[Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath

Eitan Grossman eitan.grossman at mail.huji.ac.il
Sun Nov 12 08:02:44 UTC 2017

Hi all,

First of all, thanks for the stimulating discussion!

It seems most of the discussion has focused on finding *diagnostics *for
(grammatical) wordhood, but there hasn't been much discussion of what
the *definition
*of 'word' is. Unlike 'accusative marker,' the definition of which many
typologists would agree on, or 'perfect,' which has a few different
definitions but it is not hard to pick one for purposes of cross-linguistic
comparison, 'word' doesn't have a clear or semi-consensual definition.
Martin's paper shows how untenable the notion of 'minimal free form' is as
a cross-linguistic notion.

David's abstract seems like a step in a possible right direction, but even
he doesn't give a *definition *of word as a comparative concept. Rather, he
gives a diagnostic that would allow linguists to identify languages that
can be said to have words vs those that can't. Of course, it may be
possible to define 'word' in David's sense as a very particular range or
cutoff point within his bimodal distribution. But then two questions arise:

1. What is the 'right' range that should be called 'word', and why?
2. The features of 'bond strength' are language-specific (e.g., 'warasa
ludling'), and it would require a lot of work, to say the least, to
operationalize them as criteria for a cross-linguistic comparison.

Having said that, I agree with David (if I understand him correctly) that
the crucial missing link is the operationalization of the notion of 'bond
strength' or 'boundness,' but as far as I know, this has yet to be
articulated for cross-linguistic purposes. Incidentally, this might be a
way out of the reliance of notions like 'affix' and 'clitic' on the notion
'word,' because the former could be defined purely in terms of 'boundness'.


Eitan Grossman
Lecturer, Department of Linguistics/School of Language Sciences
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972 2 588 3809
Fax: +972 2 588 1224

Recent: *Greek Influence on Egyptian-Coptic: Contact-Induced Change in an
Ancient African Language *(Widmaier Verlag

On Sun, Nov 12, 2017 at 1:52 AM, William Croft <wcroft at unm.edu> wrote:

