[Lingtyp] collective action marking

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Thu Jul 26 04:38:19 UTC 2018

Daniel and others,

Our ongoing debate over the term "coexpression" seems to involve three 
different issues:

1. Whether we need a term with the proposed meaning
2. If we do, whether "coexpression" is a good term for that meaning
3. What are the linguistic properties of the verbal prefix "co-" in English

With regard to (1), my position (shared by many if not all of the 
discussants) is that yes we do indeed need such a term.  Skipping down 
to (3), this is clearly an interesting research question worthy of 
further discussion.  (But I won't pursue it further here.)

As for (2), I think it is fair to say that we have subjected the 
proposed term "coexpression" to a higher degree of scrutiny than has 
been the lot of most other newly introduced terms in linguistics, and 
this is not necessarily a good thing.  Pick a random term in 
linguistics, and you could find as many reasons to deem it inappropriate 
as has been done here for "coexpression". Ideally, each new meaning 
would be assigned a new term consisting of an arbitrary sequence of 
segments, which would be devoid of any of the etymological and other 
associations that have been raised in the present discussion with regard 
to "coexpress". Unfortunately, as language users, we are highly 
conservative with respect to creating new words from scratch, and 
instead strongly prefer adapting existing words and morphemes to create 
new, albeit related, meanings for them — and we do so in ways that the 
current discussion has suggested may be at least partly inconsistent and 
unsystematic.  But that's how things work in scientific terminology, and 
I think we just have to accept that.


On 26/07/2018 09:37, Daniel Ross wrote:
> David,
> Thank you for the clarifications. I still don't find the term 
> etymologically convincing, although I do agree it is convenient and 
> aesthetically pleasing, so as I said before maybe it'll be accepted 
> for that reason, independently of the etymology.
> The problem I have with the abstract linguistic-system sense of 
> "express" as "mean" is that 'express' is not something that abstract 
> linguistic entities do, but specifically something that utterances do. 
> (I would not have the same objection to "co-mean" or "co-encode" 
> although those are less aesthetically pleasing.) I think this relates 
> to what Seino van Breugel said earlier, correctly observing that 
> linguistic terms do not express but rather restrict interpretations. I 
> do not object to the traditional use of the term "express" (as Seino 
> suggested) because I find it to be clear as a metonymic representation 
> of speakers expressing something through their utterances via those 
> forms. However, in that sense, it doesn't intuitively seem to me that 
> "coexpress" should refer to any abstract linguistic-system sense, 
> given that expression occurs through usage, not systematic 
> relationships in a language.
> "Collocate" is like the other terms-- it refers to instances of doing 
> something together, at the same time. My objection isn't to the 
> subject/object difference-- although indeed that makes "coexpress" 
> unusual and somewhat less intuitive. It is that "coexpress" can never 
> refer to any instance where the two (or more) meanings are expressed 
> at the same time. There are no other such terms I can think of, where 
> "co-" refers to a general/habitual/systematic sense, rather than at 
> least possibly applying to actual instances. Again, the only time when 
> a word could in actual usage "coexpress" at the same time would be in 
> a pun. And to me, although linguists rarely research puns, I'd rather 
> not conflate that more intuitive sense of "coexpress" with the other 
> proposed usage.
> I'm clearly now off on a tangent unrelated to the original 
> conversation here (wasn't sure about replying here or in the new 
> 'terminology' tangent), so I'll leave it at that. I don't intend to 
> prescribe usage of terms; my main point was just that Martin's claim 
> that the term was somehow more etymologically appropriate than 
> "syncretize" didn't seem intuitively valid to me, because neither one 
> is quite right-- but we can use them, and make them right, just 
> through usage, as is typically done anyway.
> And regarding the current conversation, I think it's important to 
> think about how "co-" and other collectives do require the arguments 
> (whether subjects or objects) to be "active" at the same time. So 
> maybe that makes my comments here slightly on topic.
> Daniel
> On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 2:51 AM, David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de 
> <mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>> wrote:
>     Daniel,
>     Thanks for your very helpful and insightful comments.  You're
>     quite correct that I had ignored aspectual effects, e.g. in (1),
>     where the (individuating, non-collective) inference would indeed
>     work much better in the progressive than in the past or perfect.
