[Lingtyp] Americanist contributions to typology

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Tue Jul 5 05:30:22 UTC 2016

Dear all,

While I agree wholeheartedly with those who have proposed the notion of 
polysynthesis as constituting one of the central contributions of 
Amerindian languages to linguistic typology, I am also sympathetic with 
Martin Haspelmath's observations about how the the notion of 
polysynthesis relies on an often poorly understood notion of wordhood, 
and I do not accept Claude Hagége's claim that that the abundance of 
typological studies of polysynthesis may be construed as somehow "giving 
the lie" to Martin's reservations.  On the contrary, I would say that 
one of the major contributions of Amerindian languages to linguistic 
typology, via the so-called polysynthetic languages, is precisely the 
challenge that they pose to the traditional notion of word, as discussed 
in recent work by Martin and others.

David Gil

On 05/07/2016 02:18, Marianne Mithun wrote:
> Note on polysynthesis.
> The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis is now in press, slated to appear 
> early next year. A major thrust of the volume is the question of 
> whether polysynthesis is an identifiable and/or useful type, whether 
> there are sufficient or necessary features and what they might be, 
> whether languages can be more or less polysynthetic, whether core 
> polysynthetic languages tend to show other structural features, etc.
> There are general chapters on polysynthesis and complexity, 
> polysynthesis and holophrasis (in the sense of all crucial parts of 
> the predication specified within the verb, including core arguments), 
> the limits of polysynthesis, the nature of the lexicon in 
> polysynthetic languages, different theoretical perspectives on 
> polysynthesis, the nature of the word in polysynthetic languages 
> (phonological and morphological challenges), social circumstances 
> stimulating the development and retention of polysynthesis, etc. There 
> are also chapters on the diachrony of polysynthesis, the acquisition 
> of polysynthetic languages, areal perspectives on polysynthesis 
> (geographical hotbeds), and chapters on individual languages that have 
> been characterized as polysynthetic, in which authors weigh the 
> various criteria that have been proposed for polysynthesis to see 
> whether they add up to a definable type.
> Marianne
> On 7/4/2016 7:07 AM, Claude Hagège wrote:
>> Hi  everyone,
>>         I’d like to stress that, after the  monographs on Nahuatl 
>> written in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries by, among others, Alonso de 
>> Molina, Andres de Olmos, or on Guarani by Luis de Montoya, work on 
>> incorporation and polysynthesis, became more and more important in 
>> Europe due to  the discovery of these morphosyntactic features by 
>> Pierre du Ponceau, who invented these technical terms, first applying 
>> them to Nahuatl, and thus showing what outstanding contributions 
>> Amerindian languages were able to make to language studies. There is, 
>> therefore, a tradition referring to the study of these 
>> characteristics, and this went as far as prompting linguists to add 
>> the polysynthetic type to Schlegel’s and Humboldt’s famous three 
>> types, to wit isolating, agglutinative and inflectional, which, long 
>> before Greenberg, laid the foundations of linguistic typology. This 
>> research tradition on polysynthesis and incorporation is illustrated 
>> by many works, giving the lie, by the way, to Martin’s  assertion 
>> that “these terms have no clear definition in typology, because they 
>> rely on the notion of word”. Among such works, there are for example, 
>> if I may mention them,
>> -CH, « Lexical suffixes and incorporation in Mainland Comox », /Forum 
>> Linguisticum/, Vol. 3, n°1, August 1978, 57-71.
>> -CH,  « On noun incorporation in universal grammar (further comments 
>> on a previous article) », /Forum Linguisticum,/ Vol. 4, n°3, 
>> Apr. 1980, 241-245.
>> -CH, « Incorporation nominale et suffixation lexicale : essai de 
>> typologie et cas particulier du comox (Colombie britannique) », 
>> /Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris/, tome 72, fasc. 1, 
>> 1977, 319-340.
>> -CH« Language as a faculty, languages as “contingent” manifestations 
>> and humans as function builders », /Reconnecting Language. Morphology 
>> and Syntax in Functional Perspective,/  « Current Issues in 
>> Linguistic Theory » series, 154, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John 
>> Benjamins Publishing Company, 1997, 29-47.
>> Cheers,
>> Claude
>> **
>> **
>>  Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] *De la 
>> part de* Plank
>> *Envoyé :* lundi 4 juillet 2016 12:35these terms have no clear 
>> definition in typology, because they rely on the notion of "word"
>> *À :* Enrique L. Palancar; <LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>
>> *Objet :* Re: [Lingtyp] Americanist contributions to typology
>> The paper by Antoine that Enrique mentions is specifially on what is 
>> nowadays called "associated motion", something where Australia and 
>> South America have been leading the way.  The paper -- and it's 
>> probably the longest we've ever had -- is in LT 20(1) 2016, an issue 
>> that was regrettably held up by production hiccups, but is to finally 
>> hit your screens and/or mailboxes this month.  ToC attached.
>> In its early days (17-18th century) typology, and simultaneously 
>> language evolution, was a subject for "conjectural historians", and 
>> seriously Americas-informed factually-based typologising arguably 
>> only began with the likes of James Burnett (see below a passage from 
>> a handbook article for his actual language coverage) and Peter 
>> Stephen Du Ponceau.  I'd say grappling with 
>> *polysynthesis/incorporation/Einverleibun*g was the first really 
>> significant typological contribution whose chief inspiration was 
>> American, superseding what had been speculated about the typological 
>> and evolutionary status of holistic event designations, aka 
>> impersonal/subjectless sentences.  Very early, certain *sound/phoneme 
>> inventories*, lacking labials that just about everybody else loved 
>> and acquired early, were also perceived as a typological challenge 
>> from the Americas, calling for corrections of facile generalisations.
>> (Good) typology is so driven by (deep) knowledge about languages. 
>>  Good of Mark to recall Sapir.
>> Frans
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David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-82238009215

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