[Lingtyp] homeostatic property clusters

Bohnemeyer, Juergen jb77 at buffalo.edu
Sun Feb 7 15:35:47 UTC 2021

Dear all — I agree with Bill and Nikolaus (et al.) that it is an important goal for both descriptive linguistics and typology to make our etic (comparative) and emic (descriptive) categories “talk to one another” as much as possible. I believe the way to do this is to decompose both etic and emic categories into fine-grained property bundles that include semantic/pragmatic/cognitive propertied (as Bill points out). This allows us to determine both how, say, the English and German past tenses differ from one another and what they have in common. 

However. Will this approach — making etic and emic categories be themselves maximally comparable — then do away with the need to maintain the etic-emic distinction in descriptive and typological research?

It seems to me rather blatantly obvious that the answer to that question must be resounding NO!

And there I agree with Martin.  

Best — Juergen

> On Feb 7, 2021, at 4:47 AM, Nikolaus P Himmelmann <n.himmelmann at uni-koeln.de> wrote:
> Thanks Bill
> On 2/6/2021 8:38 PM, William Croft wrote:
>>     I agree with that critique (see Croft 2001). But if we take a functionalist, usage-based, constructional approach to language description, then I think that "descriptive categories" will be rather different from what Martin refers to, and will turn out to have more in common with comparative concepts. After all, meanings and discourse functions are part of language-specific description; a usage-based view of constructions and the roles they define would not posit abstract language-specific categories but a conceptual space of uses that are comparable across languages; and 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.)
> Yes, that is exactly my point in Against trivializing language description (and comparison). 
> The more general point is that I do not believe that simplistic binarisms (e.g. description vs comparison, analysis vs classification (how is one possible without the other?), innate building-blockers vs the rest of the world) is a productive way of approaching methodological issues in language description and comparison. To be sure, there are times and issues where it is helpful to get rid of traditional baggage and accumulated metaphysics obscuring the core of an essentially simple issue. Reductionism is a necessary and productive ingredient of scientific enquiry. But there are limits to pushing hard for the simple solution and reducing overwhelming complexity as a methodological step as these may easily lead to trivial or dangerously misleading results. 
> All best
> Nikolaus
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Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
Professor, Department of Linguistics
University at Buffalo 

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