>     But here's where I still differ.  You write: "*I welcome any
>     counter examples where "co-" indicates "variably"* rather than
>     "together" (or "at the same time")", from which I infer that
>     you're assuming that the proposed use of "coexpress" embodies such
>     a "variable" component.  But I would question your presupposition
>     that "coexpress" involves such variability.  To go back to the
>     original example, when one says that "a form M coexpresses source
>     and agent", this is NOT tantamount to saying that sometimes it
>     expresses source and other times agent.  Rather, what it is
>     asserting is that the form M HAS (as understood in the atemporal
>     sense of a description of a linguistic fact) a range of meanings
>     that encompasses source and agent.  Now it may sometimes be the
>     case that in one sentence M is unambiguously expressing source
>     while in another sentence M is unambiguously expressing agent. 
>     But by the same token, in (1) "Mary and John are cowriting this
>     article", there may be points in time when only Mary is writing,
>     and points in time where only John is writing, but this does not
>     preclude the collective nature of the overall endeavor. 
>     Similarly, when we use "coexpress" in the way Martin and I are
>     advocating, we allow for the possibility that it is NOT the case
>     that sometimes M expresses source and other times agent, but
>     RATHER that all of the time M expresses a single broad meaning
>     that includes both source and target.  This is precisely why we
>     need a cover term such as "coexpress" in addition to more specific
>     terms such as "vague"/"macrofunctional",
>     "polysemous"/"polyfunctional" and "homonymic".
>     Another objection to "coexpress" is that it requires a plural
>     object rather than a plural subject (as is more commonly the case
>     with "co-").  But there are examples (albeit a bit hard to come
>     by) where a verb with "co-" does require a plural object.  One
>     obvious albeit frozen case is "collect".  Another potentially
>     better example would be "collocate", though the active transitive
>     usage seems to be rare; the best cited example I could come up
>     with was "to marshall and collocate in order his batallions"
>     (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/collocate
>     <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/collocate>), and that's
>     characterized as "obsolete".  (Though if I had a better internet
>     connection, I suspect I could find more examples.)  So I don't
>     consider this as a reason to reject "coexpress".
>     I realize that for some people this is all a lot of
>     "hair-splitting".  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.
>     David
>     On 25/07/2018 13:25, Daniel Ross wrote:
>>     All I intended to contribute here (in my earlier message) was
>>     that English "co-" seems relevant for comparison. The rest is
>>     probably tangential, as may be my reply below.
>>     But I'm puzzled by a few points in your response, David:
>>     First, (1) > (1') is a valid inference, if we interpret "write"
>>     in the sense that "cowrite" is interpreted-- as part of the
>>     writing process. This is especially easy as an inference with the
>>     progressive (as in your example), although I can see why "Mary
>>     wrote the article" is strange, but still may be valid depending
>>     on how loosely we interpret "write" in academia ("Mary can say
>>     she has now written something in [the journal] /Language/?"), so
>>     I think some of the quirkiness here comes from how we use the
>>     term "cowrite" in academia in contrast to "write" although that
>>     is not strictly necessary. The distinction is probably a
>>     pragmatic one, where "cowrite" somehow has supplied an
>>     expectation of "not by oneself", whereas likewise "coexist" does
>>     not have an inference of "exist by itself" in your (3), etc. In
>>     summary, there are some tricky details related to lexical aspect,
>>     grammatical aspect, and other factors, but I think, broadly
>>     speaking, those examples behave similarly. (Oddly, I'm actually
>>     arguing 'against myself' here because you suggest that cowrite is
>>     the strongest in support of my argument, but I'll address that in
>>     the point below.)
>>     Second, you're correct that my phrasing may have been misleading:
>>     remove the word "exactly" if you wish, or more relevantly
>>     reinterpret what I said as referring to a cluster of related
>>     meanings. It's broadly the same as the other examples from other
>>     languages, and I'd like to emphasize how much variability (e.g.,
>>     reflexive, reciprocal) there is in the examples given for other
>>     languages just in the emails in the current conversation. I don't
>>     think English is more variable than others. That's what I meant
>>     by English "co-" being the same-- it functions similarly. Most
>>     importantly, what I meant to point out is that this isn't some
>>     exotic function only found in unfamiliar languages. Randy didn't
>>     give any examples from Kyrgyz in the first email, but I imagine
>>     some of them would translate into English relatively naturally
>>     with "co-".
