[Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath

Edith A Moravcsik edith at uwm.edu
Sat Nov 11 18:47:59 UTC 2017

I agree with Fritz (if I interpret his message correctly).  As far as I can see, we can work with any definition of "word" in crosslinguistic research and then see if that definition is useful or not - i.e., whether it does or does not yield typological correlates. If we try this approach,  I cannot see that we could go wrong; or is there any possible problem that we need to guard against? 

Edith Moravcsik

-----Original Message-----
From: Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] On Behalf Of Frederick J Newmeyer
Sent: Saturday, November 11, 2017 11:04 AM
To: Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>
Cc: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath

Let's say that there are no rigid consistent criteria that distinguish words, prefixes, and suffixes. I don't see why that would necessarily prevent us from making valid generalizations about prefixes and suffixes. Consider an analogy. We can make valid generalizations about men and women (their preferences for whatever, their likelihood to do whatever, etc.) even though gender is to a certain extent fluid. There are adults who consider themselves neither male or female and others who consider themselves both. Different criteria lead to different assignments for being a man or for being a woman. It seems like an analogous issue would come up for virtually any 'natural' category. What is the essential problem here?


Frederick J. Newmeyer
Professor Emeritus, University of Washington Adjunct Professor, U of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U

On Sat, 11 Nov 2017, Martin Haspelmath wrote:

> As far as I'm aware, only one typologist has taken up the challenge of 
> my 2011 paper: Matthew Dryer in his 2015 ALT talk at Albuquerque (I have copied his abstract below, as it seems to be no longer available from the UNM website).
> Otherwise, the reaction has generally been that this is old news (for 
> those with no stake in the syntax-morphology distinction), or that the 
> distinction is fuzzy, like almost all distinctions in language. But 
> the latter reaction misses the point that it's not clear whether there 
> are any cross-linguistic regularities to begin with (apart from 
> orthographic conventions) that point to the cross-linguistic relevance 
> of something like a "word" notion. (The results of the recent work by 
> Jim Blevins and colleagues do seem to point in this direction, but it 
> is only based on four European languages.)
> An interesting case is OUP's recent handbook on polysynthesis: While 
> all definitions of polysynthesis make reference to the "word" notion, almost none of the authors and editors try to justify it, instead simply presupposing that there is such a thing as polysynthesis.
> (The one paper that addresses the issue, by Bickel & Zúñiga, agrees 
> with my skepticism in that it finds that "polysynthetic "words" are often not unified entities defined by a single domain on which all criteria would converge". OUP's handbook is hard to access, but a manuscript version of Bickel & Zúñiga can be found here:
> http://www.comparativelinguistics.uzh.ch/en/bickel/publications/in-pre
> ss.html)
> Best,
> Martin
> ***********************************
> Evidence for the suffixing preference
> Matthew S. Dryer
> University at Buffalo
> Haspelmath (2011) argues that there are no good criteria for 
> distinguishing affixes from separate words, so that claims that make 
> reference to a distinction between words and affixes are suspect. He 
> claims that there is therefore no good evidence for the suffixing 
> preference (Greenberg 1957). since that assumes that one can distinguish affixes from separate words. He implies that decisions that linguists describing languages make in terms of what they represent as words may at best be based on inconsistent criteria and he has suggested that we have no way of knowing whether the apparent suffixing preference reflects anything more than the fact that the orthography of European languages far more often represents grammatical morphemes as suffixes than as prefixes.
> In this paper, I provide evidence that the suffixing preference is unlikely to be an artifact of orthographic conventions, at least as it applies to tense-aspect affixes.
> I examined the phonological properties of tense-aspect affixes in a sample of over 500 languages, distinguishing two types on the basis of their phonological properties.
> Type 1 affixes are either ones that are nonsyllabic, consisting only 
> of consonants, or ones that exhibit allomorphy that is conditioned 
> phonologically by verb stems. Type
> 2 affixes are those that exhibit neither of these two properties. The 
> reason that this distinction is relevant is that grammatical morphemes 
> of the first sort are almost always represented as affixes rather than 
> as separate words in grammatical descriptions, so that we can safely 
> assume that in the vast majority of cases, grammatical morphemes of this sort that are represented as affixes really are such. Haspelmath’s suggestion that the suffixing preference might be an artifact of orthographic conventions thus predicts that we should not find a significant difference in the relative frequency of Type 1 prefixes and suffixes, but only with Type 2 prefixes and suffixes.
> The results of my study show that this prediction is not confirmed. 
> They show that for both types of affixes, suffixes outnumber prefixes 
> by a little over 2.5 to 1. The number of languages in my sample with 
> Type 1 suffixes outnumber the number of languages with Type 1 prefixes by 181 to 67, or around 2.7 to 1, while the number of languages with only Type 2 suffixes outnumber the number of languages with only Type 2 prefixes by 223 to 85, approximately 2.6 to 1. Thus the prediction that the suffixing preference should be found primarily with Type 2 affixes, is not borne out. To the contrary, we find the same suffixing preference among both types of affixes.
> This provides evidence that, at least for tense-aspect affixes, the suffixing preference is real and not an artifact of orthographic conventions.
> References
> Haspelmath, Martin. 2011. The indeterminacy of word segmentation and 
> the nature of morphology and syntax. Folia Linguistica 45: 31-80.>
> On 10.11.17 06:11, Adam J Tallman wrote:
>       I am writing a paper about wordhood - has anyone responded to Haspelmath's 2011 Folia Linguistica paper on the topic?
> I have only found two sources that mention the paper and seem to put forward an argument against its conclusions, but its mostly in en passant fashion.
> On is Blevins (2016) Word and Paradigm Morphology and another is Geertzen, Jeroen, James P. Blevins & Petar Milin. ‘Informativeness of unit boundaries’
> [pdf]. Italian Journal of Linguistics 28(2), 1–24.
> Any correspondence in this regard would be greatly appreciated,
> Adam
> --
> Adam J.R. Tallman Investigador del Museo de Etnografía y Folklore, la 
> Paz PhD candidate, University of Texas at Austin
> --
> 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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