[Lingtyp] terminology

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at ruc.dk
Thu Jul 26 09:25:12 UTC 2018

I agree with Daniel and Paolo.

I have recently been involved in a discussion with several people about the difference between ideograms and logograms which seems to be hard to grasp for some. During that discussion it dawned upon me that the interesting thing is not so much terminology, but understanding the difference:

There are pictograms like ‘no smoking’, figures in a timetable or most emojis which express a concept which is language-independent and can be expressed differently in different languages.
A sign like 五can be read differently in different languages  (ng5 in Cantonese, wǔ in Putonghua, go or itsu in Japanese) but also always also conveys phonetic information, and so it stands for a word, not only for a meaning. Therefore Japanese 島 can be used to write shima ’island’ and (tō in compound loans from Chinese), but not the English loan airando ‘island’, although it has the same meaning.

As soon as this is made clear, a consistent terminology may be welcome but this is secondary to the understanding of the difference which the terminology only reflects but does not establish.


Hartmut Haberland
Professor emeritus

Roskilde University
Department of Communication and Arts
Universitetsvej 1
DK-4000 Roskilde
Telephone: +45 46742841

Fra: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> På vegne af paolo Ramat
Sendt: 26. juli 2018 10:32
Til: Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com>
Cc: list, typology <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Emne: Re: [Lingtyp] terminology

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<mailto: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?


On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 4:57 PM, Mark Post <mark.post at sydney.edu.au<mailto: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.]


------ 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<mailto: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

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Leipzig University

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