haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Wed Jul 25 10:59:08 UTC 2018
On 25.07.18 11:51, David Gil wrote:
> But it's the nature of the scientific enterprise that one person's
> hair-splitting is another person's crucial distinction. Ultimately,
> nobody's trying (or at least should be trying) to impose their
> terminology on anybody else; rather, what we should be doing is using
> reasoned argumentation to convince other people that one's proposed
> terminology is better, and to lead by example.
Well, I guess one could find me guilty of "trying to impose my
terminology" when I suggested that one should talk about agent/source
coexpression (rather than "polysemy").
Unlike other fields, linguists have no tradition of codifying agreed
terminology, so there is no way in which a committee could impose a term
on anyone. And David's parenthetical remark ("no one should be trying")
suggests that linguists would not be happy to have such authoritative
But then how do we improve the terminological situation? I mean cases
where we all agree that there are conceptual distinctions that are worth
making, but we don't have a way of agreeing on a term?
How do we "work harder" to address Mattis's desideratum:?
On 22.07.18, Mattis List wrote:
> We should all work harder in establishing a purely descriptive
> terminology in our field. Explanatory terminology should be restricted
> to the situations where we really know what happened.
There have never even been conference workshops or plenary talks about
linguistic terminology, as far as I know. We seem to think that the
terminology will somehow sort itself out once we gain more knowledge.
And when someone makes a proposal for a new term, people sometimes start
objecting without proposing better solutions (I realize that
"coexpression" does not immediately please everyone, but I have not
heard an alternative suggestion).
There seems to be a general reluctance to accept new terms, maybe simply
because new words often sound strange when one first encounters them. I
recently published a paper about "adpossessive constructions"
(specifically about alienability contrasts, in open access, see
I first submitted the paper to "Glossa", where one reviewer objected to
the neologism "adpossessive" (short for "adnominal possessive"), as well
as other neologisms found in the paper. There were no substantive
objections – s/he simply didn't see the need for these new terms. I
refused to address this "reviewer's concern" because I find it important
to enrich our terminology, and in the end the paper was rejected by
"Glossa" because of my stubbornness.
So I think it's really nice that LINGTYP is engaging in this kind of
discussion of terminology, and maybe ALT might consider organizing a
workshop or discussion of this topic at some point. After all, most ALT
members are not committed to finding universal categories, so one could
try to have some kind of standard set of terms even before solving all
our problems (somewhat like the IPA, which is a standard set of symbols
that we agree on even though we have not solved all issues in phonology,
Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Lingtyp