14.1056, Review: Typology/Croft (2003)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1056. Wed Apr 9 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1056, Review: Typology/Croft (2003)

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Date:  Wed, 09 Apr 2003 00:06:13 +0000
From:  Ferdinand de Haan <fdehaan at email.arizona.edu>
Subject:  Typology and Universals

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Wed, 09 Apr 2003 00:06:13 +0000
From:  Ferdinand de Haan <fdehaan at email.arizona.edu>
Subject:  Typology and Universals

Croft, William (2003) Typology and Universals, 2nd ed., Cambridge
University Press.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2395.html

Ferdinand de Haan, University of Arizona

This book is the second edition of a book that first appeared in 1990.
Compared to the first edition many changes were made, reflecting the
ever evolving field of typology. The first edition of the book was
already very good, but the second edition is even better. The aim of
the book is not to provide an analysis of selected topics in typology
(such as Comrie 1989), but is meant as an introduction to how to think
like a typologist and how to formulate a convincing typological
analysis. It is written with admirable clarity and each topic is
introduced with a simple example as a starting point and Croft gives
successively deeper and deeper explanations for a given phenomenon. In
that, he succeeds very well.


Chapter 1 ('Introduction') is, almost inevitably, an introduction to
the field of typology, which is defined as an empirical-scientific
approach to the study of language. It is compared to formal
approaches. The main difference between typology and formal approaches
is the fact that typology aims to uncover universals through
cross-linguistic research.  However, typology has in common with the
formal approaches the fact that all seek to answer the question: What
is a possible language? The reader is introduced to typology through a
cross-linguistic comparison of the use of articles in English and
French. The question that arises is: how can we compare categories
cross-linguistically, for instance the category 'subject' or 'relative
clause'? Quite often one has to apply external criteria, such as
semantic criteria, in order to be able to do cross-linguistic
research. The chapter concludes with a section on sampling problems (a
typological study requires an adequate sample of the world's
languages), and a section on the reliability of data sources.

Chapter 2 ('Typological classification') concerns the various
linguistic types (or strategies) for a given parameter. This is
exemplified with the example of possession constructions. For this
parameter, a number of strategies are given, ranging from the simplest
strategy (juxtaposition of possessum and possessor) to highly
grammaticalized strategies (possession marked with clitics). Languages
may have more than one way of marking a given parameter, which leads
to the statement that it is not languages that are classified, but
linguistic types. If a language has more than one type, how can one
determine which type (if any) is the basic one? Croft gives a number
of criteria; a type is less basic if it (a) is restricted to a
grammatical subclass, (b) pragmatically specialized, (c) structurally
unusual (i.e., more complex), or (d) less frequently found in
texts. From these linguistic types, complex language universals can be
constructed. The chapter concludes with a section on morphological
typology, which is essentially a historical overview on morphological
classification, starting with Schlegel's early 19th century

We now come to the meat of the book. Chapter 3 ('Implicational
universals and competing motivations') discusses the nature of
typological universals.  The basic problem is how to account for the
language types that actually exist. The answer is: with
universals. There are two types of universals, the unrestricted
universal (''all languages have property X''), and the implicational
universal (''if a language has property X, it will also have property
Y''). There is also a discussion on the logical structure of
implicational universals. A universal like the one above predicts that
one linguistic type should not occur, namely a language that has
property X, but not property Y, because that is excluded on logical
grounds. It is sometimes thought that the discovery of universals is
the goal of typology, but in fact they are only a necessary
prerequisite for deeper explanations. The next section looks at
competing motivations for universals. Sometimes the logically excluded
type does occur, but in just a very few languages. This can be
explained by recognizing that possibly more than one factor (or
''motivation'' plays a role). Two concepts are introduced, that of
''dominance'' and that of ''harmony''. These are hard concepts to get
across but Croft manages very well. The dominant type occurs in the
implicans of an implicational universal, while harmony links two
values of different parameters if these two only occur with each other
(thus in an implicational universal ''if X then Y'' the values X and Y
are harmonic, as are the values ~X and ~Y). The existence of competing
motivations such as dominance and harmony can explain why some
linguistic types do exist, even though they seem to be excluded by the
implicational universal. Thus, all types that are partially motivated
should exist, but the proportion of attested types should reflect the
degree of motivation for a given type.

