[Lingtyp] serial verb construction (SVC)

Alexandra Aikhenvald a.y.aikhenvald at live.com
Wed Jan 23 10:52:59 UTC 2019

Dear Martin

Just briefly - you have missed the point.

Of course, both Bob and I are interested in universal - do have a look at my new book on serial verbs (OUP, October 2018), and our 2006 volume (my other work on typology, which is quite a lot; plus the Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic typology).

But most of all we are interested in accuracy - as Winston Churchill is reported to have said, 'verify your quotations'. The letter does not 'boil down' to the origin of the term 'serial verbs'. If you read it again, you will see that this is not the only thing that is wrong.

Here is to getting things right! Sapienti sat.


Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FAHA

Distinguished Professor and Australian Laureate Fellow

Director of the Language and Culture Research Centre

James Cook University

PO Box 6811, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia


mobile 0400 305315, office 61-7-40421117

fax 61-7-4042 1880  http://www.aikhenvaldlinguistics.com/


From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>
Sent: Wednesday, 23 January 2019 9:07 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: [Lingtyp] serial verb construction (SVC)

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: https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1517).

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.

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald
R. M. W. Dixon

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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