[Lingtyp] wordhood

Peter Arkadiev peterarkadiev at yandex.ru
Wed Nov 15 09:25:49 UTC 2017

Thank you, David, this methodlogical (and theoretical) point of is utmost importance. I guess the point Christian Lehmann makes in his recent paper https://www.christianlehmann.eu/publ/lehmann_ling_concepts_categories.pdf is very similar in spirit.

Best regards,


Peter Arkadiev, PhD
Institute of Slavic Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences
Leninsky prospekt 32-A 119991 Moscow
peterarkadiev at yandex.ru

15.11.2017, 09:07, "David Gil" <gil at shh.mpg.de>:
> 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.
> And sure, defining a would-be comparative concept of word disjunctively,
> as X-Word OR Y-Word OR Z-Word OR ... would be unrevealing and rather
> pointless. (I was going to say "uninteresting", but that sounded too
> Chomskyan.) However, and here's the rub, there is no principled reason
> why it should not be possible to take John, Mary and Bill's descriptions
> of X, Y and Z and abstract away from them a shared formal property which
> we then might choose to refer to as a comparative concept of word. Yes,
> the comparative concept of word would be "variably interpreted in each
> language", but no, the definition of the comparative concept would not
> involve disjunctions; it would simply obtain at a higher level of
> abstraction than the language-specific phenomena that formed the basis
> for the original three language-specific descriptions. (Such
> abstractions are the bread and butter of our work as typologists, just
> stop and think for a moment how many cycles of abstraction are involved
> in a comparative concept such as "passive".) And crucially, it need not
> necessarily involve the kind of "clustering" that Martin was taking about.
> This is what I am trying to do with my proposed definition of
> comparative-concept word. Granted, the proof of the pudding is in the
> eating ... and I'm still a bit of a way from getting my definition to
> work, by which I mean being both implementable and interesting. But my
> point here and now is not to defend my (or any other) definition of
> word, but merely to argue that there is nothing incoherent in the
> attempt to define a comparative concept of word — even for those of us
> (myself included) who share a radically relativist view of linguistic
> typology.
> David
> --
> David Gil
> Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
> Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
> Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
> Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
> Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
> Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816
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