[Lingtyp] What's the point of the phonological phrase?

Haspelmath, Martin haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Mon Dec 30 12:25:50 UTC 2019

On 30.12.19 01:41, TALLMAN Adam wrote:
So, what’s the point of the mapping rules if they can do anything? A conclusion I would draw from this is that positing phonological words and phrases are basically theoretically vacuous terminological conventions.

I think one needs to distinguish between general theories and language-particular theories. G-theories are theories of Human Language, and p-theories are theories of particular languages.

A grammatical description has often been seen as a theory of a particular language (since the 1960s), and in this perspective, language-particular categories are not "vacuous". In fact, they are often crucial (and in other cases convenient) for formulating language-particular rules.

But it's true that the distinction between p-linguistics and g-linguistics is not always made in practice:

I think descriptivists have the impression that using terms like phonological word and phonological phrase makes their descriptions “typologically informed” in some sense. I think the opposite is true if there are no accepted mapping rules and no accepted understanding of what the morphosyntactic structure from which the mapping rules are defined is supposed to be. In the end a typology of morphosyntactic/phonological domains etc. that tries to capture the relevant phenomena with “mapping” will have to relate phonological domain back to how it maps from/onto morphosyntactic structure based on typologically comparable wordhood / constituent domains. Positing mapping rules apriori in descriptions does not achieve this goal and makes such a typology more difficult.

Languages often have similar rules, similar categories, and similar domains, so it's important to be aware of what other languages do – often one does not need to invent everything from scratch but can be inspired by other researchers (both by other p-linguists and other g-linguists).

But in order to know that two things are similar, one needs to have uniform yardsticks for comparison – and one cannot assume that the category of one language can serve as a general yardstick for comparison for all. I don't know enough about phonology to judge what might be a good yardstick for phonological phrasing phenomena...

It seems that Scheer (2008) does not make the distinction between p-linguistics and  g-linguistics, because his impression of "anarchy" seems to be a statement about languages in general (i.e. he has not found any universals). Particular language systems are law-governed by definition.


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
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig
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