean – and for me, this includes "retrodefining" terms. So when evaluating a claim of the past (e.g. Blake's (1994: 157) claim that there is an "inflectional case hierarchy" as follows: nominative > accusative/ergative > genitive > dative > locative > instrumental), I try to find definitions that are as close as possible to what the earlier author might have meant.

Matthew's new notion of "phonologically weak" form is perfectly fine as a comparative concept, but it's better to use a new term for it, such as "phonofix" (because a large proportion of the forms that are written as ortho-affixes/orthofixes are not phonologically weak).

My new definition of "affix" is a retrodefinition – but I haven't been able to find a retrodefinition of "word" yet, unfortunately.

Martin






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