>>     Third, no one has directly responded to what I said about the
>>     semantics of "coexpress", and *I welcome any counter examples
>>     where "co-" indicates "variably"* rather than "together" (or "at
>>     the same time"). I'm not aware of any. If there are some, then
>>     "coexpression" could fit that model. None in your message, nor
>>     given by others, have the "alternatively" interpretation.
>>     "Corefer" does not refer to ambiguous interpretations; "coexist"
>>     does not refer to an electron being a wave and a particle;
>>     "costar" does not refer to a single actor playing multiple roles.
>>     And so forth. (Your opaque examples also mean "together"
>>     etymologically, not "alternatively".) Martin's closest parallel
>>     suggestion was "coapply" but that still means "together", not
>>     "alternatively"-- to coapply glue and tape does not mean choosing
>>     one or the other in a particular context, but to do both.
>>     [Another example might be "coteach" which could mean either (most
>>     often) share teaching of a course together with someone, or (less
>>     obviously) teach two topics in a single course, but never to
>>     teach two different topics in different or alternating
>>     semesters.] "Coexpress" can literally never actually express both
>>     things at the same time, whereas all other "co-" words I can
>>     think of entail doing something "together"-- which likewise is a
>>     "collective" interpretation (yes, vaguely with slight variation,
>>     as noted above).
>>     Additionally, some of the differences you suggest may be related
>>     to the fact that English collectives with "co-" do not require a
>>     plural subject, a point of cross-linguistic variation I mentioned
>>     in my previous message but haven't explored (e.g., if plural
>>     subjects were required, would your inferences apply or not?). I
>>     would also guess that as I hinted, the derivational/lexicalized
>>     nature of "co-" explains some of the quirkiness in particular
>>     verbs like "cowrite" (also "corefer"), whereas in some other
>>     languages it may be more regular/productive (possibly also
>>     'inflectional', although that perhaps gets into unnecessary
>>     theoretical/terminological issues).
>>     The ways in which we agree include (at least):
>>     1. Terms like "collectivity" are often used vaguely (though given
>>     the multi-functionality/"coexpression"! of the same morphemes
>>     marking a variety of functions, perhaps that is appropriate).
>>     2. Looking at the semantics narrowly is important, and your
>>     contributions are helpful.
>>     3. My phrasing may have been misleading.
>>     Thanks for your comments-- I agree with your suggestions for
>>     understanding these constructions better. My reply here (and I
>>     hope your previous reply) should not be read as indicating that
>>     we mostly disagree about this topic, because I don't feel that we do.
>>     Daniel
>>     On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 12:01 AM, David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de
>>     <mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>> wrote:
>>         Daniel and others,
>>         In a 1996 article (reference below) I point out that the term
>>         "collective" is used with a bewildering array of meanings. 
>>         While the article deals exclusively with collectivity as
>>         marked on nominal expressions, the same point is clearly
>>         relevant for the cases of "verbal collectivity" being
>>         discussed in this thread.  In particular, I would beg to
>>         differ with Daniel Ross' claim that "In English, the
>>         (derivational) prefix 'co-' seems to have exactly this function".
>>         Consider the following four examples:
>>         (1) Mary and John are cowriting this article
>>         (2) These two noun-phrases corefer to each other
>>         (3) These two species coexist in this region
>>         (4) Mary and John costarred in the new movie
>>         Each of these four sentences differs logically from the
>>         others in ways that have to do with collectivity, as
>>         evidenced by the following potential inferences:
>>         (1') Mary is writing this article
>>         (2') This noun-phrase refers
>>         (3') This species exists in this region
>>         (4') Mary starred in the new movie
>>         (1) > (1') is not a valid inference.
>>         (2) > (2') is a valid inference, but is weird (in ways that I
>>         don't have time to go into).
>>         (3) > (3') is a valid inference.
>>         (4) > (4') is a valid inference.
