[Lingtyp] Proto-World explains universals

Haspelmath, Martin haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Mon Jan 20 17:45:29 UTC 2020

Dear all,

Does anyone know a case where it has been proposed (or suggested) concretely that an observed universal tendency (or absolute universal) is due to inheritance from Proto-World?

Cysouw (2011: 417) has suggested this as a possibility:

"It is possible that there are still founder effects available in the current distribution of the world’s languages, i.e., that there are preferences in the current world’s languages that go back to incidental events during the spread of languages over the world (Maslova 2000)."

But while this is logically possible, are there any concrete suggestions with a global scope?
Word order universals such as the Greenbergian correlations, or phonological universals such as vowel dispersion cannot be due to Proto-World (or some other founder effect), because the universality lies in the implicational patterns, not in specific structures that all languages share. Has anyone suggested that any other universal properties (e.g. the fact that all languages can express negation or questions, or that agent-patient organization is universal, or that all languages have recursion) may be due to Proto-World inheritance?



Cysouw, Michael. 2011. Understanding transition probabilities. Linguistic Typology 15(2). 415–431.
Maslova, Elena. 2000. A dynamic approach to the verification of distributional universals. Linguistic Typology 4. 307 – 333.

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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