[Lingtyp] serial verb construction (SVC)

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Wed Jan 23 10:07:53 UTC 2019

It's really nice that Sasha and Bob found the time to put together such 
detailed comments on my 2016 paper on the serial verb construction 
(https://zenodo.org/record/225842), and it's a pity that the editor of 
L&L didn't want to publish this commentary. I wish we had more 
interaction of this type, so I suggested to Sasha and Bob that their 
piece could be published on my blog, where I sometimes write critical 
reviews myself (https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1070), and where I give space 
to other views as well (in the comments section, and sometimes in 
interviews, e.g. with generativist David Adger: 

Bob and Sasha agreed with this, so here it is: 
https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1683 -- anyone is welcome to comment on this 
piece further.

I'm happy to learn about the first (?) (1929) occurrence of the term 
SVC, as well as about the earlier literature on serial verbs in 
Australian languages.

But the main point of my 2016 paper was to provide a *definition* of SVC 
(which is key to formulating generalizations, as noted by Edith 
Moravcsik), and the ten cross-linguistic generalizations were primarily 
meant to illustrate the usefulness of the definition. I took many of 
them from Sasha's earlier work, and I explicitly noted that they were 
not claimed to be exceptionless. Sasha's and Bob's very careful reading 
of my paper does not seem to have found that any of the generalizations 
are wrong (as strong cross-linguistic tendencies), so I'm happy to see 
this convergence of views.

Sasha and Bob also say that my definition is "problematic", but they 
don't say how. (Sasha's new 2018 book is paywalled, so I don't have 
access to it; I saw her 2018 OBO article, but this does not mention any 
problems with my definition.)

What I felt was missing in Sasha's earlier work (the 2006 book and 
elsewhere) was a clear definition of "serial verb construction", and I 
believe that my definition is very largely compatible with her usage 
(and other people's usage).

Jeffrey Heath seems to think that this whole approach (looking for 
universal tendencies on the basis of comparative concepts and many 
languages) is somehow "peripheral" or old-fashioned, but I don't see why 
it couldn't coexist happily with the "integrative study of specific 
languages". I also don't think that Bob and Sasha are not interested in 
universals, or view them somehow differently from me. Especially Bob's 
monumental "Basic Linguistic Theory" (3 volumes, 2010-2012) contains 
many universals, even though they are not highlighted (and numbered), as 
I sometimes do in my work (following Greenberg's and Hawkins's example).

It seems that the differences between my paper and Sasha & Bob's 
commentary boil down to a few factual inaccuracies such as my claim that 
the term SVC was "coined" by Stewart (1963) (who probably knew Balmer & 
Grant 1929 and thus *adopted* their term); but even Sasha in her OBO 
article says that Stewart "reintroduced" the term, so at least this 
inaccuracy is rather minor.

Best wishes,

On 22.01.19 07:58, Alexandra Aikhenvald wrote:
> Dear colleagues
> The recent paper on serial verbs by Martin Haspelmath (2016. 'The 
> serial verb construction: comparative concept and cross-linguistic 
> generalizations'. /Language and Linguistics /17: 291-319) has caused 
> concern to a fair number of linguists. Quite apart from attempting to 
> re-characterize the category, the paper contains a number of factual 
> inadequacies.
> Encouraged by our colleagues, we have written a straightforward letter 
> to the editor of the journal /Language and Linguistics/, with a list 
> of corrections. However, they declined to publish it. Our letter is 
> attached to this message.
> Sincerely
> Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald
> R. M. W. Dixon

Martin Haspelmath (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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