[Lingtyp] terminology

Johann-Mattis List mattis.list at lingulist.de
Thu Jul 26 05:52:45 EDT 2018


I may annoy people getting back to my claim that we need to work on
descriptive terminology, but I feel that this is essential, especially
given the previous emails by Daniel, Paolo, and Hartmut. As languages
are often very different and we have problems in establishing
comparability across them, we tend to lead many discussions about the
"true" phenomena we are searching for, which often leads to discussions
of whether a certain category (like, e.g., the "mirativity" in some TB
languages) exists at all. If we manage to find some good comparative
concepts along with consistent terminology of a descriptive nature to
which we could then link and analyze the phenomena in the individual
languages, without having to come up with a complete understanding of
the situation first.

Take again "colexification" (whether you like co-terms or not): People
may argue that the phenomenon of one lexeme having multiple meanings
comes from essentially ONLY two processes: phonemic merger and semantic
change. Then people might ask what happens with borrowings that may
introduce new "homophones" (but also polysemy, like "Maus" in German
denoting also the computer mouse), and we'd have problems in assigning
them to one of the two acknowledged phenomena. We could have a new
debate on the terminology, adding new explanative terms, but it might be
more efficient to study the phenomenon of "colexification" beforehand
and link all these explanative terms to it.

I may sound simple-minded, but it would be so much easier to have
descriptive terms for well-acknowledged phenomena being mentioned along
with all explanative discussions around the details. However, I have the
impression that most of our discussion is only about the details,
ignoring what could be easily even called an easy-to-describe "fact".

There's a common practice in programming and mathematics to collect
"problems" in the field. E.g., problems of graph theory, problems of
algebra, etc. People know that these may be extremely hard to resolve,
maybe even impossible, but they agree on the nature of the problem, and
then try to build up solutions for them, which also produce new
terminology, etc. In linguistics, I have the impression that we often
feel so overwhelmed by the feeling of how impossible it is to fully
describe something in explanatory terms, that we forget to even state
what the problem is, that we even forget to *describe* what we want to
explain. We can definitely learn from our colleagues in other branches
of science here in being a bit more pragmatic, less obsessed with the
detail (at least at first), but also more systematic in applying our
methods and techniques.

On 2018-07-26 11:25, Hartmut Haberland wrote:
> I agree with Daniel and Paolo.
> 
>  
> 
> I have recently been involved in a discussion with several people about
> the difference between ideograms and logograms which seems to be hard to
> grasp for some. During that discussion it dawned upon me that the
> interesting thing is not so much terminology, but understanding the
> difference:
> 
>  
> 
> There are pictograms like ‘no smoking’, figures in a timetable or most
> emojis which express a concept which is language-independent and can be
> expressed differently in different languages.
> 
> A sign like 五can be read differently in different languages  (ng^5 in
> Cantonese, wǔ in Putonghua, go or itsu in Japanese) but also always also
> conveys phonetic information, and so it stands for a word, not only for
> a meaning. Therefore Japanese 島can be used to write shima ’island’ and
> (tōin compound loans from Chinese), but not the English loan airando
> ‘island’, although it has the same meaning.
> 
>  
> 
> As soon as this is made clear, a consistent terminology may be welcome
> but this is secondary to the understanding of the difference which the
> terminology only reflects but does not establish.
> 
>  
> 
> Hartmut
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
> *Hartmut Haberland*
> Professor emeritus
> 
> RUC
> 
> *Roskilde University*
> Department of Communication and Arts
> 
> Universitetsvej 1
> DK-4000 Roskilde
> Telephone: +45 46742841
> 
>  
> 
> *Fra:*Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> *På vegne af
> *paolo Ramat
> *Sendt:* 26. juli 2018 10:32
> *Til:* Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com>
> *Cc:* list, typology <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>
> *Emne:* Re: [Lingtyp] terminology
> 
>  
> 
> i totally agree with Daniel's sound words; especially with his third
> para "The orly thing I am sure about. ..."
