[Lingtyp] Coexpression of source and agent

Tom Payne tpayne at uoregon.edu
Sat Jul 21 17:33:56 UTC 2018

While I share Martin's objection to the use of "syncretism", I also think "co-expression" is problematic. Words like "co-author" or "co-operate" imply two actors working together to accomplish one task, e.g., "I co-authored an article with Taeho Jang," "We co-parent our children", "They co-wrote a linguistics textbook," etc. If "co-author" meant what Martin and Juergen suggest "co-expression" could mean, that would be like one person writing two articles - "I co-authored an article on tense, and one on aspect" (meaning I was the only author of those two articles).
   I think "co-expression" normally refers to situations where more than one form together ("co-operatively") express one category, like one might say "ne and pas co-express negation in French."
  What happened to "poly-functional"?

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> On Behalf Of Martin Haspelmath
Sent: Saturday, July 21, 2018 03:20
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Coexpression of source and agent

Dear all,

A side comment on terminology: The term "syncretism" is not only opaque, ugly and ambiguous (it originally referred to merging of case distinctions in Indo-European, which was likened to religious syncretism, in a strange metaphor; it can still have this purely diachronic meaning referring to Indo-European cases) - it is also impractical because it does not have a good corresponding verb (cf. ??"Malay dari syncretizes source and agent").

Moreover, it is typically associated with inflection (cf. the Surrey definition: " The term 'syncretism' refers to the phenomenon whereby a single form fulfils two or more different functions within the inflectional morphology of a language": http://www.smg.surrey.ac.uk/syncretism/).

(And syncretism seems to have been construed as a relation between forms: cf. the original title of this thread "syncretism between forms encoding source and agent" - a very cumbersome formulation.)

I would like to propose replacing the term "syncretism" by "coexpression" when it is not used in a context of inflectional morphology (and maybe also in that context). The term "coexpression" is transparent and clear - and it can be used for all kinds of situations where one form corresponds to two meanings or functions.

It has the transparent corresponding verb "coexpress": "Malay dari coexpresses source and agent".

This term was first used in our 2014 paper on semantic role coexpression patterns (Hartmann et al. 2014), and was taken up in David Gil's recent paper on DO/GIVE coexpression. It was inspired by Alex François's (2008) term "colexification" (also used in Johann-Mattis List's new CLLD database on colexifications: http://clics.clld.org/).

A colexification pattern is just a special kind of coexpression pattern - and one might also want to coin the term "coexponence" for inflectional morphology, for a situation where a single vocabulary item coexpones two feature values; i.e. for what has been known as "inflectional syncretism".

Finally, a semantic map could be called a "coexpression map", allowing us to be neutral between different interpretations (cf. different terms such as "conceptual map", "cognitive map", "implicational map", which will confuse many students).



François, Alexandre. 2008. Semantic maps and the typology of colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages. In Martine Vanhove (ed.), From polysemy to semantic change: Towards a typology of lexical semantic associations (Studies in Language Companion Series 106), 163-216. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Hartmann, Iren, Martin Haspelmath & Michael Cysouw. 2014. Identifying semantic role clusters and alignment types via microrole coexpression tendencies. Studies in Language 38(3). 463-484.

On 21.07.18 11:47, David Gil wrote:

In Malay/Indonesian, the ablative "from" is expressed with dari.  And in some but not all varieties of Malay/Indonesian, dari is also used to mark agents, typically, though not exclusively, in "passive" or "passive-like" constructions.

More specifically, the use of dari to mark agents is characteristic of Eastern contact varieties of Malay; I have heard it in, among other places, Papua, Halmahera, Ambon, Maluku Tenggara and Timor.  And it is also attested in the Kirinda subdialect of Sri Lankan Malay.

(It should be noted that in many such cases, dari is but one of two or more alternative strategies for flagging agent phrases.)


On 21/07/2018 01:06, Ponrawee Prasertsom wrote:
Dear all,

I am exploring research possibilities on the language of motion events.

Does anyone know of a language that employs the same form (in any strategy--case, preposition, syntactic roles etc.) that for coding source (the starting point in a motion event, as in: I walked *from* my house to school) and agent?

Related references would also be highly appreciated.


Ponrawee Prasertsom

Graduate Student
Department of Linguistics
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand


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David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

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Leipzig University

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