[Lingtyp] "clitics": recent historical origins

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Wed Dec 8 12:05:03 UTC 2021

Dear all,
two observations:

- physics by definition deals with things that we can experience 
first-hand with our senses. This is true for the other experimental 
sciences as well. Language use on the other hand, has to be inferred via 
complicated procedures. You can easily get people to agree that the 
current temperature of a substance is 97.4°C It is more difficult to get 
people to agree on how many sounds/formatives/morphemes/words there are 
in a given string.

- at a workshop at the MPI-EVA about 10 years back on terminology, all 
present linguists were surprised to hear from a participating biological 
morphologist (dealing with bones and joints and skeletons and so on) 
that there is a "linguistic problem in morphology", meaning that one 
person's "wing" is completely different from another person's "wing". 
One could have easily replaced the terms in his presentation with our 
typological concepts and it would still have made sense. So, I do think 
that linguists tend to overestimate the beauty and neatness of the 
natural sciences, a case of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physics_envy

Best wishes

On 12/8/21 12:47, David Gil wrote:
> 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
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