[Lingtyp] "clitics": recent historical origins

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Wed Dec 8 11:47:12 UTC 2021

Dear all,

Adam poses the question ...

On 08/12/2021 13:10, Adam James Ross Tallman wrote:
> /why /we appear to be in so much disagreement about terminological 
> issues. It's not as if any linguists are purposely trying to obfuscate 
> things - so how did we end up where we are?

Adam proposes one answer, which is kind of specific to clitics, and 
about which I have nothing to say.  But I think that, in addition, there 
is a more general answer to Adam's question.

Let's compare linguistics to physics.  Although physics has foundational 
questions every bit as far-reaching as those of linguistics, to the best 
of my knowledge, physicists don't spend their time fretting over 
terminological issues the way us linguists do.  So why is this the 
case?  I think there's actually a relatively straightforward reason 
why.  Most of the things that physicists deal with are either so small 
(sub-atomic particles) or so large (galaxies etc.) that they have little 
or no interface with our everyday experiential universe.  So there's no 
big reason to care what physicists choose to call things.  On the other 
hand, linguistics deals with stuff that impinges directly on our lives 
on an everyday basis.  So calling something a clitic, or a DP, or an 
antipassive, seems to be saying something about the language that is an 
integral part of our everyday lives.  Of course, as conscientious 
scientists we ought to be able to divorce our technical analyses from 
our everyday experiences and reflections; but in practice there seems to 
be seepage.  And it is this seepage, I would like to suggest, that may 
be at least one reason why we seem to care so much more than say 
physicists about what we call things.

(Of course, the seepage is not just terminological but also substantive, 
a prime example of that being the notion of word.  We all deal with the 
layman's notion of word in our everyday lives, every time we press the 
space bar on our keyboards, and then do a word count of our texts; but 
then in many cases we uncritically import the layman's notion of word 
into our grammatical analyses.)


David Gil

Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany

Email:gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091
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