> Matthew,
>   I am having a hard time reconciling your statement
> I am completely in agreement with Martin about the problems with the
> notion of morphosyntactic word - in fact I would go even further than him
> with your statement
> Thus it is not clear that there is any problem with a comparative concept
> of word.
> unless you mean that a morphosyntactic definition of a word is even more
> problematic than Martin made it out to be, but that a phonological
> definition of a word (whatever criteria those are based on) is
> unproblematic. For the latter, these two papers based on studies of
> phonological criteria in Tibeto-Burman languages indicate that phonological
> criteria are also problematic, that is, do not converge on the same
> morpheme strings as words:
> Bickel, Balthasar, Kristine A. Hildebrandt and René Schiering.  2009. The
> distribution of phonological word domains: a probabilistic typology. *Phonological
> domains: universals and deviations*, ed. Bariş Kabak and Janet
> Grijzenhout, 47-75. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
> Schiering, René, Balthasar Bickel and Kristine A. Hildebrandt. 2010. The
> prosodic word is not universal. *Journal of Linguistics* 46.657-709.
>     Incidentally, your 2015 ALT talk is a counterexample to my statement
> in an earlier email that nobody has applied a consistent crosslinguistic
> criterion to wordhood. You took a very strict but clearly
> crosslinguistically applicable notion of wordhood (or more precisely,
> affixhood) -- i.e. one that everyone would agree with -- and demonstrated
> that the suffixing preference applies to these affixes. I apologize for the
> oversight.
> Bill
> On Nov 11, 2017, at 4:35 PM, Dryer, Matthew <dryer at buffalo.edu> wrote:
> What is missing from this discussion is that Martin’s paper discusses
> problems with morphosyntactic criteria for words as proposed in recent
> literature in morphological theory, not problems with phonological
> criteria. But typologists base their claims on language descriptions and
> language descriptions primarily use phonological criteria in deciding what
> to represent as a word, supplemented some by morphosyntactic criteria. I am
> completely in agreement with Martin about the problems with the notion of
> morphosyntactic word - in fact I would go even further than him. But this
> has little bearing on typological claims that make reference to words.
> This is not to say that there may not be problems with phonological
> criteria. I would say that for every language I have worked on, there are
> morpheme boundaries were neither phonological criteria nor morphosyntactic
> criteria provide a basis for deciding whether to treat something as a word.
> But such morpheme boundaries represent a relatively small percentages of
> morpheme boundaries in the language. Thus it is not clear that there is any
> problem with a comparative concept of word.
> In the 2015 ALT talk of mine that Martin referred to, I argued that if one
> restricts attention to grammatical morphemes that are nonsyllabic or that
> exhibit morphophonemic alternations, we find clear evidence of a suffixing
> preference. This illustrates how the problems that Martin discusses do not
> present a problem for showing that there is a preference for suffixes over
> prefixes.
> Matthew
> From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of
> "Anstey, Matthew" <MAnstey at csu.edu.au>
> Date: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 9:06 AM
> To: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> >
> Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath
> Have there been any studies into the cognitive salience of the notion
> 'word', say, along the lines of segmentivity?
> Such that, that all people and hence languages chunk and split language
> symbols one way or another, driven by a number of constraints (eg limiting
> semantic complexity, facilitating processing speed, allowing combinatorial
> possibilities like juncture/nexus joints, etc).
> If then this a universal cognitive requirement, could the culture-language
> specific version of the most 'privileged' chunk, no matter much it differs
> around the world, be what we identify as this elusive 'word'?
> Not sure how cognitive typology works though....
> With regards
> Matthew
> On 12 Nov 2017, 8:23 AM +1030, Daniel Ross <djross3 at illinois.edu>, wrote:
> Just a quick clarification: my metaphor was just a comparison to suggest
> there might be different sizes/levels of words (depending on what we mean
> by that), not a theoretical point about how to analyze words in particular
> or any claims about morphology.
> But your clarification is appreciated!
> Daniel
> On Sat, Nov 11, 2017 at 1:04 PM, Peter Arkadiev <peterarkadiev at yandex.ru<
> mailto:peterarkadiev at yandex.ru> <peterarkadiev at yandex.ru%3E>> wrote:
> Dear all.
> just to add to the cunundrum, many contemporary morphologists do not
> believe that "words are boxes for morphemes", as Danny put it, and do not
> use the concept of "morpheme" at all, operating with features and their
> exponents and paradigmatic relations between words instead (see work by
> Stephen Anderson, Gregory Stump, Jim Blevins and many, many others). For
> me, as a morphologist, this makes much sense, because I know that, first,
> there are languages where much if not most morphological information is
> expressed by internal modification rather than by affixes (cf. the Western
> Nilotic language Dinka as decsribed by Torben Andersen as a possibly
> extreme case), and, second, even in those cases where it is arguably
> possible to segment words into discrete formatives, the relations between
> those and the meanings expressed in the word are notoriously complex (cf.
> Nen and its relatives as described by Nick Evans and his associates as a
> possibly extreme case). Whether this bears on the universal applicability
> of the notion of "word" is unclear to me; however, what is clear to me is
> that if "word" is not well-defined, then "morpheme" is still worse.
> Best regards,
> Peter
> --
> Peter Arkadiev, PhD
> Institute of Slavic Studies
> Russian Academy of Sciences
> Leninsky prospekt 32<https://maps.google.com/?q=
> Leninsky+prospekt+32&entry=gmail&source=g>-A
> <https://maps.google.com/?q=Leninsky+prospekt+32&entry=gmail&source=g%3E-A>
>  119991 Moscow
> peterarkadiev at yandex.ru<mailto:peterarkadiev at yandex.ru
> <peterarkadiev at yandex.ru>>
> http://inslav.ru/people/arkadev-petr-mihaylovich-peter-arkadiev