> 
> Is the ongoing discussion really n ecessary ? ....
> 
>  
> 
> Best
> 
> Paolo 
> 
>  
> 
> Il Gio 26 Lug 2018 06:48 Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com
> <mailto:djross3 at gmail.com>> ha scritto:
> 
>     Thank you for bringing the topic up for discussion, Martin.
> 
>      
> 
>     I think this is a very important but complex issue, and I'm not
>     quite sure how I feel about it, even though I also have some strong
>     feelings. I spend my days going through grammars and trying to
>     decide if languages "have" some feature. Of course I can simply look
>     at the data myself and use a comparative concept to do that, but it
>     is glaringly obvious how much terminology differs from author to
>     author-- whether it is slightly (or very) different usage of the
>     same term(s), or referring to similar phenomena with different
>     terms. So it is a personal frustration just how little consistency
>     there is in the field.
> 
>      
> 
>     I'm unsure about prescribing any standard usage though, partly
>     because I wouldn't want to hinder others from describing things
>     clearly or in novel ways, and most importantly because it doesn't
>     seem like we generally agree about much of anything at all, so I'm
>     not sure who'd be put in charge of naming things, and much less who
>     would follow those conventions. It sounds like a great idea that
>     wouldn't work well.
> 
>      
> 
>     If there is a way to organize a workshop to discuss these topics, I
>     think that could be helpful, but I think it would be important to
>     attempt to reach some sort of consensus rather than just sharing
>     very different views-- without the right design for the workshop, I
>     imagine it would just become the latter. And until there is some way
>     to imagine what that consensus could be (including how to agree to
>     disagree), I'm not sure whether the workshop could still be productive.
> 
>      
> 
>     The only thing I am sure about is that everyone should be very clear
>     about the definitions they are using when they use them. Either cite
>     another work, or propose your own definition, but make it explicit.
>     Even that very basic step is often lacking (admittedly partly
>     because we are often referring to older sources for comparative work).
> 
>      
> 
>     Just to supply this conversation with a particular example for
>     discussion, here is a paragraph from a draft paper of mine about
>     Associated Motion (AM) and Directional (DIR) morphology on the verb:
> 
>      
> 
>     "Descriptive linguistics has recognized motion-related morphemes for
>     a long time, albeit through the lenses of a wide array of often
>     confusing and even contradictory terminology that may, in part,
>     explain why a broad cross-linguistic typology has not yet been
>     established. Browsing through descriptive grammars and other
>     publications, the range of terminology used by different linguists
>     to describe AM would be impressive if it were not for the
>     inconsistency and missed opportunity for insights from comparative
>     work. Trends mostly fall into regional traditions but may be
>     inconsistent even there. Most problematically, terminology for AM
>     and DIR is rarely distinguished, the same terms often being used for
>     both, or one term ambiguously used to describe a particular instance
>     in a language that might be either. In some cases, AM morphemes have
>     been thrown into the grab bag of /aspect/ (e.g., Talmy 1985) or
>     other existing categories, but much of the time terms that might
>     more appropriately be used for DIR, including /directionals/, have
>     been used for AM. In Africa, the terms /itive///andative/ (‘going’
>     from Latin roots) and /ventive///venitive/ (‘coming’) have gained
>     some traditional status (Bourdin 2005), alongside /centrifugal/
>     (‘outward’) and /centripetal/ (‘inward’) especially for Chadic
>     languages (Frajzyngier 1987). In North America, the terms
>     /translocative/ (‘away’) and /cislocative/ (‘toward’) are in
>     relatively common usage (Mithun 1999). These pairs all have the same
>     significance, just representing different descriptive traditions.
>     Indeed, directionally-oriented verb markers often come in pairs
>     contrasting away vs. toward, with that contrast often emphasized
>     over their shared function of marking AM and/or DIR. Elsewhere the
>     terms from one of those descriptive traditions may be adopted by
>     individual researchers, as well as idiosyncratic terms."
