[Lingtyp] homeostatic property clusters

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Sun Feb 7 11:35:37 UTC 2021

Yes, there's no real disagreement, so this is why I wrote a blog post 
explaining why Nikolaus's paper does not indicate any deeper issues: 

> William Croft wrote:      the universals found in typological research 
> both define and constrain relations between language-specific 
> constructions, including their variation and evolution (see Croft 
> 2001, 2013). And I think that a lot of language description does much 
> of this in practice, even if the authors aren't particularly concerned 
> about these theoretical issues.  (I think I am here largely agreeing 
> with Nikolaus Himmelmann's paper in review that was cited by Erich.)

> Nikolaus Himmelmann wrote: Yes, that is exactly my point in Against 
> trivializing language description (and comparison) 
> <https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005705>. 

More generally, we should stop opposing types of typologists 
("Aikhenvald vs. Bickel vs. Corbett vs. Croft vs. Dahl vs. Dryer vs. Gil 
vs. Haspelmath vs. Himmelmann vs. Lazard vs. Moravcsik vs. Nichols vs. 
Round" etc.), because we are all doing more or less the same kinds of 
good things.

I'm less sure about generative grammar, where we keep seeing something 
entirely different, e.g. extremely complex movement operations (and odd 
concepts such as "vP" and "CP") that are meant to describe fairly 
ordinary facts of grammar. I have long been puzzled by these practices, 
and I suspect that the problem falls under the following 
(uncontroversial) methodological point:

"Instead of adopting universal atomic notions of subject and object, one 
considers all relevant language-specific morphosyntactic properties of 
arguments (i.e., all relevant constructions) without prioritizing among 
them and without cherry-picking the ones that support the linguist’s 
intuition." (Witzlack-Makarevich, Nichols, Hildebrandt, Zakharko, Bickel 
(2021): https://zenodo.org/record/4442706)

It seems that in generative grammar, the "universal atomic notions of vP 
and CP" are widely adopted without much reflection, and that this is the 
source of the differences that we observe. But I may be wrong, and I 
keep wondering whether I should continue to try to understand generative 
grammar, or whether it's better to try to understand languages...


Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig

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