> 11.11.2017, 23:49, "Daniel Ross" <djross3 at illinois.edu<mailto:
> djross3 at illinois.edu> <djross3 at illinois.edu%3E>>:
> I did not mean anyone in particular was being too extreme, sorry if I gave
> that impression. I just wanted to point out that words can still exist
> language-internally.
> I agree with the last two replies to he thread.
> To me, the question is whether words are the same across languages, in the
> same way that nouns and verbs may not be. But we still do talk about nouns
> and verbs (and, yes, families, however unclear the definition may be).
> One other question I realized I wanted to add is that words are like boxes
> for morphemes, packaging them in groups of some kind. I wonder if the idea
> of words therefore must be unique, even within a language. Could it be that
> words exist on a continuum, just like larger and smaller boxes you might
> use to pack up all of the items in your house when moving? Of course I'm
> not sure what if anything would be left as the "essence" of words then. If
> that is not the case I'd like to know why. (Maybe just because it would
> make typology more complex so we'd rather avoid it?)
> Daniel
> On Saturday, November 11, 2017, William Croft <wcroft at unm.edu<
> mailto:wcroft at unm.edu> <wcroft at unm.edu%3E>> wrote:
> I am not arguing for an extreme position like writing grammars without
> word boundaries either. I am just trying to bring to people’s attention
> that wordhood is problematic, and to persuade someone to look at wordhood
> without presupposing an essentialist concept of ‘word’, that would get us
> past appealing to intuitions which are actually rather unclear on closer
> inspection. There might be a common core, i.e. a set of crosslinguistically
> valid criteria which form universal patterns like a typological prototype
> (as the latter is defined in my “Typology and Universals” textbook). But I
> don’t know what the criteria are or what their typological relationships
> are. I would really like to know.
> Actually, I *don’t* know what a family is, in a cross-cultural sense, and
> even in my own culture, given the notions of immediate, nuclear and
> extended family, foster children, adoption, divorce etc. I don’t even know
> if ‘family’ makes sense cross-culturally, given the variety of kin systems
> and the organization of society they reflect.
> Bill
> On Nov 11, 2017, at 12:16 PM, Östen Dahl <oesten at ling.su.se> wrote:
> I am sorry if I gave the impression that I'm arguing for an extreme
> position (such as writing grammars without word boundaries). I'm rather
> trying to see what the ultimate consequences are of Martin's proposals. But
> what I am wondering about is whether there isn't a common core to the
> language-specific concepts of "word", although it need not involve precise
> criteria. I think "word" may be a concept rather much like "family".
> Consider Wikipedia's definition of "family", which hardly provides any
> criteria that can be used to identify families cross-culturally:
> "In the context of human society, a family (from Latin: familia) is a
> group of people affiliated either by consanguinity (by recognized birth),
> affinity (by marriage or other relationship), or co-residence (as implied
> by the etymology of the English word "family"[1]) or some combination of
> these. Members of the immediate family may include spouses, parents,
> brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Members of the extended family may
> include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and
> siblings-in-law. Sometimes these are also considered members of the
> immediate family, depending on an individual's specific relationship with
> them."
> Still, we think we know what a family is.
> Östen
> -----Ursprungligt meddelande-----
> Från: Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org
> <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>] För William Croft
> Skickat: den 11 november 2017 20:06
> Till: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> Ämne: Re: [Lingtyp] wordhood: responses to Haspelmath
> The problem that we need to guard against is using language-specific
> definitions for a supposedly crosslinguistic (comparative) concept of
> ‘word’. One has to use a crosslinguistically valid criterion for wordhood,
> and apply the same criterion across languages. I have yet to see anyone do
> this.
> As usual, the problem is the belief in which linguistic units have
> essences like ’noun, ‘verb’, ‘word’ etc., and all we linguists need to do
> is “discover” this essence through some accidental linguistic fact of a
> particular language (using ‘essence’ and ‘accident’ in the philosophical
> sense); and it doesn’t matter if the facts are different from one language
> to the next, or are defined in a way that works only for that language.
> Until, of course, someone else comes along and decides that the essence is
> different from what the first person thought, even by looking at the same
> accidental facts; or maybe that they don’t even believe in the essence.
> The solution, in my opinion, is to look at the “accidental" facts, that
> is, the different criteria for wordhood (defined in a crosslinguistically
> valid fashion), and find out what the typological universals are that
> govern those facts. I would expect that (a) the criteria won’t match,
> within or across languages, as with parts of speech etc.; but (b) the
> criteria would pattern typologically in such a way that most of the
> morpheme strings that we would intuitively call “words” would have a fairly
> high degree of syntagmatic unity most of the time. (Yes, “morpheme” raises
> some of the same issues -- but if we don’t address these issues, we can’t
> really trust our results.)
> Bill
> On Nov 11, 2017, at 11:47 AM, Edith A Moravcsik <edith at uwm.edu> wrote:
> 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
> <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?
> --fritz
> 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-pr
> e
> 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<https://maps.google.com/?q=
> Kahlaische+Strasse+10&entry=gmail&source=g>
> D-07745 Jena
> &
> Leipzig University
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> Nikolaistrasse 6-10<https://maps.google.com/?q=Nikolaistrasse+6-10+%3E%3E%
> 3E+D-04109+Leipzig&entry=gmail&source=g>
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> 3E%3E%3E+D-04109+Leipzig&entry=gmail&source=g>
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