[Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Sat Nov 11 18:00:33 UTC 2017

It's not crazy at all to say that isolating languages could be described as polysynthetic, and vice versa. (In fact, Skalička described Modern Chinese as polysynthetic in 1946.)

The problem is that archetypes like isolating and polysynthetic are mostly stereotypes. They are not clearly defined, at least not without reference to a "word" concept (itself only based on intuition, i.e. stereotypes). 

Of course, morphosyntactic patterns are often more complex than simple strings of morphemes. But we don't really know in which ways these complexities cluster. Is it the case that languages with tense-person cumulation (to give just one example of a complexity) also tend to show case-number cumulation? Is it the case that languages with special bare-object constructions ("incorporation") tend to show phonological interactions between object and verb? We don't know yet, I think. By merely labeling languages according to a few archetypes, we won't find out. 

So yes, let's forget about word boundaries in typology until we have a very good way to draw them consistently (using the same criteria in all languages).


> Am 11.11.2017 um 18:40 schrieb Östen Dahl <oesten at ling.su.se>:
> Martin, I wonder if your views on these matters imply that a polysynthetic language could equally well be described as being an isolating one, and vice versa. That is, one should just forget about word boundaries and describe utterances as consisting of strings of morphemes. If you think this is not feasible, why?
> Best,
> Östen
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