> 
>     Notice that these terms are often used without a clear definition,
>     as shown by the fact that they often are not specified as to
>     describing AM or DIR or both, so even setting aside the
>     terminological variation, as a reader of the descriptions I'm
>     sometimes left without enough information to understand what is
>     going on empirically.
> 
>     (Note: AM adds a motion (sub)event to a non-motion verb, e.g., "/go
>     and/ do", whereas DIR specifies the path of a lexical motion verb,
>     e.g. "run /away/".)
> 
>      
> 
>     The important point is that these terms have the same (sometimes
>     vague) range of interpretations, so there is no empirical or
>     definitional issue regarding their usage. (In some specific
>     instances there may be a narrower usage where some might consider
>     one term better than another, but not across the full range of usage
>     for any of them.) So this is a relatively extreme but also
>     easy-to-solve example, if of course we could all agree on a single
>     set of terms.
> 
>      
> 
>     Philosophically, I have to say that it is somewhat disturbing just
>     how little we are confident and consistent about in linguistic
>     description (not to mention explanation). If we want to be taken
>     seriously as a science, then I think this is as important an area as
>     any for us to work on. Imagine if, for example, physics, were as
>     terminologically inconsistent as linguistics. Recent discussions on
>     this list, for example have shown that typologists approach
>     languages with wildly different assumptions (and sometimes different
>     goals), and that is partly why there is so much variation in
>     terminology. But I hope that, one way or another, some of this gets
>     sorted out in the future. There are also some theoretical issues
>     that necessarily get bundled up with some of these terminological
>     issues, so one suggestion I would have for investigation on the
>     topic would be to determine the range of topics that are NOT
>     (especially) controversial and might work as a common ground for
>     building terminology and other standards in the field. What topics,
>     if any, do 90% of typologists or linguists in general agree about
>     (and why)? I'd genuinely be fascinated to read the results of that
>     study. If there is no consensus (or cannot be) then what does that
>     say about the field?
> 
>      
> 
>     Daniel
> 
>      
> 
>     On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 4:57 PM, Mark Post <mark.post at sydney.edu.au
>     <mailto:mark.post at sydney.edu.au>> wrote:
> 
>         Surely the most difficult issue regarding standardization of
>         terminology in linguistics is not standardization of terminology
>         per se, but rather agreement on the nature of the denotata? In
>         case any committees or workshops are interested in adjudicating
>         the boundaries of denotata - in which case, best of luck! - I
>         see little point in attempting to adjudicate among terms. 
> 
>          
> 
>         [Note that this is distinct from List's point regarding the
>         descriptive or explanatory content of any given term.]
> 
>          
> 
>         Mark
> 
>          
> 
>         ------ Original Message ------
> 
>         From: "Gontzal Aldai" <gontzal.aldai at gmail.com
>         <mailto:gontzal.aldai at gmail.com>>
> 
>         To: "Martin Haspelmath" <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
>         <mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>>
> 
>         Cc: "LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org
>         <mailto:LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>"
>         <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org
>         <mailto:LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
> 
>         Sent: 25/07/2018 9:25:06 PM
> 
>         Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] terminology
> 
>          
> 
>              
> 
>             I do think it could be a good idea to try and create a
>             committee (say, within the ALT or the typological community)
>             which would make proposals or "suggestions" on terminology.  
> 
>              
> 
>             G.
> 
>              
> 
>              
> 
>              
> 
>             2018-07-25 12:59 GMT+02:00 Martin Haspelmath
>             <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de <mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>>:
> 
>                 On 25.07.18 11:51, David Gil wrote:
> 
>                     But it's the nature of the scientific enterprise
>                     that one person's hair-splitting is another person's
>                     crucial distinction.  Ultimately, nobody's trying
>                     (or at least should be trying) to impose their
>                     terminology on anybody else; rather, what we should
>                     be doing is using reasoned argumentation to convince
>                     other people that one's proposed terminology is
>                     better, and to lead by example.
