[Lingtyp] Americanist contributions to typology

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Tue Jul 5 05:56:53 UTC 2016

One of the contributions to the "Oxford handbook of polysynthesis" will 
be Balthasar Bickel's & Fernando Zúñiga's paper "The "word in 
polysynthetic languages: Phonological and syntactic challenges" (which 
is mostly based on data from Chintang and Mapudungun)

Here is an excerpt from their conclusion:

"Polysynthetic "words" are often not unified entities defined by a 
single domain on which all criteria would converge. They tend to be 
non-coherent in one way or another... But then, it is important to note 
that this is byno means a peculiarity of polysynthesis: languages 
generally tend to avoid fully convergent, unified word entities.”

Thus, it is not clear in what way “polysynthesis” is special, and 
whether the notion can survive (but I have not seen the other 
contributions to the handbook yet).


On 05.07.16 07:30, David Gil wrote:
> 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

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

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