>>         The most common understanding of the term "collective" is
>>         that it blocks inferences from a plural set to its individual
>>         members.  Thus, under this understanding, "co-" is marking
>>         collectivity in (1), perhaps also in (2), but certainly not
>>         in (3) and (4). Now it may be the case that all of the above
>>         usages of "co-" share a common semantic core, but simply
>>         applying the label "collective" to such a putative common
>>         meaning doesn't help much in trying to figure out its nature.
>>         And to return briefly to the "coexpression" thread: given the
>>         diversity of meanings of the "co-" prefix (which is hardly
>>         exhausted by the above four examples — and this is even
>>         before we take into consideration its opaque uses in
>>         "collect", "collate", etc.), I don't see any problem with
>>         using it in the word "coexpression" in the sense intended by
>>         Martin and others.
>>         David
>>         Gil, David (1996) "Maltese 'Collective Nouns':A Typological
>>         Perspective", /Rivista di Linguistica /8:53-87/./
>>         On 24/07/2018 23:59, Daniel Ross wrote:
>>>         In English, the (derivational) prefix "co-" seems to have
>>>         exactly this function, as I pointed out in the previous
>>>         discussion on this list regarding why I found the proposed
>>>         term "coexpress(ion)" to be odd because it refers to
>>>         alternatives rather than collective action. I'm not sure
>>>         where this has been written about (but probably someone has,
>>>         maybe for Latin?), and it is derivational, perhaps not fully
>>>         productive, but it does seem to be able to form new verbs,
>>>         so it seems to fit here.
>>>         (It is interesting to note that at least in more established
>>>         verbs like "cowrite", they do not strictly require a plural
>>>         subject-- "I cowrote an article", as long as the context
>>>         allows for a reasonable interpretation. If you're looking at
>>>         the typology cross-linguistically that might be an
>>>         interesting point of variation to consider.)
>>>         Daniel
>>>         On Tue, Jul 24, 2018 at 8:11 AM, "Ekkehard König"
>>>         <koenig at zedat.fu-berlin.de
>>>         <mailto:koenig at zedat.fu-berlin.de>> wrote:
>>>             Hi Randy,
>>>             rich information on the reciprocal -
>>>             sociative/collective polysemy can be
>>>             found in all of the Nedjalkov volumes. A condensed
>>>             overview is given in
>>>             Chapter 5 of the first volume. (I did a review of the 5
>>>             volumes for
>>>             Language, 2011).
>>>             Best wishes,
>>>             Ekkehard
>>>             > Randy,
>>>             > There is a similar category in Wandala (Frajzyngier 2012),
>>>             > All best,
>>>             > Zygmunt
>>>             >
>>>             > From: Lingtyp
>>>             <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org
>>>             <mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> on
>>>             behalf of
>>>             > "Randy J. LaPolla" <randy.lapolla at gmail.com
>>>             <mailto:randy.lapolla at gmail.com>>
>>>             > Date: Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 1:33 AM
>>>             <mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>"
>>>             <mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>>
>>>             > Cc: weifeng liu <175204935 at qq.com
>>>             <mailto:175204935 at qq.com>>
>>>             > Subject: [Lingtyp] collective action marking
>>>             >
>>>             > Hi All,
>>>             > A student in China (Liu Weifeng) working on Kyrgyz
>>>             asked me for references
>>>             > about collective marking on the verb. This marking in
>>>             Kyrgyz (-ish-) is
>>>             > distinct from plural marking, and used together with
>>>             plural marking, and
>>>             > implies the action was done by two or more people
>>>             together rather than
>>>             > individually.
>>>             >
>>>             > I am aware of the following article, though do not
>>>             have access to it, and
>>>             > don’t even know know for sure whether it documents
>>>             this phenomenon:
>>>             >
>>>             > Nedjalkov, Vladimir P. 2007. Reciprocals, assistives
>>>             and plural in
>>>             > Kirghiz. In Nedjalkov, Vladimir (with the assistance
>>>             of Emma Geniusiene
>>>             > and Zlatka Guentcheva) (eds.), Typology of reciprocal
>>>             constructions,
>>>             > 1231-1280. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
>>>             >
>>>             > I don't know of any other works on this type of
>>>             category in any language.
