[Lingtyp] "clitics": recent historical origins

Jess Tauber tetrahedralpt at gmail.com
Wed Dec 8 15:15:45 UTC 2021

Form versus function. Vertebrate wings, fins manipulate fluid vortices to
generate thrust, and generally operate in the same fashion, moving in a
figure-8 while rotating the 'tilt' of the effector. This alters the
pressure profile around the effector, and movement of the body then
re-equilibrates it. There are a number of different types of eyes that have
evolved, but they all seem to have originated in small eyespots that one
sees, for example, in planaria. Poor at generating images, but sometimes
can gauge distances, as well as help orient the body in space. Same with
balance organs. Jellyfish domes have spherical mineralized concretions in a
cupola at the tops of their domes, with a jelly-like matrix surrounding
them with nerve receptors coming out of the walls into the matrix. When the
animal moves 'off-axis' (that is, the body's symmetry axis) you get
positive pressure on one side of the cupola and negative on the other, and
the animal uses this to orient. Our semicircular canals in our inner ear
complex operate pretty much identically. But biophysics and biomechanics
canalize new structures towards common solutions. There are many roads to

Jess Tauber


On Wed, Dec 8, 2021 at 9:35 AM Martin Haspelmath <
martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de> wrote:

> I'm not sure about physics, but for biology, there's a nice recent paper
> in "Linguistic Typology" by biologist Lindell Bromham:
> Bromham, Lindell. 2020. Comparability in evolutionary biology: The case of
> Darwin’s barnacles. *Linguistic Typology* 24(3). 427–463. (doi:
> 10.1515/lingty-2020-2056 <https://doi.org/10.1515/lingty-2020-2056>)
> Before Darwin, biologists were struggling with concepts for comparison,
> attributing homologies to an obscure "unity of type" or "pure form" (this
> is actually the origin of Goethe's "morphology", which was later adopted by
> linguists; see also this blogpost: https://dlc.hypotheses.org/1210).
> But when it comes to terms like "wing" (in comparative biology) or "money"
> (in comparative anthropology) (as recently discussed by Nick Evans, see
> https://dlc.hypotheses.org/2421), there may be terminological issues in
> these fields, but biologists (and anthropologists) don't seem to confuse
> their terminological problems with theoretical problems. Nobody thinks that
> "wing" or "money" might be pre-established building blocks – very clearly,
> they are *comparative concepts* specifically designed for the purpose of
> biological/anthropological comparison.
> As Adam Tallman noted: If we have specific "views" about the innate
> building blocks of grammar (as in Chomsky 1970), we may well interpret a
> traditional term like "clitic" (coined by Nida 1946) as a kind of innate
> building block – and if we do this, then indeed one may say that our
> definitions are dependent on our findings about innateness. (In other
> words, our terminology is bound up with our theories.)
> But if we are non-committal about innateness, then it seems to make more
> sense to regard the meaning of "clitic" as purely a matter of arbitrary
> convention.
> Best,
> Martin
> Am 08.12.21 um 13:05 schrieb Sebastian Nordhoff:
> 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
> Sebastian
> 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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> --
> Martin Haspelmath
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6
> D-04103 Leipzighttps://www.eva.mpg.de/linguistic-and-cultural-evolution/staff/martin-haspelmath/
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