[Lingtyp] terminology

Mark Post mark.post at sydney.edu.au
Wed Jul 25 23:57:12 UTC 2018

Surely the most difficult issue regarding standardization of terminology in linguistics is not standardization of terminology per se, but rather agreement on the nature of the denotata? In case any committees or workshops are interested in adjudicating the boundaries of denotata - in which case, best of luck! - I see little point in attempting to adjudicate among terms.

[Note that this is distinct from List's point regarding the descriptive or explanatory content of any given term.]


------ Original Message ------
From: "Gontzal Aldai" <gontzal.aldai at gmail.com<mailto:gontzal.aldai at gmail.com>>
To: "Martin Haspelmath" <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>>
Cc: "LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org" <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
Sent: 25/07/2018 9:25:06 PM
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] terminology

I do think it could be a good idea to try and create a committee (say, within the ALT or the typological community) which would make proposals or "suggestions" on terminology.


2018-07-25 12:59 GMT+02:00 Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>>:
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 bodies.

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 https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/zfsw.2017.36.issue-2/zfs-2017-0009/zfs-2017-0009.xml<https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/xBISCjZrzqHpEmL2S7A4u1?domain=degruyter.com>).

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, see https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1000<https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/aUO9C0YZWVF6vBOKiDcnWe?domain=dlc.hypotheses.org>).


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

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Dr. Gontzal Aldai
Associate Professor
Department of Linguistics and Basque Studies
University of the Basque Country
Paseo de la Universidad, 5
01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain
gontzal.alday at ehu.es<mailto:gontzal.alday at ehu.es>
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