On glossing

Florian Siegl florian.siegl at gmx.net
Tue Oct 13 08:18:08 UTC 2009

It is nice to see that a discussion concerning glossing has finally 
evolved on a general level. Nevertheless I see a danger that this 
discussion is drifting into a direction which I consider problematic.

First, at least initially, the Leipzig Glossing Rules (LGR) were meant 
as a guideline of glossing principles and NOT as a guideline how to 
gloss a given language. This means that glossing is still up to the 
individual and so are the labels he or she finds appropriate. I find 
Riho Grünthal's comment particularly illuminating because he seems to 
subscribe to the idea that LGR is a sanctioned list of labels. /Secondly 
(B), connegative forms of verbs are seldom marked overtly. The Leipzig 
glossing rules, for instance, do not include an abbreviation for 
connegative forms. However, in the Uralic languages the connegative verb 
form often diverges from the verb stem and could therefore be encoded. 
/A similar view was expressed by László Fejes: /In addition to the 
problems mentioned by Riho, LGR lack to suggest glosses for many 
morphological phenomena existing in Uralic languages,e.g. for cases./ 
Again, LGR is not a list of sanctioned labels but a guideline (at least 
as such it was compiled). However, as Kazuto Matsumura has shown, LGR is 
no standard nor widely known even in Europe and Northern America. And to 
be honest, not even within our discipline.

Second, glossing conventions are a matter of analysis. For 'objective 
conjugation' in Forest Enets I'll try to make my point. At least 
synchronically, there is no motivation to separate the suffix indicating 
'number' from VX, even if it can be identified as such historically (-xu 
dual marker, -i plural marker). If one would do so, then one should have 
to postulate an allomorph for objective conjugation VX 1SG concerning 
number e.g. -V for singular and -ń for non-singular. I prefer an 
analysis based on portmanteau morphemes and find Riho Grünthal's 
attempts with > as unnecessary:

ko-u < find-SG.1SG> I found it.
ko-xuń <find-DU.1SG> I found them two
ko-iń <find-PL.1SG> I found them (more than two)

For those in the discipline which prefer a historicizing perspective, 
the glossing for (Forest) Enets is compatible as the number indicator 
precedes VX and glossing represents 'language history'. A label such as 
1SGPL instead of PL.1SG is equally understandable but at least not 
historically motivated .

Third, I subscribe to the view that wherever there is good reason to 
gloss a category, e.g. connegative, this should be done. However, such 
labels must be justified and explained to those who don't know what a 
connegative is. On my behalf, I find conneg as as lable too long and 
clumsy and have decided to use CN instead. And if glossing is done, it 
should be done consistently, especially when we talk about modifying 
LGR. As a matter of fact, already Riho Grünthal's glossing is not 
consistently following LGR. If there is a hyphen in the gloss, there 
must be a hyphen in the original example. If not, this should be 
rendered in a different form:

Dasgo ii oktage olmmoš dahkkojuvvo vanhurskkisin
for NEG.3SG anyone human do.PASS.CN righteous.ESS
‘No one will be made righteous…’

Finally, I am not convinced of László Fejes' idea of installing a 
'glossing committee': /Therefore, it would be useful to form a small 
group which should elaborate a more specific glossing system for Uralic 
languages which all the researchers could follow. This project would be 
similar to the earlier projects for the unification and simplification 
Finno-Ugric transcription in the seventies/. Well, who forms such a 
group and on which principles would members be invited? I think that the 
days of clandestine meetings of a small group of 'chosen ones' should be 
a relict of the past. I would prefer a more democratic solution, perhaps 
a three-day conference with special working groups consisting of 
participants from around the world, including native linguists if 
available. After the conference, a wiki for discussing proposals should 
be set up. Finally, gathered proposals and comments from this wiki could 
be reviewed in a follow-up conference and on the basis of this, some 
possible Uralic Glossing Conventions (UGC) could be proposed. Still, if 
such UGC should be compiled in the future, I hope that these should be 
understood as guidelines and not as a sanctioned list of labels. For the 
time being, a good understanding of LGR is a necessary precondition and 
should be addressed on both B.A. and M.A. level. Then we should start 
thinking about some possible UGC.

Best wishes from Tartu,

Florian Siegl
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