"simple juxtaposition"

Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Tue Nov 25 17:21:03 UTC 2008

Dear Martin,
sure, from a heuristic point of view your arguments make sense. However, 
we should be aware of the fact that segmental marking is just one side 
of the story: If we neglect possible (!) prosodic features,we are at 
risk to ascribe functional values to segmental items that are ultimately 
due to e.g. prosodics. In my humble opinion, linguistic expressions are 
'gestalts', and cutting off segments from these gestalts always 
conditions a loss of information (properties of the gestalt). For 
instance, a feather always is a feather of a special kind of bird. If we 
reduce our analysis to the properties of the feather itself without 
referring to the whole gestalt of the bird and the interaction of (say) 
feather and wing dynamics, we probably cannot describe (and explain!) 
the properties of the feather coherently. In other words: Segmental 
marking is a 'part of the whole' and isolating it from the whole means 
to deprive it from its 'gestalting' properties. The fact that we have 
not (yet) available 'Papuan apples' should motivate us to be cautious 
with respect to the segmental features (Papuan oranges) we are 
confronted with and to describe their functional values (derived from 
segmental analysis) with a marked '*caveat*' in our heads....
Best wishes,

Martin Haspelmath schrieb:
> I agree with Claude that prosody can be compared across languages, and 
> that typologists working on syntax should make more and more use of 
> phonetic information. But I would not say that gathering information 
> in a phonetics lab is "easy".
> Easy typology consists in work that is based on reference grammars, 
> and all large-scale typological work so far has been of the "easy" 
> kind, for reasons of limited funding.
> What I'm worried about is the tendency to say that well-studied 
> languages (like, say, Swedish) are different from poorly studied 
> languages (like, say, Papuan Malay) because we happen to know that 
> Swedish has a particular prosodic property, while we know virtually 
> nothing about the prosody of Papuan Malay.
> Limiting ourselves to segmental information at least makes sure that 
> we are not comparing (Swedish) apples with (Papuan) oranges, because 
> we know enough about segmental marking in both languages and how to 
> compare it.
> Martin


*Prof. Dr. Wolfgang 
Schulze    *                                                               


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<mailto:Wolfgang.Schulze at lmu.de>                                      

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<mailto:Schulze at fhv.umb.sk>                                                                             

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