Typological studies based on original texts

Paul Hopper hopper at CMU.EDU
Mon Apr 3 12:27:58 UTC 2006

Dear Colleagues,

On Bernhard Waechli's posting: Perhaps it isn't so much a question of moving out from clause-level generalizations into discourse, but of problematizing the entire status of clause-level typological studies. For decades now, single-language linguists have, to very different degrees of course, been developing discourse-first approaches to clausal morphosyntax. Typology seems stuck on cross-linguistic studies of local phenomena like argument structure etc. The work on deictics by Himmelmann, Laury, William Hanks and others shows how the entire conception of a deictic form changes when it is approached from a discourse-first perspective--it isn't a question of extending the clause-level facts into discourse, but of showing that the clause-level conclusions were simply inadequate.
Another reason for looking at discourse in typology is that clause-level typology privileges already-identified constructions that are therefore to a large extent already grammaticized. When you scrutinize discourse in any language you are likely to find incipient traces of what are in other languages more robust constructions. So any explanation of how these construction arose (surely a crucial question in typology) must study these traces to see how they arise and why they might take root.
Finally, clause-level typology rarely considers the sort of corpus questions that Greville mentions. These include lexical restrictions on constructions that often don't make their way into grammatical descriptions, and which may give the appearance of more productivity than is actually warranted.

Paul Hopper

> Dear colleagues
> Does anybody know of any typological investigation based mainly or in a 
> substantial part on the material of original texts in a large number of 
> languages (say, 20 or more). There are by now many typological studies
> based on reference grammars, and even some based on questionnaires,
> parallel texts, and story stimuli (Pear stories, Frog stories) but it
> seems to me--I would be very pleased to be wrong--that there are virtually
> no large-scale studies based mainly or exclusively on original texts. One
> study I am aware of is the following:
> Güldemann, Tom. (2001). Quotative constructions in African languages: a 
> synchronic and diachronic survey. Habilitationsschrift Leipzig.
> Unpublished [based on texts in 39 African languages]
> In a way it seems to be strange that there are few such studies, because 
> Greenberg, who was so influential in other respects, made some pilot
> studies in this direction:
> Greenberg, Joseph H. (1960). A quantitative approach to the morphological
>  typology of languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 26:
> 178-194. Greenberg, Joseph H. & O'Sullivan, Chris. (1974). Frequency,
> marking and discourse styles with special reference to substantival
> categories in the Romance languages. Working Papers on Language Universals
> 16: 47-72.
> Connected to the few typological studies based on original texts there is
> a low prestige associated with careful editions of texts (with
> translations and glosses). As a consequence of the intensive typological
> work based on reference grammars, it seems that reference grammars have
> acquired a higher status during the last decades in ever more places (more
> libraries buy them, more linguists write and publish grammars, it becomes
> a possible topic for a Ph.D. thesis in more and more universities). The
> same does not hold for text collections (most libraries do not buy them,
> most universities will not accept an edited text collection as a Ph.D.,
> many linguists never publish their collected texts or only a small
> portion).
> Please, send references to me about typological studies based mainly on
> original texts in more than 20 languages and including at least some
> non-European languages. If there will be any answers I’ll make a survey.
> Bernhard Waelchli Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology 
> Department of Linguistics Deutscher Platz 6 04103 Leipzig Germany
> -- ======================================== Bernhard Waelchli University of
> Berne bernhard.waelchli at isw.unibe.ch
> ------------------------------------------------------ This mail was sent
> through IMP at http://mail.unibe.ch

Paul J. Hopper
Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of the Humanities
Department of English
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA
Tel. 412-683-1109
Fax 412-268-7989

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