> 
> 
>                 Well, I guess one could find me guilty of "trying to
>                 impose my terminology" when I suggested that one should
>                 talk about agent/source coexpression (rather than
>                 "polysemy").
> 
>                 Unlike other fields, linguists have no tradition of
>                 codifying agreed terminology, so there is no way in
>                 which a committee could impose a term on anyone. And
>                 David's parenthetical remark ("no one should be trying")
>                 suggests that linguists would not be happy to have such
>                 authoritative bodies.
> 
>                 But then how do we improve the terminological situation?
>                 I mean cases where we all agree that there are
>                 conceptual distinctions that are worth making, but we
>                 don't have a way of agreeing on a term?
> 
>                 How do we "work harder" to address Mattis's desideratum:?
> 
>                 On 22.07.18, Mattis List wrote:
> 
>                     We should all work harder in establishing a purely
>                     descriptive terminology in our field. Explanatory
>                     terminology should be restricted to the situations
>                     where we really know what happened.
> 
> 
>                 There have never even been conference workshops or
>                 plenary talks about linguistic terminology, as far as I
>                 know. We seem to think that the terminology will somehow
>                 sort itself out once we gain more knowledge.
> 
>                 And when someone makes a proposal for a new term, people
>                 sometimes start objecting without proposing better
>                 solutions (I realize that "coexpression" does not
>                 immediately please everyone, but I have not heard an
>                 alternative suggestion).
> 
>                 There seems to be a general reluctance to accept new
>                 terms, maybe simply because new words often sound
>                 strange when one first encounters them. I recently
>                 published a paper about "adpossessive constructions"
>                 (specifically about alienability contrasts, in open
>                 access, see
>                 https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/zfsw.2017.36.issue-2/zfs-2017-0009/zfs-2017-0009.xml
>                 <https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/xBISCjZrzqHpEmL2S7A4u1?domain=degruyter.com>).
> 
>                 I first submitted the paper to "Glossa", where one
>                 reviewer objected to the neologism "adpossessive" (short
>                 for "adnominal possessive"), as well as other neologisms
>                 found in the paper. There were no substantive objections
>                 – s/he simply didn't see the need for these new terms. I
>                 refused to address this "reviewer's concern" because I
>                 find it important to enrich our terminology, and in the
>                 end the paper was rejected by "Glossa" because of my
>                 stubbornness.
> 
>                 So I think it's really nice that LINGTYP is engaging in
>                 this kind of discussion of terminology, and maybe ALT
>                 might consider organizing a workshop or discussion of
>                 this topic at some point. After all, most ALT members
>                 are not committed to finding universal categories, so
>                 one could try to have some kind of standard set of terms
>                 even before solving all our problems (somewhat like the
>                 IPA, which is a standard set of symbols that we agree on
>                 even though we have not solved all issues in phonology,
>                 see https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1000
>                 <https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/aUO9C0YZWVF6vBOKiDcnWe?domain=dlc.hypotheses.org>).
> 
>                 Martin
> 
> 
>                 -- 
> 
>                 Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
>                 <mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)
> 
>                 Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
> 
>                 Kahlaische Strasse 10     
> 
>                 D-07745 Jena 
> 
>                 &
> 
>                 Leipzig University
> 
>                 IPF 141199
> 
>                 Nikolaistrasse 6-10
> 
>                 D-04109 Leipzig   
> 
>                  
> 
>                  
> 
>                  
> 
>                  
> 
>                  
> 
> 
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> 
> 
>              
> 
>             -- 
> 
>             ******************************************************
>             Dr. Gontzal Aldai
>             Associate Professor 
> 
>             Department of Linguistics and Basque Studies
>             University of the Basque Country
>             Paseo de la Universidad, 5
>             01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain
>             gontzal.alday at ehu.es <mailto:gontzal.alday at ehu.es>
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>             *******************************************************
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