[Lingtyp] wordhood

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de
Wed Nov 15 10:39:36 UTC 2017

Am 15.11.2017 um 10:53 schrieb Martin Haspelmath:
> Christian Lehmann's paper on concepts and categories can be read as 
> supporting the idea that comparative concepts can also be used for 
> describing languages, but in a recent extended exchange with him, I 
> understood that he actually supports the idea that structural 
> descriptions and tertia comparationis (= comparative concepts) are on 
> a different level.
Any sound methodology of comparison requires that the tertium 
comparationis have a status different from the primum and secundum 
comparationis. Tertia comparationis in comparative linguistics are 
parameters defined independently of the properties of particular 
languages and are typically not "hybrid", as Bill would say, but 
typically purely cognitive/communicative or purely formal/structural or 
phonetic (thus, related to linguistic substance, as Martin would say).

However, this does not entail that concepts of "structural description" 
- let's say: the concepts which we use in the description of the grammar 
of languages - are specific of each language. Quite on the contrary, the 
primum and the secundum comparationis can only be compared if there is 
something that they share but in which they differ, at the same time. If 
there is nothing that they share, we would be comparing pears with 
apples. Although it may sound trivial after so much discussion: If we 
want to compare two languages with respect to the properties of their 
passive, or of their nominal classes, or of their words, it presupposes 
that they *have* these things (while, of course, other languages may 
lack them). If the nominal classes of L1 are matched by a concept X, 
while the nominal classes of L2 are matched by a concept Y, where there 
is no relation between X and Y, no comparison w.r.t. nominal classes is 
possible and no basis for comparing X and Y exists. This is why I insist 
that "descriptive categories" are *not* language-specific. They are 
interlingual, i.e. defined in such a way that we can determine whether a 
given language possesses such a category or not.

Given this, the terms 'comparative concept' vs. 'descriptive concept' 
are potentially misleading, since they might be understood to indicate 
that descriptive concepts (like most of our grammatical categories and 
relations) cannot be primum and secundum comparationis in a comparison.




Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft
Universität Erfurt
Postf. 900221
99105 Erfurt

Tel.: 	+49/361/737-4200 (Sekr.)
Fax: 	+49/361/737-4209
E-Post: 	Christian.Lehmann at Uni-Erfurt.De
Web: 	http://www.christianlehmann.eu

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