[Lingtyp] terminology

paolo Ramat paolo.ramat at unipv.it
Thu Jul 26 08:32:11 UTC 2018

i totally agree with Daniel's sound words; especially with his third para
"The orly thing I am sure about. ..."
Is the ongoing discussion really n ecessary ? ....


Il Gio 26 Lug 2018 06:48 Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com> ha scritto:

> Thank you for bringing the topic up for discussion, Martin.
> I think this is a very important but complex issue, and I'm not quite sure
> how I feel about it, even though I also have some strong feelings. I spend
> my days going through grammars and trying to decide if languages "have"
> some feature. Of course I can simply look at the data myself and use a
> comparative concept to do that, but it is glaringly obvious how much
> terminology differs from author to author-- whether it is slightly (or
> very) different usage of the same term(s), or referring to similar
> phenomena with different terms. So it is a personal frustration just how
> little consistency there is in the field.
> I'm unsure about prescribing any standard usage though, partly because I
> wouldn't want to hinder others from describing things clearly or in novel
> ways, and most importantly because it doesn't seem like we generally agree
> about much of anything at all, so I'm not sure who'd be put in charge of
> naming things, and much less who would follow those conventions. It sounds
> like a great idea that wouldn't work well.
> If there is a way to organize a workshop to discuss these topics, I think
> that could be helpful, but I think it would be important to attempt to
> reach some sort of consensus rather than just sharing very different
> views-- without the right design for the workshop, I imagine it would just
> become the latter. And until there is some way to imagine what that
> consensus could be (including how to agree to disagree), I'm not sure
> whether the workshop could still be productive.
> The only thing I am sure about is that everyone should be very clear about
> the definitions they are using when they use them. Either cite another
> work, or propose your own definition, but make it explicit. Even that very
> basic step is often lacking (admittedly partly because we are often
> referring to older sources for comparative work).
> Just to supply this conversation with a particular example for discussion,
> here is a paragraph from a draft paper of mine about Associated Motion (AM)
> and Directional (DIR) morphology on the verb:
> "Descriptive linguistics has recognized motion-related morphemes for a
> long time, albeit through the lenses of a wide array of often confusing and
> even contradictory terminology that may, in part, explain why a broad
> cross-linguistic typology has not yet been established. Browsing through
> descriptive grammars and other publications, the range of terminology used
> by different linguists to describe AM would be impressive if it were not
> for the inconsistency and missed opportunity for insights from comparative
> work. Trends mostly fall into regional traditions but may be inconsistent
> even there. Most problematically, terminology for AM and DIR is rarely
> distinguished, the same terms often being used for both, or one term
> ambiguously used to describe a particular instance in a language that might
> be either. In some cases, AM morphemes have been thrown into the grab bag
> of *aspect* (e.g., Talmy 1985) or other existing categories, but much of
> the time terms that might more appropriately be used for DIR, including
> *directionals*, have been used for AM. In Africa, the terms *itive*/
> *andative* (‘going’ from Latin roots) and *ventive*/*venitive* (‘coming’)
> have gained some traditional status (Bourdin 2005), alongside
> *centrifugal* (‘outward’) and *centripetal* (‘inward’) especially for
> Chadic languages (Frajzyngier 1987). In North America, the terms
> *translocative* (‘away’) and *cislocative* (‘toward’) are in relatively
> common usage (Mithun 1999). These pairs all have the same significance,
> just representing different descriptive traditions. Indeed,
> directionally-oriented verb markers often come in pairs contrasting away
> vs. toward, with that contrast often emphasized over their shared function
> of marking AM and/or DIR. Elsewhere the terms from one of those descriptive
> traditions may be adopted by individual researchers, as well as
> idiosyncratic terms."
> Notice that these terms are often used without a clear definition, as
> shown by the fact that they often are not specified as to describing AM or
> DIR or both, so even setting aside the terminological variation, as a
> reader of the descriptions I'm sometimes left without enough information to
> understand what is going on empirically.
> (Note: AM adds a motion (sub)event to a non-motion verb, e.g., "*go and*
> do", whereas DIR specifies the path of a lexical motion verb, e.g. "run
> *away*".)
> The important point is that these terms have the same (sometimes vague)
> range of interpretations, so there is no empirical or definitional issue
> regarding their usage. (In some specific instances there may be a narrower
> usage where some might consider one term better than another, but not
> across the full range of usage for any of them.) So this is a relatively
> extreme but also easy-to-solve example, if of course we could all agree on
> a single set of terms.
> Philosophically, I have to say that it is somewhat disturbing just how
> little we are confident and consistent about in linguistic description (not
> to mention explanation). If we want to be taken seriously as a science,
> then I think this is as important an area as any for us to work on. Imagine
> if, for example, physics, were as terminologically inconsistent as
> linguistics. Recent discussions on this list, for example have shown that
> typologists approach languages with wildly different assumptions (and
> sometimes different goals), and that is partly why there is so much
> variation in terminology. But I hope that, one way or another, some of this
> gets sorted out in the future. There are also some theoretical issues that
> necessarily get bundled up with some of these terminological issues, so one
> suggestion I would have for investigation on the topic would be to
> determine the range of topics that are NOT (especially) controversial and
> might work as a common ground for building terminology and other standards
> in the field. What topics, if any, do 90% of typologists or linguists in
> general agree about (and why)? I'd genuinely be fascinated to read the
> results of that study. If there is no consensus (or cannot be) then what
> does that say about the field?
> Daniel
> On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 4:57 PM, Mark Post <mark.post at sydney.edu.au>
> wrote:
>> 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.]
>> Mark
>> ------ Original Message ------
>> From: "Gontzal Aldai" <gontzal.aldai at gmail.com>
>> To: "Martin Haspelmath" <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>
>> Cc: "LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org" <
>> 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.
>> G.
>> 2018-07-25 12:59 GMT+02:00 Martin Haspelmath <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
>>> --
>>> Martin Haspelmath (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
>> (+34)945-01-36-45
>> *******************************************************
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