[Lingtyp] wordhood

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Wed Nov 15 07:04:48 UTC 2017

On 11/15/2017 07:10 AM, David Gil wrote:
> In response to Bill's ...
> On 14/11/2017 23:37, William Croft wrote:
>> A definition “variably interpreted in each language” is a disjunctive
>> definition. If I use fact A to define ‘word’ in Language X, fact B to
>> define ‘word’ in Language Y, and fact C to define ‘word’ in Language
>> Z, then ‘word’ is defined as “defined by either A or B or C”. Or else
>> ‘word’ means something different in Languages X, Y and Z, i.e. it is a
>> language-specific concept, and the fact that it’s called ‘word’ in
>> each language is just a coincidence.
> Sorry, but I just don't get this.  If language X has a significant
> pattern involving, say, vowel harmony and some idiosyncratic rule
> preoralizing final nasals, language Y has a structurally somewhat
> different pattern involving tone sandhi and progressive ATR
> assimilation, while language Z makes use of patterns of stress and vowel
> reduction to define particular phonological domains, then they're
> obviously as different from each other as we all know languages to be. 
> So yes, if John describes X as having an X-Word, Mary describes Y as
> having a Y-Word, and Bill describes Z as having a Z-Word, then these are
> indeed three language-specific and (in one sense of the word)
> incommensurate notions.

well, they would all refer to the concept of prosodic domain, it seems.
If one happens to believe that there is a universal prosodic domain
"word" larger than the syllable and smaller than the phrase, then all
three definitions might be taken to point to that domain.

The question, then, is obviously whether the prosodic hierarchy is
universal, and whether we can equate prosodic domains across languages.
This is a more specific question than whether "word" can be defined
across languages, and there is empirical evidence provided by Schiering
et al that the answer is negative.

Best wishes

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