The next section looks at explanations for dominance and
harmony. Examined are Hawkins' (1983) Heaviness parameter which states
that heavier modifiers (such as relative clauses) tend to follow the
modified word (in this case the noun), while lighter modifiers such as
demonstratives tend to precede it.  This can be explained through ease
of parsing. For harmony Hawkins' (1994) Early Immediate Constituents
or Dryer's (1992) Branching Direction Theory are discussed. The last
section deals with ways in which typology can help test hypotheses
from generative approaches with a discussion on typological approaches
to the pro-drop parameter (see Gilligan 1987).

Chapter 4 ('Grammatical categories: typological markedness, economy
and iconicity') discusses the notion of typological markedness, an
explanation for the asymmetrical properties of otherwise equal
linguistic elements. In the category of number marking, 'plural' is
marked typologically with respect to 'singular' because whenever the
singular is overtly marked, the plural is overtly marked as well. This
is the principle of 'structural coding' which states that the marked
value of a category has at least as many morphemes as the unmarked
value. A problem is that it is not always easy to count morphemes (how
to count portmanteau morphemes, for instance?)  and so markedness is
often assessed based on the principle of 'behavioral potential' which
is looked at according to either inflectional potential (the marked
value has fewer or equal formal distinctions as the unmarked one) or
distributional potential (the marked value occurs in fewer
environments than the marked value). Explanations for markedness are
given, such as 'economy' (expressions should be minimized wherever
possible) and 'iconicity' (the structure of language mirrors the
structure of experience).  These are competing motivations and are
subject to the observations of chapter 3. Even deeper explanations are
searched for such as 'frequency', a marked value occurs less
frequently than the corresponding unmarked value.

Chapter 5 ('Grammatical hierarchies and the semantic map model')
discusses grammatical hierarchies, or chains of implicational
universals. Hierarchies discussed are the sonority hierarchy, animacy
hierarchy, person hierarchy, definiteness hierarchy and the
referentiality hierarchy. An example from the realm of word order is
Hawkins' (1983) Prepositional Noun Modifier Hierarchy which goes: NNum
> NDem > NA > NG > NRel. The hierarchy is read as follows: if a
language has a given word order on the hierarchy, it will also have
the word orders to the right of this word order on the hierarchy. Such
hierarchies may be explained by appealing to a semantic map, which
maps the language-specific distribution of a category onto the
conceptual space. This language-specific distribution occupies a
continuous region on the map. An example is Haspelmath's (1997)
semantic map for Indefinite Pronouns or Keenan and Comrie's (1977)
Accessibility Hierarchy.

Chapter 6 ('Prototypes and interaction of typological patterns')
introduces the notion of prototype analysis in typology. Quite often
the precise nature of a hierarchy or a markedness relation depends on
the precise category surveyed, because many factors play a role at the
same time. For instance, the person hierarchy depends on what is
studied, since the hierarchy differs in the case of politeness (2 < 3
< 1) and number (1 < 2 < 3). The notion of 'prototype' takes a number
of such cases and fits them into an overall cluster with core and
peripheral elements. The most famous prototype is the transitivity
analysis of Hopper and Thompson (1980).

Chapter 7 ('Syntactic argumentation and syntactic structure in
typology') applies typological solutions to syntactic problems. The
way distributional analysis is applied in typology is compared to
applications in other linguistic theories. One such problem is the
notion of 'subject' as a cross-linguistic category. Distributional
facts of English are not adequate in determining (or even assuming)
the validity of a universal notion 'subject'. One answer to this and
similar problems is to appeal to hierarchies and to the semantic map
model. This chapter pulls together a lot of theoretical strands from
the previous couple of chapters and it is by far the most difficult
one in terms of topics discussed. Nevertheless, the argumentation is
exceptionally clear.