>>>             > Has this been looked into in any languages?
>>>             >
>>>             > Thanks!
>>>             >
>>>             > Randy
>>>             > -----
>>>             > Randy J. LaPolla, PhD FAHA (羅仁地)
>>>             > Professor of Linguistics and Chinese, School of Humanities
>>>             > Nanyang Technological University
>>>             > HSS-03-45, 14 Nanyang Drive | Singapore 637332
>>>             >
>>>             http://randylapolla.net/<http://secure-web.cisco.com/1r49xGHjDHpvduhLxc8xcFdeDWaQRDmx6JT631_HJ88j0WzNbUSSBJKa_anFZBkB1cSFVPmw9ikThvWoEF7RIEZwRrF41ZmOg8Q1r5KEyCUxZC5wuC28aG_DlUMVjf4vKly6Ga5U846AFU_8ciIgNuIsCxBZP90e2AXadGa_EaJF3qeI0PsXURTP7UIoNYFZSnz_SDDdFEuzk165x1qlfrXFPZWqpG2ZvIir6ai7vfmDn9hv5v1Fqfoz2YKBK325exE--qzqARuhIetwE_l8o-x0t3UnQiilemsqt4EqZfAOQo_BRlSyjjeIKhlCgtch0P5B9ppouqgFfeYSKqDwzhmlzNUAom_lTGiK5TO2YlOC2K2nbRFX-7nK89BmKSZm_brUS2-KjnVVKJrnPK9sM1XE5PPbNO8ggB4SPl9zw7DdqEaqZ_qgihNd8wV-Nb4yfRy2XIMtSrFC_G9CbVWKe-Q/http%3A%2F%2Frandylapolla.net%2F
>>>             <http://secure-web.cisco.com/1r49xGHjDHpvduhLxc8xcFdeDWaQRDmx6JT631_HJ88j0WzNbUSSBJKa_anFZBkB1cSFVPmw9ikThvWoEF7RIEZwRrF41ZmOg8Q1r5KEyCUxZC5wuC28aG_DlUMVjf4vKly6Ga5U846AFU_8ciIgNuIsCxBZP90e2AXadGa_EaJF3qeI0PsXURTP7UIoNYFZSnz_SDDdFEuzk165x1qlfrXFPZWqpG2ZvIir6ai7vfmDn9hv5v1Fqfoz2YKBK325exE--qzqARuhIetwE_l8o-x0t3UnQiilemsqt4EqZfAOQo_BRlSyjjeIKhlCgtch0P5B9ppouqgFfeYSKqDwzhmlzNUAom_lTGiK5TO2YlOC2K2nbRFX-7nK89BmKSZm_brUS2-KjnVVKJrnPK9sM1XE5PPbNO8ggB4SPl9zw7DdqEaqZ_qgihNd8wV-Nb4yfRy2XIMtSrFC_G9CbVWKe-Q/http%3A%2F%2Frandylapolla.net%2F>>
>>>             > Most recent book:
>>>             >
>>>             https://www.routledge.com/The-Sino-Tibetan-Languages-2nd-Edition/LaPolla-Thurgood/p/book/9781138783324
>>>             <https://www.routledge.com/The-Sino-Tibetan-Languages-2nd-Edition/LaPolla-Thurgood/p/book/9781138783324>
>>>             >
>>>             >
>>>             >
>>>             >
>>>             >
>>>             >
>>>             > _______________________________________________
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>>         -- 
>>         David Gil
>>         Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
>>         Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
>>         Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
>>         <https://maps.google.com/?q=Kahlaische+Strasse+10,+07745+Jena,+Germany&entry=gmail&source=g>
>>         Email:gil at shh.mpg.de <mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>
>>         Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
>>         Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816
>>         _______________________________________________
>>         Lingtyp mailing list
>>         Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
>>         <mailto:Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
>>         http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
>>         <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp>
>     -- 
>     David Gil
>     Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
>     Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
>     Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
>     <https://maps.google.com/?q=Kahlaische+Strasse+10,+07745+Jena,+Germany&entry=gmail&source=g>
>     Email:gil at shh.mpg.de <mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>
>     Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
>     Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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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