Chapter 8 ('Diachronic typology') examines the role of typology in
diachronic research. Languages can and do change their word order
patterns and it is the job of typology to account for the way such
changes occur and to constrain any attested changes somehow. From
attested states typologists derive processes that drive language
change (for instance, the change from a demonstrative to a definite
article) and at the same time try to explain attestations of word
order patterns that are not allowed by implicational universals. A
large section of the chapter introduces the reader to the framework of
grammaticalization. This topic, of all the ones in the book, is the
one that is currently most hotly debated. Grammaticalization is driven
by the notion of 'unidirectionality', or the notion that the change in
a grammatical category occurs one way only. Unidirectionality accounts
have been posited for syntactic and semantic features. It is as yet by
no means an accepted part of linguistic diachronic theory since there
are counterexamples to unidirectional processes. The unresolved
problem is how to treat these exceptions. See Newmeyer (1998),
Haspelmath (1999), and the papers in Campbell (2001), among others,
for a discussion of the current state of the art in

Chapter 9 ('Typology as an approach to language'), is a somewhat
philosophical chapter to conclude the book. It revisits the questions
posed in the first chapter and ties everything together in light of
the previous chapters.


This book is to be used as a textbook and so the appropriate question
here is: has the book met its objectives? The answer is a resounding
yes. It complements existing works, most notably Comrie (1989), in
that it places emphasis on how to do typological research. The book
introduces the core concepts and uses them to gradually gain a deeper
understanding of how to construct a meaningful typological
analysis. In addition, it is extremely well written and there are
hardly any problems of clarity. An added bonus is the selection of
typology problems which are on Croft's website and are meant to be
done in conjunction with the book (and they are not easy!). It is hard
to find faults with the book. The only wish I would have is to add an
appendix containing the universals of Greenberg (1966) and Hawkins
(1983), because Croft refers to them quite often. They are of course
widely available elsewhere, but since this is a textbook its inclusion
would have been appropriate. Still, this is hardly a fault.

There are a number of textbooks on typology such as Whaley (1997) and
Song (2001), alongside older ones such as Mallinson and Blake
(1981). The choice of textbook is a highly individualized one and
depends largely on personality, audience and goal. Nevertheless, this
book would be an excellent source for most people. Intuitively, I feel
it would be most appropriate in graduate courses on typology, because
of the level of argumentation.

You may even give a copy to your formalist friends as an example of
solid typologist's thinking.


Campbell, Lyle, ed. (2001). Grammaticalization, a critical assessment.
Special issue of Language Sciences (vol 23.2-3).

Comrie, Bernard (1989). Language Universals and Linguistic Theory,
second edition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Dryer, Matthew (1992). The Greenbergian word order
correlations. Language 68, 81-138.

Gilligan, Gary (1987). A cross-linguistic approach to the pro-drop
parameter. Ph.D. thesis, University of Southern California.

Greenberg, Joseph (1966). Some universals of grammar, with particular
reference to the order of meaningful elements. In Greenberg (ed.)
Universals of Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 73-113.

Haspelmath, Martin (1997). Indefinite Pronouns. Oxford: OUP.

Haspelmath, Martin (1999). Why is grammaticalization irreversible?
Linguistics 37, 1043-68.

Hawkins, John A. (1983). Word Order Universals. New York, Academic

Hawkins, John A. (1994) A performance theory of word order and
constituency.  Cambridge: CUP.

Mallinson, Graham, Barry Blake (1981). Language typology. Amsterdam:
North Holland.

Newmeyer, Frederick (1998). Language form and language function.
Cambridge,MA: MIT Press.

Song, Jae Jung (2001). Linguistic Typology: Morphology and
Syntax. London: Pearson.

Whaley, Lindsay (1997). Introduction to Typology: The Unity and
Diversity of Language. Sage Publications.


Ferdinand de Haan is adjunct lecturer in the Department of Linguistics
of the University of Arizona. His main interests include the
typological study of modality and evidentiality, plus their
interaction with other areas of grammar. He is also interested in
corpus and computational linguistics.


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